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The research overwhelmingly supports the value of diversity and shows that more diverse boards govern companies which perform better than those led by homogenous boards. So why is the building and construction industry not making progress in this area? – ©123RF.com

The other issues facing building and construction – diversity, talent and values – By Dr Troy Coyle

Many of our traditional industries in New Zealand, including construction, are often the last bastions of the old boys’ club, but diversity matters – and we should be worried. Why? Because it affects the future of the industry and its ability to attract talent.

If you are part of the ‘in’ crowd that is getting all the opportunities, you probably don’t think diversity in industry matters very much. If you are leaning in, Sheryl Sandberg style, so much so that you are lying supine, it feels like building and construction is the last bastion of the pale, stale males (PSMs).

Now I believe everyone deserves a go, and I know a lot of the PSMs are calling foul. However, the reality is that not everyone is getting a fair shot, because there is not the diversity that there should be at the decision-making tables.

A recent example is the group of industry leaders hand-picked by the government to develop the Construction Sector Accord. A look at that list makes it pretty hard to swallow claims that PSMs are hard done by. It also makes it hard to dispute claims of the existence of an old boys’ club which continually gets invited to the table.

Inclusion vs diversity

Hopefully we don’t need to relitigate the need for greater diversity. The research overwhelmingly supports the value of diversity and shows that more diverse boards govern companies which perform better than those led by homogenous boards. So why is the building and construction industry not making progress in this area?

Perhaps the answer requires a discussion about inclusion vs diversity. Focusing on diversity will get you a seat at the table, whereas focusing on inclusion will get you a voice at the table. We need to insist that decision-making is more inclusive of the multitude of voices that should be heard. Unfortunately, this inevitably requires those that are regularly sitting at the table to save a few seats for those who don’t. It’s the new voices that will offer fresh thinking.

With a growing skills crisis in the industry, it becomes imperative to attract the full range of potential industry entrants. It absolutely requires greater inclusivity.

The big turnoff

What drives people away and what are the big turnoffs? The building and construction industry is not popular. It is not attracting enough new entrants or enough government support (e.g. for innovation) in the same way that the primary industries are.

What attracts someone to a job? It is often a matching of values. We also know that this is even more important for younger generations who are commonly evaluating company values to see if they fit with their own. This makes sense, as our values are what motivate us.

A values motivator might be helping people, helping the environment, helping animals, or even helping ourselves to make money. This is how we need to market our industry. And we have a great story to tell in that respect. We can present ourselves in terms of how building and construction is addressing the big social crises of our time, like housing affordability, climate change and the carbon footprint of our building stock, protecting the independence of an ageing population through improved aged care, and adoption of new technologies, just to name a few.

We also need to address some of the negative perceptions of our industry, such as health and safety concerns (including mental health), lack of diversity and lack of innovation.

Telling our values story

Our industry is used to selling itself based on measurables such as employment and contribution to GDP. Treasury’s Living Standards Framework looks at the economic impact of an industry through a wider lens. It considers the value of contributions made to human capital, natural capital and social capital as well. This aligns beautifully with our need to (a) better showcase our values to future employees, and (b) tell a more inclusive story.

It creates a new and more comprehensive language for speaking about the value of our industry. It is an important new language to learn because it is both the language of the current government (which has just introduced the first Living Standards budget) and that of our future employees. It also requires a whole new style of conversation – a move away from simple quantifiable measurables towards telling a qualitative story. It requires us to use mind language (i.e. the data) as well as heart language (i.e. values and bigger societal impacts).

It requires us to tell a more inclusive story – one that will appeal to hearts and minds and therefore create a greater connection to what our industry has to offer to future employees and society at large.

Dr Troy Coyle is the CEO of HERA (Heavy Engineering Research Association); she brings 19 years’ experience in innovation management covering the private sector, not-for-profits, government and academia across a range of industries


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