Largest UK Diversity Survey Reveals Ongoing Challenges For Ethnic Minorities in Built Environment Sector

Today, the Sustainability Tool, in collaboration with the Supply Chain Sustainability School’s Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) Programme, has unveiled the outcomes of the largest-ever employee diversity survey in the United Kingdom. This comprehensive survey, encompassing more than 526,000 individuals, has been a crucial annual fixture in the built environment sector’s progress tracking since 2016, offering a detailed record of diversity data and pinpointing areas for improvement.

The 2023 survey results, covering 526,415 employees across 537 supply chains of eight major companies and two membership organisations, highlight a substantial increase in participation, with a 55% surge in employees covered and a remarkable 99% rise in participating companies compared to 2022. The inclusion of contributions from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) played a significant role in this expansion.

This year’s findings reveal a noteworthy surge of women in the industry, rising from 23% in 2022 to 29.1% in 2023. This significant increase, marking the survey’s most significant rise in seven years, is primarily attributed to first-time reporting by several Tier 1 organisations. Sectors leading this positive shift include central government, rail, and facilities management, all surpassing the industry benchmark value of 29.1%.

Key takeaways from the 2023 survey:

  • Ethnicity: Despite constituting 52.5% of industry applicants, the representation of ethnic minority groups in the workforce decreased year-on-year slightly to 13.6%, trailing 5% below the ONS UK population average.
  • Attraction and Recruitment: The application-to-hiring ratio was notably higher for ethnic minority groups (90:1) compared to white applicants (28.4:1), on average making it three times as challenging to secure a job this year. Depending on background, ethnic minority groups found it between 1.2 to 6.4 times harder to be hired than their white counterparts.
  • Disability: Persistent data gaps exist around disability, with 35.2% of respondents’ data not being collected. The ‘prefer not to say’ option increased from 3.2% to 6.5% this year.
  • Sexual orientation: While disclosure is increasing, only 2.04% of employees identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, below the ONS UK population average of 3.14%. The survey now includes pansexual, asexual and queer categories to align with census data.

The survey plays a pivotal role in supporting the built environment sector’s commitment to promoting diversity, equality and inclusion, establishing benchmarks, and highlighting areas requiring action for industry-wide progress.

Belinda Blake, Senior Policy Advisor – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at National Highways, said: “National Highways recognises the indispensable role of comprehensive sector data to help drive meaningful change. This annual data capture exercise is instrumental in reinforcing the built environment sector’s dedication to diversity, equality, and inclusion. The report offers essential data, serving as a foundation for setting benchmarks and driving progress across the industry. The success stories within the supply chain stand as a testament to the transformative power of a comprehensive, data-driven approach to ED&I, ultimately contributing to a more inclusive and diverse industry.”

Findings from the survey were initially shared at the Supply Chain Sustainability School’s ‘Diversity Data Benchmarking Conference’ in Birmingham last month. The conference emphasised the importance of organisations contributing to the survey to enhance the transparency of the sector and improve diversity and inclusion in key areas such as gender and ethnic diversity. Along with plugging gaps in data capture around disability, pay gaps were also highlighted as areas for attention to achieve a more transparent industry view.

Cathryn Greville, Head of Fairness, Inclusion and Respect at Supply Chain Sustainability School, said: “The survey demonstrates the critical importance of quality data in addressing equity, diversity and inclusion issues across the built environment sector. Without relevant data, organisations simply cannot identify, understand and address the real issues they face in their businesses and supply chains, and they cannot track the success of any initiatives put in place to make the workplace more inclusive and successful.”

The Diversity Survey is set to reopen in March 2024, allowing anyone in the built environment to participate anonymously for free.

Organisations also have the unique opportunity to enhance their understanding of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and identify pathways for improvement. Valuable insights can be collected by assessing employee and/or supplier bases against sector benchmarks and ONS UK population statistics. This tailored analysis not only empowers organisations to assess their EDI status but also provides a roadmap for targeted improvements, fostering a more inclusive and diverse workplace. For details on participation, contact our EDI expert.

Access the complete Diversity Survey 2023 results here.

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