Diversity in innovation: transforming construction team

Diverse people stacking hands together

Exploring what diversity means for the sector from one team to wider industry.

Diverse thinking breeds diversity and innovation, but we need everyone’s help.

At Innovate UK, we know that difference brings more innovation to our work. In our transforming construction challenge (TCC) we see examples of this every day, thanks to our eclectic team members:

  • Chris’ work in sustainability and clean growth recently saw her nominated for an award in carbon neutrality
  • Sherrie’s connections led to her presenting on TCC to the Iranian Women’s Network.
  • Tash, our project manager has worked for UK Research and Innovation for years and so has the best connections for us
  • I shaped a recent webinar (YouTube) from one originally set up as a panel of white men, to one that I chaired. It had a diverse panel, providing an interesting and unique angle on transforming construction.

Creating a diverse workforce

In the transforming construction team, diversity is a priority for us. When shaping the diverse team, Innovate UK actively encouraged female applicants throughout the recruitment process.

For our Transforming Construction Advisory Group, it was important that the senior leaders giving us steer and challenge were a 50:50 mix of men and women. We are proud to have achieved a gender balanced advisory group, having a female chair in Dr Diana Montgomery, Chief Executive of the Construction Products Association since 2012.

Eva Magnisali with robot

Eva Magnisali with robot (Photo courtesy of DataForm Lab)

Diversity in construction

This all feeds into the shift already underway in the UK construction sector, from one focused on cheapness and lowest cost, to an industry embracing innovation and driven by whole-life value.

The sector is changing because it must. From the Construction Leadership Council’s roadmap to recovery to Construction Scotland Innovation Centre’s Stephen Goode’s priorities for 2021 on PBC Today. For all the reasons we are aware of from Latham to Farmer, but also because it understands the economic, social and environmental benefits of doing so.

Whether it is an evolution or a seismic shift, there are numerous pioneering stories of innovation, like that of Eva Magnisali on TCC story catalogue. Eva heads up the robotics team for Bryden Wood, as well as founding and running her own company, DataForm Lab.

Diana Montgomery

Advisory Chair, Diana Montgomery

My colleague, Sherrie worked on oil rigs in Scotland at the beginning of her career. Chris started as an research and development engineer and progressed to leading BRE’s National Solar Centre. Tash worked in banking previously.

I started off in project management in the charity sector. We didn’t originally imagine we would work in the construction sector. Not because we didn’t aspire to or didn’t want to, but because the part we could play wasn’t obvious.

To quote our advisory chair Diana Montgomery:

We need everybody in the industry to be a bit braver and perhaps not take the comfortable, easy route.

Diversity is the key to innovation

The sector’s role now is to create an environment where the opportunities for people across society are not just obvious, but appealing and prolific. This way diversity, more so than just from a gender diversity perspective, will enhance construction. Every day in the challenge we hear about the impact of innovation (TCC story catalogue) on the construction industry, and how vital this is to achieve:

  • home building targets
  • net zero by 2050
  • better fire regulations.

These are just a few of the topical and pressing targets underway across the sector.

Much of achieving these targets and moving away from focusing on lowest cost comes through attracting, recruiting, and retaining a more diverse set of people. Go Construct and Building People are committed to this, as are many other programmes. If we prioritise this, we can continue to benefit from people like Zara Riahi joining the sector.

Zara, who has a masters in earthquake engineering and has founded and supported several start-ups globally, set up Contilio two years ago. She has led two transforming construction grants, currently trialling laser scanning on construction sites across the world to improve installations and reduce defects.

Diverse society, colourful head profiles collage

Credit: wildpixel/GettyImages

Encouraging diversity in the workplace

Additionally, and speaking very personally, if I had seen the advert for the Innovation Lead role I am now in on LinkedIn, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply for it.

I specialised in innovation and future skills at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), and come from a project management, campaigns, and engagement background. Despite this, it was a (white male) colleague at CITB who encouraged me to apply. This is what we need more of, and are seeing in the challenge.

Equality, diversity and inclusion needs advocates, and it can be helpful when those advocates come from a spectrum of diverse backgrounds and those in the traditional positions of privilege. From my experience with colleagues at CITB and my experience so far in this challenge, I have lots of male champions who:

  • have confidence in me
  • respect my challenges
  • respect difference of opinion
  • want me to achieve and believe in me (like my colleague at CITB).

This is one tiny example. But in transforming construction we should, and we do, set examples to industry, and back into government. Industry needs more of what we have, diverse opinions, healthy challenge and disrupters who are supported by everyone, regardless of whether they have a protected characteristic or not.

If we can continue working with industry and government, prioritising innovation, we can continue making this happen.

Further information

Learn more about our work in equality, diversity and inclusion.

Read the equality, diversity and inclusion in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund blog from Olivia Ogbomo.

You can also read our tackling gender equality blog on our transforming construction challenge page (see ‘related content’).


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