Fairness, Inclusion & Respect Is Now a Leadership Issue for Construction

FIR Culture Survey 2018 by the Supply Chain Sustainability School reveals an industry positive about benefits of FIR, but calling for leadership to help embed cultural change in construction, plus how they are treated and feel, needs to change.

This is the alarm bell sounding for the sector as a whole, as addressing issues of workforce diversity and inclusion will prove  critical to delivery of the Government’s £600bn Pipeline of works.

The good news from the responses to the FIR Culture Survey 2018, conducted by the Supply Chain Sustainability School, is that more than 8 out of 10 organisations in the construction industry are already looking at changes to procurement and over 9 out of 10 are reviewing recruitment practices.

Issues core to Fairness, Inclusion & Respect (FIR) are now seen as vital to resilience and growth, ensuring construction as an industry reflects society as a whole, suggests Caroline Johnstone, Head of Group Sustainability at Galliford Try:
“A diverse and inclusive workforce is central to bridging the skills gap and ensuring successful delivery of the pipeline of infrastructure projects over the next decade and beyond. We must attract and retain a mix of talent that is truly representative of the diverse world in which we live – and FIR is integral to achieving this.”
The FIR programme is being delivered by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) and the Supply Chain Sustainability School with funding and support from the CITB.  The FIR programme seeks to help address the skills shortage in the sector and the risk this presents to major infrastructure, construction and housebuilding projects.
The findings of the FIR Culture Survey 2018, undertaken by the Supply Chain School, reveal that widespread support for FIR in principle is beginning to become manifest as active implementation in practice, with some strong shifts in attitude and approach increasingly in evidence:

1. Some 4 out of every 5 organisations (80%) have started to embed FIR into monitoring and procurement practice; however, only a few organisations would claim FIR is fully embedded into people management (14%) or recruitment processes (10%), as yet;
2. Over 85% of respondents agree that the School programme has helped them have a better understanding of FIR issues and the business case for FIR;
3. 81% or respondents agree that they now have the confidence to challenge poor behaviours, up from 66% in 2017;
4. 77% of respondents agree that the FIR programme has improved their management skills, up from 62%.
5. Over 85% are changing procurement (or considering it) to drive FIR into supply chains.
In fact, with FIR now impacting the tender process and informing questions in prequalification questionnaires, companies cannot just carry on bemoaning an ageing workforce and widening skills gap, yet do little or nothing to address their responsibilities, contends Robert Hall, Group Safety, Quality and HR Director, with Adey Steel Group:

“Commercially, being part of the FIR agenda can help win contracts. Moreover, it makes sense for any modern, forward-thinking business to adopt the FIR agenda. After all, what is the alternative? Being Unfair? Being Exclusive? Being Disrespectful? Who wants to go to work in a place like that? How is that business going to recruit great people and keep them?”

However, whilst this groundswell in interest and activity is heartening, the proportion of survey respondents confident enough to declare that change is now fully embedded in their organisations remains a distinct minority, ranging from 14%, down to barely 9%, depending on the issue.

Such deeper engagement represents an important next step towards embracing the development opportunities FIR can offer, argues Timothy O’Sullivan, Managing Director of Danny Sullivan Group:
“If the industry wishes to address the looming skills shortage and generate real employee retention, then it must become embedded. The FIR Programme offers us a chance to create an engaging working environment where everyone is treated equally and encouraged to be their true selves. If we work together towards this, then we open the doors for exponential collaboration while also improving our employees work life and wellbeing.”

For John Dowsett, Managing Director for Infrastructure at Osborne and Board Sponsor of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion across the Group, FIR is not only fundamental to the ‘People Strategy’ in place there, but also aligns with ambitious growth plans for the business, targeting £600M in sales by 2021:
“Whilst many businesses are focused on addressing skills shortages, ensuring social justice, corporate social responsibility and legal compliance, there are many others who regard inclusion and diversity as a source of competitive advantage and an enabler for growth. The evidence of a strong link between diverse leadership teams and business performance is very compelling.”

Indeed, the role of leadership came through strongly in the survey as both a key factor influencing cultural change and an area with room for improvement itself. In the majority of cases, involvement with the FIR programme has been shown not only to have helped company leadership better understand the issues (69%), but also better articulate the benefits (65%). More than half (55%) of respondents have already seen improvement in behaviours and attitudes towards others in the team.

The clear signal from the survey, therefore, is that an understanding of the importance of FIR in workplace culture constitutes a must-have attribute for the leaders of today, as well as tomorrow, concludes FIR Director for the Supply Chain School, Liz Holford:
“Progressive leaders recognise that treating people fairly, inclusively and with respect is critical to business success. But it’s a message all leaders need to understand, across all sectors, professions, trades and supply chains. FIR is now a leadership issue for the whole of construction and one that carries huge implications for future performance, resilience and growth.”

To further support and develop leaders within the construction industry, the FIR Programme is launching a new eLearning module ‘Leading people, inclusively’ that will be made freely available as part of the FIR Toolkit through the Supply Chain Sustainability School.