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Comment | A profession that needs to grow up

Mark Hansford

Does the fact that just 8% of gay engineers feel comfortable being open about their sexuality on construction sites really come as a surprise? Or that 60% of gay men and women engineers have heard homophobic comments in the workplace in the last 12 months?

Of course not. Anyone who has spent any time at all on a construction site would instantly recognise that there is a long way to go for our industry to being open and inclusive of all people. We’ve all heard the casual language - you know, the words “gay” and “fag” used as apparently innocuous insults - and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As our survey into attitudes towards sexuality in the construction industry shows, we have a big problem.

LGBT thumbs down

In a joint investigation with sister titles Architects’ Journal and Construction News, we have surveyed 1,000 people working across the industry - and the findings are stark.

That 60% of gay engineers have heard homophobic comments is bad, but that one in five of them have experienced offensive behaviour directly is terrible.

Terrible, but as I say, not surprising. Our survey follows confirmation that companies from the construction and built environment sector failed yet again to appear on campaign group Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index in 2015, a list of the UK’s 100 leading firms for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.

Why does this matter?

Just as with our campaign around women in engineering it matters because it is just wrong that anyone - male or female, old or young, black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, should feel in any way singled out in our industry.

Yes, there are good business reasons why we should embrace more diverse teams, and yes, there is the simple resource reason that we shouldn’t be turning away technically competent people just because they don’t match up to our perceived notion of what an engineer looks like.

But fundamentally it matters because for it not to matter is just wrong. And just as with the gender agenda, this is an issue that everyone can confront and tackle.

It does not need client leadership (although that would be welcome), it does not need senior management-led initiatives (although they really do help).

There is reason to be hopeful. In our survey 85% of straight engineers working in consultancy said they would be comfortable with gay colleagues - as opposed to 76.3% in contracting.

Although that is immediately caveated by one in five of them saying that those gay colleagues should remain discrete to avoid being offended by the attitudes of others.

Fundamentally it needs all of you - practising civil engineers - to understand what is right and what is wrong and to make it known to all around you that bigotry in any form is simply unacceptable. That is the challenge.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s editor

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