Study finds high levels of perceived discrimination in the construction industry

Diving letter:

  • New research quantifies the level of discrimination black people and women workers experience in the commercial and housing sectors.
  • 72% of black or African American respondents and 66% of women respondents to a National Institute of Building Sciences survey said they had experienced discrimination or prejudice at work. People from other non-white groups also stated that they encountered similar attitudes.
  • Many of the People of Color and women surveyed stated that they have to work harder than others to be valued in their roles in the commercial and residential construction industries, according to research by research firm Avenue M. Many people in these groups don’t believe them either have equal opportunities to advance their careers.

Dive Insight:

Respondents from other minority groups in the construction workforce who reported having experienced discrimination or prejudice were:

  • 48% of the respondents from East and South Asia.
  • 43% of Native American, Native Alaskan, or First Nations Respondents.
  • 41% of Hispanic or Latinx Respondents.
  • 35% of respondents from the Middle East or North Africa.

So far, reports of racism and discrimination in the construction industry have been largely anecdotal. The study will help NIBS and its stakeholders quantify the problem and identify where action is needed, according to a press release.

To follow up on the results, NIBS recently convened an Executive Roundtable on Social Justice composed of dozens of construction industry executives focused on improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the built environment. The aim of this and other recent meetings was to discuss the workforce, industry sustainability, data and best practice reviews, and partnerships, according to a press release from NIBS shared with Construction Dive.

At a December executive roundtable on the subject, Lakisha A. Woods, CEO of NIBS, referred to race and gender data on board seats at Fortune 500 companies, which showed 66% of white male seats and 18% of board seats were occupied by white women in 2018. Only 12% and 4% of the seats were held by black men and women, respectively.

“When the Fortune 500 companies face this diversity challenge, we still have work to do,” she said. “The construction industry has far greater diversity challenges.”

To address social justice, diversity and inclusion, leaders at the July meeting shared what their organizations were doing to address these challenges. They include:

  • Analyze the composition of the board and make changes to reflect the local community.
  • Hiring external consultants to address diversity, equity and inclusion issues.
  • Creation of an equality initiative to address the lack of diversity within the organization.
  • Cooperation with various suppliers and corporate sponsors whose goals are in line with the organization.

Other survey results showed that 65% of respondents said it was important or extremely important to increase the diversity of the built environment, and 43% of respondents said their company has a program or initiative on diversity and inclusion. Respondents were employees or volunteers in organizations in the construction industry, including the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Design-Build Institute of America.

NIBS also announced that it will sign the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge from professional services company PwC, which aims to create trustworthy workplaces that can lead to complex and sometimes difficult conversations; implement and / or expand unconscious prejudice education; and share best practices.

NIBS will also compile and share best practices with industry leaders who participated in the round table with the aim of having all construction industry organizations commit to the pledge and other recommended steps by the end of September.

“We need to work together as an industry to focus on steps that make real change,” Woods said in the press release. “The obligation to take specific action related to developing a diverse leadership pipeline is key to future success.”

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