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Skills warning as poll reveals hostility felt by gay engineers

Civils firms have been urged to ensure they are not driving away valuable skilled workers after an NCE poll exposed the hostility often felt by gay engineers.

More than a third of the gay male and female engineers surveyed in a joint investigation with sister titles Architects’ Journal and Construction News said their sexual orientation created barriers to progression in the industry.

More than 60% of gay engineers had heard homophobic comments in the workplace in the last 12 months, with one in five experiencing offensive behaviour directly.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Ceca) said advice on fair treatment of employees regardless of their sexual orientation would be included in best practice guidance to be issued later this year.

Ceca chief executive Alasdair Reisner said: “Our industry is enjoying a period of consistent growth in activity that will mean that the demand for good people intensifies over the coming years.

“In this environment, the last thing the industry needs is to be putting employees and potential new recruits in a position where they feel unwelcome.

“For this reason, our organisation has been working with colleagues from across the industry to increase understanding of fairness, inclusion and respect issues, whether on-site or in the office.

“Later this year we will be launching new guidance to help companies understand how they can demonstrate best practice, improving the image of the industry and the way we treat those who work in it.”

Kim Worts, director of external affairs at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, added: “The industry as a whole continues to be primarily white, middle class and male dominated.

“Figures for ethnicity; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) staff; and disability are not available but it’s no surprise that the survey reveals the construction industry lags behind in welcoming LGBT employees.

“Until we change the culture in the workplace, we are not going to attract the brightest and the best to our industry.”

Less than half the gay engineers surveyed said they were comfortable being open about their sexual orientations with their immediate colleagues.

One said: “I am discrete about my sexuality. I feel that if I were to be open in the workplace it would lead to a breakdown in friendships with colleagues and have an adverse affect on my future opportunities… as the industry is only starting to promote gender diversity, it will be too long before sexual orientation is [accepted].”

The proportion of gay engineers who feel comfortable being open about their sexual orientation drops significantly in certain environments.

Just 17% would be comfortable being honest at client meetings and industry events, and a paltry 8% when visiting construction sites.

“I feel comfortable being openly gay in the consulting environment, but I keep my sexuality quiet on site or in meetings with contractors,” said one employee. 

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