Bigotry against LGBT people is at its worst on construction sites and for staff of contracting firms
A major investigation into attitudes in the UK construction industry has concluded that homophobia is running rife in the sector, with 85% of gay men and women working for contracting firms encountering homophobic comments in the workplace in the last 12 months.
The figure falls to 63% across the entire industry (covering architecture, contracting, engineering and property sectors).
Other key findings in the research, which anonymously surveyed 958 people, found that:
• Less than half of all gay employees trust their managers to handle sexual orientation issues, and only one in ten would recommend the industry as a great place to work for gay men and women.
• Just 16% of gay employees believe the wider construction/property industry is inclusive of LGB workers.
• A third of gay employees feel their sexuality creates barriers to career progression.
• Just 11% of gay employees would recommend the industry to other gay people.
• Just over 85% wanted to see the industry do more to support gay employees.
• Despite these findings, it would be wrong to think everyone in construction hides their sexuality: 60% of gay respondents said they felt comfortable being open about their sexual orientations with immediate colleagues. However, this figure varies widely across the industry, ranging from more than 70% in architectural practice to just 27% in contracting.
• Despite most architects saying they were open about their sexuality with immediate colleagues, the proportion of them who feel comfortable being open falls to just 12 per cent on site visits.
The study was undertaken by Architects’ Journal. It followed a similar study that it undertook in 2013 specifically of gay architects only.
That too found that half had encountered homophobia at work, and anecdotal evidence suggested that the issue was even greater in the wider construction industry; prompting Architect’s Journal to again investigate.
Besides the feedback relating to sexuality, many said the situation was worse for trans people. Although the authors say there was insufficient data to make generalizations, comments included this from one respondent: ‘This is not an industry for gay people, but for transgender people in particular it is highly unsafe.’
Not a single construction or built environment company appears on the 2015 Workplace Equality Index produced by Stonewall; the UK’s leading LGBT advocacy group.
Earlier in this year, in an effort to begin to address the issue, Stonewall sent out 1,000 pairs of rainbow laces to construction workers. It said at the time that the initiative received a ‘fantastic response from both LGBT and straight workers.’
Commenting on the AJ survey’s findings, Matteo Lissana, client account manager, Stonewall said: ‘The construction and built environment sectors are historically very traditional, and changes in the industry take a long time to implement. The industry is still struggling with gender equality, which has remained the main focus of the sector for years.
‘But for most industries things have moved forward. The [construction] sector must realize that this approach is outdated and that diversity does not operate in separate compartments.’
Richard Chapman-Harris, equality, diversity and inclusion manager at engineering firm Mott MacDonald, said in a statement: ‘These findings are indeed worrying but unfortunately not a surprise. Research shows that 55% of gay young people experience homophobic bullying and 99% hear “gay” being used as a pejorative. This data highlights that endemic homophobia is translating into the workplace.
‘Employers need to have a zero tolerance approach to all forms of bullying and harassment, particularly the use of inappropriate language, and especially where it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity.’
Rory Olcayto, editor, Architects’ Journal, said: ‘When we looked into the experiences of LGBT architects in 2013, the results were shocking, with almost half encountering homophobic comments or behavior in the workplace within the previous year.
‘However the findings of the Architects’ Journal’s new survey, which looks into attitudes towards sexuality across the whole construction and property industry, are even worse.
Harry Rich, chief executive of the RIBA, expressed disappointment with the findings, saying, ‘much more to be done to change attitudes within [architecture] and most certainly across the wider construction industry.
‘In particular, the difficulties experienced by LGBT colleagues when visiting construction sites shows the importance of the whole industry working together. There must be collective responsibility at all levels and in every part of the country to confront the issues and deliver a solution that prioritizes equality.’