Workplace diversity: Addressing unconscious bias
Mandy St John Davey, the UK national chairman of Women in Property, on why addressing unconscious bias is the first step to building a better workforce
6 SEP 2019
It’s clear the profession needs to broaden its appeal if it’s to recruit the best talent, but how do we get there? We asked a diverse range of industry leaders to show us the way
Just 15% of qualified surveyors are women. The only way to attract and retain talented women in the profession is to make sure equality is embedded in the culture of your organisation. I wouldn’t advocate quotas to redress the gender imbalance, but there is a lot that can be done to actively support women in their careers - starting with 50:50 male-female recruitment, particularly at graduate level, which we have introduced successfully at CBRE.
Research indicates that while men tend to apply for promotions if they have 60-70% of the experience required, women will hold back until they feel 100% ready. Ensure openness and transparency regarding procedures for promotions and project roles to avoid “jobs for the boys”, and actively encourage women to apply for promotions, making sure there is more than one woman on shortlists. CEOs should encourage senior managers to develop mentoring roles with female staff; if directors are seen to be doing this, others will follow.
The more visible women we have in senior positions, the more it will encourage young women to join the profession. We owe it to the next generation to be role models and to be visible in any way we can - such as by speaking at events, being interviewed or writing articles.
Both senior and mid-level female managers can inspire simply by telling their stories. One important way women can support one another is through female networking groups, both within organisations, which company directors can encourage, and across the industry.
Improving workplace flexibility by allowing home working, job sharing and flexible hours will go a long way towards retaining valuable female staff with family commitments.
Recruiting returners – women who have taken time out for their families – is another proven initiative. At CBRE we ran a very successful day for women interested in returning to their professions, with skills and market updates, speed mentoring sessions, CV updating and examples of the latest tools and technologies. Even SMEs could offer work shadowing for potential returners.
Gender diversity in the workplace makes compelling business sense, because firms simply cannot afford to not have a diverse workforce for the future.
Amanda Clack FRICS was RICS President 2016-2017. She qualified as a quantity surveyor nearly 30 years ago and is now head of strategic advisory at CBRE. She is also the co-author of Managing Diversity and Inclusion in the Real Estate Sector
It’s important to create an inclusive culture to attract the best people whatever their orientation. Millennials are drawn to diversity-friendly companies, even if they’re not LGBT themselves, because it says a lot about how companies look after their staff. So it’s good business practice and has multiple benefits.
A key consideration when creating an inclusive culture is language. There needs to be zero tolerance to language that could be offensive, and staff should be encouraged to speak out if they hear anything inappropriate. It can be helpful to invite someone in to talk to staff about the words and phrases that are acceptable and those that aren’t, and to clarify modern terminology, such as why “transitioning” should be used rather than “sex change”, and the meanings of transgender, transman and transwoman. Building Equality, for the construction industry, and Freehold, for the property sector, are two organisations that can help with this.
Connecting with relevant networking and industry organisations that host discussions and social gatherings is another positive step. Again, groups such as Building Equality, Freehold and LGBT+ in FM hold events throughout the year, which colleagues can be encouraged to attend. “Allies” – staff who aren’t LGBT but support those who are, can be identified through wearing rainbow lanyards. If an LGBT person walks into an office full of rainbows they know it’s a safe place. And joining Pride marches as a company sends a clear signal. It’s also important to work with supply chains to show your support for diversity across the industry.
Making sure there are no barriers to career progression or selection for projects is essential in an inclusive culture. Ensure all processes are fair and transparent, and that jobs and secondments are advertised to all staff. One issue to be aware of with international projects is the need to protect LGBT staff in countries where they could be at risk. Always provide the opportunity to turn down the position, but if they accept then ensure their protection. If they decide against the role, offer them other opportunities to compensate.
Making sure there are no barriers to career progression or selection for projects is essential in an inclusive culture. Ensure all processes are fair and transparent, and that jobs and secondments are advertised to all staff.
There is plenty of research to show that staff are up to 30% more productive if they can be themselves at work, so the business benefits of creating an inclusive culture are beyond doubt.
Sharon Slinger FRICS has worked in the construction and facilities management industries for 20 years as a quantity surveyor. In 2017 she set up Constructing Rainbows, providing strategic advice and training on improving company performance while offering a high-level review of equality, diversity and inclusion strategies
When we started to look into the gender pay gap in 2012, we identified a broad unconscious bias against our female employees - including promotions as well as pay. We asked ourselves whether as a business, we were missing out because we were recruiting and promoting people who looked like most of our managers.
At that point, out of a workforce of 1,600 employees, only around 7% were female, mainly in non-project roles. We decided to create a positive bias to ensure we recruited a diverse range of people, which we broadened to include ethnic diversity as well as gender.
One of the first things we did was address the gender pay gap that existed where we had men and women in the same roles. We used an external professional to provide a thorough analysis of our remuneration across the board and highlight inequities. We had to help line managers understand their biases, and also ensured pay rises were given to employees on parental leave.
A strategy that really made a difference was creating “bias champions”. We have about a dozen people in this role, spread across the executive teams in our geographical regions, whose task is to call out any biases wherever they spot them.
We’re also working on work-life balance, which men want too, although they don’t tend to express it. Once they have a family, women will often move to companies where they get a better work-life balance. A key focus in the last few years has been building a targeted and tailored flexibility programme to address this in a sustainable way.
