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LGBT+ History Month: Building community – a history of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the construction industry

Posted on 10 February 2023

In 2015, Building Equality, an alliance of construction consultants, engineers, developers and contractors, was formed by LGBTQIA+ activist Christina Riley with the aim of creating a construction industry that is 'wholly welcoming, inclusive and supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender + other related communities'.  

Currently over 70 organisations have joined the alliance to regularly participate in initiatives to create LGBTQIA+ visibility in the construction industry such as reverse-mentoring to help senior staff understand barriers faced by LGBTQIA+ workers, and UK-wide pride events. What has changed in the last eight years for the construction sector? 

Homophobia on Construction Sites 

The first industry-wide survey into attitudes towards sexuality in construction was conducted in 2015 and found that only 14% of gay employees said they would be open about their sexuality on site. At the same time, Human Rights Campaign 'The Cost of the Closet and rewards of Inclusion' found in 2015 that 48% of LGBTQIA+ workers felt enforcement of a non-discrimination policy depends on a supervisor’s own feelings toward LGBTQIA+ people.  

In 2017, Construction News also carried out an LGBTQIA+ survey in which 54% of respondents saying they did not feel comfortable being open about their sexuality or gender on site, suggesting a small improvement. These findings were reflected in a 2020 report on LGBTQIA+ experiences in construction by the University of Loughborough's School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering. Sites were perceived by its respondents as 'traditional, exclusive spaces dominated by hyper-masculine white males'. (However, interestingly, site offices were posited as 'more inclusive' than the site itself.)  

Engineering and Architecture  

In 2015, a joint report by the House of Commons and InterEngineering revealed sobering statistics about LGBTQIA+ engineers' experiences. It found that 53% of engineers were not open about their sexuality in the workplace and 46% of participants stated they would prefer to 'be out more' but felt that this would not be positively received by the culture of their employer.   

The report cites multiple studies that have found that individuals working in open, diverse and inclusive environments are more productive and engaged at work, and ultimately concludes that there is a clear link between happier engineers and a more prosperous workforce and society. The report further finds that there could be a potential loss to the economy of £11.2 billion per year through engineers feeling unable to come out, taking into account the proportion of closeted LGBTQIA+ workers in engineering, the overall turnover contribution from LGBTQIA+ staff and how remaining in the closet can hamper productivity.  

By 2017, Construction News' annual survey reported that 58.7% of those working in engineering felt uncomfortable being open about their gender identity and/or sexuality when visiting construction sites, with this number rising to 62.1% for those working in architecture. 

The future 

Other aspects of the construction industry hint at a progressive future, from both individual companies and networks.  

In recent years the Considerate Constructors Scheme has established a dedicated site leadership and culture module which recognises that there is often 'lack of respect' and 'poor communication'. It aims to improve an organisation's 'culture and leadership style in the considerate practice areas of the workforce, the community and the environment'. The scheme is supported by Go Construct, an organisation which seeks to get people from all backgrounds into construction, as well as the Construction Industry Helpline, which provides welfare and support to the construction community.  

That such a scheme exists and is supported by organisations who champion inclusivity and transparency around mental health is a sign that the industry is changing for the better.  

In another historic first for the sector, leading UK construction company Mace Group Ltd was listed in Stonewall’s 2022 Top 100 LGBT+ Inclusive Employers. 

Another significant development has been the growth of the Building Equality network, founded by Christina Riley. 

Christina, currently a senior planner at construction company Quinn London Ltd, is an outspoken advocate for LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the construction sector. She founded Building Equality to harness the collective power of LGBTQIA+ individuals in the construction, engineering and built environment industries, and drive inclusion. As well as this, she is Vice Chair of the CIOB Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Panel and is a member of the Construction Industry Council Diversity & Inclusion Committee. Having decided to transition while working at Balfour Beatty in 2014, she has since said that 'coming out at work was the best thing I ever did'.  

Christina will speak on the main stage at London Build 2023, the UK's leading construction show, about her pioneering work within the industry.  

These moves towards advocacy, education and allyship indicate the growing inclusiveness of the construction industry and point to a successful and diverse future.  

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