Hannah Gibson, Innovation Lead at UKRI’s Transforming Construction Challenge, explains why diversity and inclusion must be integral to a company’s strategy if it strives to succeed through innovation
How often are the words diversity and inclusion used interchangeably? Let’s be clear about the distinction. Diversity is important, whether it means inviting a range of people to join a team, sit around a board table or Zoom call. Inclusion is paramount.
Are those from diverse backgrounds speaking up? Are they sitting at that table or on that call, empowered to make decisions? Do people feel engaged and included enough to want to be on said team? Does the company represent their thinking? If not, this serves no one, and leaders need to step up and address this. Diversity is ensuring everyone can be part of the team. Inclusion ensures everyone has a say and is heard.
Some of UK construction’s biggest contractors and consultants have a distinct commonality with many emerging start-ups and innovative SMEs – diversity and inclusion. This is integral to the success of everyone, from the largest employers in the sector right through to those with fewer than five people on the payroll.
Take Contilio. Having worked in the industry, Zara Riahi co-founded Contilio in September 2018 to solve many of the challenges she faced on construction sites. Zara brings over 12 years of global business, engineering, and project management experience. She also holds an MSc in Earthquake Engineering and an MBA from London Business School.
“Diversity and inclusion must be integral to a company’s strategy if it strives to succeed through innovation”
Contilio’s service eliminates the gap between plan and reality for construction projects. It uses real-time data to compare digital design models with a digital twin of a site, bringing them together in a dashboard that gives teams greater data visibility, accuracy, and certainty for a more productive build, and allows them to verify the quality of the building as it is constructed.
For this Innovate UK-funded project, Zara and her colleague Jack Li, along with Imperial College London partner Stefan Leutenegger, have gone from strength to strength, working with the biggest names in construction logistics in the UK and the US.
Why, and how? Because the team is dynamic, agile, diverse, and inclusive. They think outside the box, they are not afraid to punch above their weight and are used to working smart in a sector that has been short on different influences, and at times set in its ways. Contilio have just closed a £1.5m round of private financing from venture capitalists, with aims to raise a further £5-10m throughout 2021.
Need another example? How about nPlan. Founded by Dev Amratia and Alan Mosca in 2017, nPlan’s machine learning solutions forecast the duration, risks, and opportunities for construction projects – a vital tool transforming project planning and productivity. In early 2021, nPlan secured £13m in new funding from the venture arm of Google’s owner, Alphabet. This is tangible evidence that unique, forward-thinking SMEs have traction.
Over to the bigger players. If Contilio and nPlan are examples of the supply chain and contributors to (arguably) relatively small aspects of infrastructure projects, how is diversity and inclusion key to innovation at the top?
Below are three examples of large contractors either proactively working to leverage the advantages of innovation, or paying the price for not:
- Earlier this year, a number of Balfour Beatty shareholders opposed the reappointment of the company’s chairman, amid concerns about a lack of diversity on its board
- Mace has launched a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy that will shape the organisation’s approach to addressing equality, inclusion and diversity over the next three years
- Laing O’Rourke announced far-reaching new global sustainability targets, including a commitment to decarbonise its own operations by 2030 and achieve equal numbers of men and women among its 5,500 global staff
Diversity and inclusion are not a nice-to-have; they are the difference between excellence and not good enough. Diversity and inclusion must be integral to a company’s strategy if it strives to succeed through innovation, as, without innovation, there is no progress and improvement. Without improvement, there is no increased revenue. Without increased revenue, shareholders have even more to rebel over.