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Building Equality And Diversity In the Construction Industry

Equality, diversity and inclusion is a global challenge.

April 15, 2024
By Mark Harrison
3 min read

Everyone, without exception, should feel welcome at their place of work. People should not live in fear of being harassed or discriminated against.  
I was saddened to hear some of the challenges women in particular face in the construction sector in Sub-Saharan Africa when we hosted the global CIOB equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) conference towards the end of last year. 
It was the second edition of the successful online conference which brought together industry representatives from around the world to highlight issues relating to EDI in the areas where they work and their plans on how to address them. 
We heard a passionate talk from Keabetswe Letlape and Thandeka Makhathini – two members of South Africa’s Council for the Built Environment (CBE). 
They spoke at length about some of the diversity issues that are prominent in Sub-Saharan Africa, ranging from gender discrimination to issues around poverty and class. 

Access to opportunity
As in the Western world, Sub-Saharan Africa has a significant skills shortage when it comes to the number of construction workers.  
It was worrying to hear that despite there being an untapped market of potential candidates there are still massive rates of unemployment, particularly in the townships.  
People can forget the rewards of a fully stacked construction workforce benefit everyone. Not only can construction significantly boost an economy, but the wider community also benefits from the construction projects we build and create. 
There is an element of social inequality which is preventing people from accessing roles in the construction sector. Coupled with a lack of opportunities for proper education, this is preventing people from getting the relevant training required to enjoy a successful and rewarding career in construction. 
I echo the calls from the members of the CBE that more women are needed – and should be welcomed – within our industry.

CIOB has the same goals in mind: we want the sector to be reflective of wider society. 

Another issue concerns adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) provision for women. People come in all shapes and sizes, and my message to PPE providers is clear: everybody has the right to work safely. 
CIOB’s #PPEthatfits campaign has resonated with many people in the construction industry and beyond since it was launched last year. While there is still a long way to go, I would be grateful for as many construction companies across Sub-Saharan Africa as possible to join our efforts in ensuring everyone has access to correct PPE. 

Training for inclusion
Of course, we can’t improve EDI across the global construction industry without the support of our members – which is why we have launched a range of resources to help improve awareness and spread key messages on the importance of an inclusive construction sector. 
Almost 250 construction companies worldwide have signed up to our Diversity and Inclusion Charter, promoting five key actions for improving diversity and inclusion.   
Employers who sign up can expect to see improvements in the diversity and sense of belonging in their organisations, helping to address the skills shortage affecting the sector. The actions include Showing Leadership, Making a Plan, Shaping the Culture, Being Transparent and Being Accountable.   
Another important resource is our free EDI online training course. The course, which is available via the Future Learn website, requires two hours of online study per week for three consecutive weeks and covers the need for commitment to diversity and inclusion, why the construction sector faces challenges, and how to bring about change.   
So far, nearly 400 students have enrolled and taken part in the course and I look forward to more signing up in the near future. 
EDI is a global issue and the construction industry in Sub-Saharan Africa has its fair share of challenges. My colleagues at CIOB and I are determined to promote a fair and inclusive industry for all and we welcome the ambition of South Africa’s CBE – prioritising better access to education to reduce the skills crisis in the industry and creating a more inclusive environment. 

Photo: Women in construction (© Korn Vitthayanukarun | Dreamstime)