We no longer have maternity leave but parental leave, which applies to mothers and fathers equally, depending on who is the primary carer. Introduced last year, we’ve already had employees of both genders taking up the offer.
In terms of recruitment, out of 800 applications for our graduate programme, 650 were male and 150 female. That told us that by university, students have already made up their minds about their career path. In the past couple of years we’ve invited school children to visit our projects and, with the help of both male and female employees as ambassadors, have demonstrated that our business is a 21st-century operation with roles for architects, surveyors, project coordinators, engineers and so on. It’s not just about guys carrying timber on their shoulders.
It took us six years to be confident we had closed the gender pay gap for good. We made an initial adjustment very quickly, but it’s been a longer journey to understand how and why it occurred, and to bring about real change to the culture, behaviour, and systems and processes that had contributed.
It’s something we have to continue focusing on, but we now have a 17% female workforce, and 22% of our executive management group are female, so we have senior role models to encourage more women to develop careers with our company to the highest level.
David Ghannoum FRICS is regional managing director of global construction company Multiplex, based in New South Wales, Australia. He has been involved in attracting and retaining women in construction roles in the business since 2012
I believe all BAME professionals would benefit from finding a mentor to guide them throughout their careers. It’s not something I was advised to do but at the beginning of my career I sought out people I could relate to, given my non-traditional background, and who I thought could relate to me. I found two: Dr Nelson Ogunshakin, head of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering, and Eme Kalu, an independent consultant I read about in Building magazine.
I met both with a view to building relationships with them, and I’m still in contact with Dr Ogunshakin. He was the first person to tell me I was gifted and talented, and that “we need more like you”. I’ve never forgotten that, and it has become my personal obligation to give back and inspire others.
It’s important that companies recognise the needs in their own talent pools. This could begin with a simple one-to-one conversation, an employee survey or an internal social event. One way to encourage connections within an organisation is to hold a speed-dating session, pitching potential mentors and mentees together in the same room. DiverseCity Surveyors produces support mechanisms to facilitate culturally competent solutions that often complement those of the organisation or individual seeking our support.
We’ve come a long way from early days when the six-person monthly meet-up over drinks inevitably included the dreaded conversation about being overlooked for career progression.
Most senior staff like the idea of being a role model or mentor. To be a good role model you need to love what you do and to have found your purpose; you’ll be able to inspire others to think more positively about themselves and their situation.
A mentor needs to regularly devote time to someone, often seen as the biggest challenge, but being a mentor shouldn’t be seen as “work”. You need to be patient and a good listener, but you’re simply building others to be better than yourself and you may even learn something from them.
Most people need a nudge of inspiration, especially on those dark days when nothing seems to work. I still go into schools, colleges and prisons, sharing my journey with young people. Out of that conversation amazing things can happen. It is often when self-doubt presents itself that a meaningful conversation with a role model or mentor proves invaluable.
Bola Abisogun OBE FRICS is an independent consultant chartered surveyor and founder and CEO of construction and project management company Urbanis. He is also the founder and chair of DiverseCity Surveyors, which offers advice, support services and training to BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) RICS professionals
We have a great interest in how multi-disciplinary and diverse teams can work together to achieve better results. In today’s construction industry, and also in surveying alone, there are so many specialisms that there is an urgent need to develop replicable methods that help complex teams work together.
With the involvement of many groups, including the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers and RICS, we have looked at the results that can be achieved when teams truly collaborate.
A pressing challenge in construction is how to move from “command and control” management to a highly collaborative approach. This needs a shift in mindset, since in our industry decision and direction is usually provided by very small core groups doing their best to represent multiple companies and often hundreds of people.
Representation needs to include all the skillsets, to encompass different age groups to balance enthusiasm and ideas with experience, and harness gender and ethnic diversity. When this is achieved, astounding results can be delivered.
We have developed a process and supporting software to achieve this goal. Collaborative sessions typically involve 25-40 people representing all the skills and roles involved in a company or project. Ahead of the sessions, key team members on the project complete an online survey answering critical questions, such as whether they believe they have access to the right information to make decisions.
Representation needs to include all the skillsets, to encompass different age groups to balance enthusiasm and ideas with experience, and harness gender and ethnic diversity. When this is achieved astounding results can be delivered.
This provides a snapshot for the sessions, so the whole team can see where the pressure points and opportunities lie. Sessions start in sub-groups of four to seven people representing different roles, such as clients, project managers, engineers and constructors.
They then work together to develop an action plan that taps into a wealth of skills and experience to resolve the issues raised by the wider team. The process also measures the quality of the collaborative environment, so teams can see how they’re doing throughout the sessions.
What is fundamental to team success is real diversity, including a mix of ages and experience, gender and cultural backgrounds, as well as diverse skillsets. We’re seeing that success in raising the quality of the collaborative environment has a direct correlation to increases in performance. This comes from there being a balanced overall view that encompasses different perspectives, resulting in more robust, resilient and inspiring solutions.
In today’s workplace, successful collaboration does not need to be left to chance, as clients can now deploy proven replicable methods to enable teams to work together effectively. It is an essential prerequisite that those teams include a wide-ranging diversity of skills, experience and culture.
Business & management