The Merry Month: by Robert Merry

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant. He ran his own stone company for 17 years before becoming first an independent project manager and now a consultant. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. 0207 502 6353 / 07771 997621. [email protected]

Stone consultant and Expert Witness Robert Merry considers issues of equality and diversity in stone and construction in general. 

The UK construction industry has a poor record on diversity and inclusion and though there are no statistics for the stone industry specifically, I imagine any survey would reveal a similar profile.

With an ageing workforce and the further reduction of overseas employees as a result of Brexit and perhaps the coronavirus, the need for our industry to attract the next generation of workers has never been greater (see the CIOB publication The impact of the ageing population on the construction industry –

To attract youngsters I believe we have to change our image and our attitudes. We have to change our policies to ensure the UK stone industry survives. And this change will come through strong leadership – how we run our companies, the standards we set, the policies we initiate and promote.

Our recruitment and development of those we employ is critical. The available pool of workers is increasingly diverse and we need to appreciate and embrace this fact.

Actively seeking diversity in our workforce and providing the space for difference within our organisations is essential if we are to have people to replace the existing workforce when it retires.

Statistically, most new recruits to the industry will end up either as programmers or machine operators. As technology increases and robots replace manual labour – which is already happening in factories and will also eventually do so on building sites – there may not be many other choices.

But how do we attract this generation and how do we keep them in our industry?

They will need positive role models and clear and dynamic leadership that recognises and understands their aspirations and values. We need to mentor our future leaders, and these new leaders should reflect our customers and clients.

Key decision makers are increasingly from diverse backgrounds, and if our products and services are not geared to recognising that fact, we will lose them as customers.

Marketing Week recently revealed that 65% of UK consumers feel ‘British marketing and advertising fails to recognise the full range of their lives and experiences’. This makes one in six customers less likely to buy and means organisations not promoting diversity and inclusion are missing out on sales.

Some other telling statistics for construction, according to the Glenigan Construction Industry Performance Report: Ethnic minorities make up 14% of the UK population but just 3% of the construction industry. Women constitute a measly 13% of construction workers.

The business case is proven time and again: organisations that embrace diversity and inclusion keep staff longer and make more sales and more profit.

Leading international change management experts at McKinsy say gender diverse companies are 14% more likely to out-perform their rivals and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to perform better.

It makes sense that a gender and ethnically diverse organisation will have a wider collective pool of knowledge and experience and be more attractive to a more diverse range of clients.

How are we going to attract and retain customers if we do not reflect the wider world? By not being a diverse industry we will be out of step with the society we are trying to serve.

The green shoots of change can be seen in the Natural Stone Industry Training Group (NSITG), which has launched a new initiative called Women In Natural Stone (WINS). Its creation coincided with International Women’s Day on 8 March. It is the first group of its kind in UK stone.

Claire Wallbridge, who runs the NSITG, said there was an enormously positive response on social media.

Congratulations to Claire. I wish WINS every success. The rest of us have to change the narrative and wake up to the potential offered by diversity.

Our leaders should be advocating, encouraging and persuading the stone industry to diversify the workforce. We are missing out on the talent that can drive us forward. The world is changing and we need to change with it or we will become a curiosity, an anachronism, instead of a modern forward thinking industry that has a valid contribution to make and of which we can all be justifiably proud of.