Gender pay gap reporting may have been suspended this year as a result of the global pandemic, but this does not mean that construction companies should put their diversity and inclusion initiatives and goals on the backburner.
Gender balance campaign group, WISE, has urged employers to keep diversity firmly on the agenda during this challenging time. The group’s chief executive, Helen Wollaston, has encouraged businesses to consider “the capability needed in the future as well as the skills and experience needed today”. This is pertinent in construction, where skills gaps do present difficulties.
Wollaston points out that we should “seize the opportunity to draw on the talents of everyone in our organisations, men and women in partnership, bringing our unique and diverse contributions. Not only will this help us all in the short term, it will make a profound and lasting difference for generations to come.”
We fully agree with this view and believe that it is important for the sector to remain focused on gender diversity – even at a time when we are not required to submit formal figures. This would have been the third year of gender pay gap reporting for companies with more than 250 employees and the results were eagerly awaited. Analysis of last year’s reports by NCE showed that construction was the sector with the highest median pay gap (24%). Construction remains a male-dominated industry and much still needs to be done, and unfortunately, we will not have official figures this year to track the progress that may or may not have been made.
Furthermore, there is likely to be a negative impact on the gender pay gap in the coming years as a result of the pandemic. Figures have shown that women are more exposed to risk of unemployment than men at this time, because a greater share of men than women work in occupations deemed ‘critical’, and women who are primary caregivers may have their work impacted by school closures.
Employers could take this time to review the progress they have made in the last few years; where the skills gaps are and how these could be addressed through greater diversity and inclusion; steps taken to remove bias from recruitment; and how they may adapt policies or working patterns once everyone goes back to work. This applies to smaller companies too; even if you would not be required to report on your gender pay gap, it is still an issue that should be front of mind when looking at your future workforce and thinking about the capabilities and experience you will need to ensure the ongoing success of your business.
Many businesses have had no choice but to adopt home working across their office-based workforce, and this has been a major change for construction – a sector in which flexible and homeworking is still not widespread.
Employers who have previously been resistant to flexible working practices will hopefully now have a more optimistic view, if working from home has kept the business running successfully. This may have long-term benefits for diversity and inclusion, and particularly for women. Enabling employees to work from home, even just for some of the time, could help to improve work life balance and retain talented people who have childcare or caring responsibilities.
We look forward to seeing positive changes and further progress towards closing the pay gap from companies in the sector, and hopefully a sustained effort to ensure that construction does not continue to be the industry with the largest pay gap when the time to report comes around again.