Special Issue on equality, diversity and inclusion

Click here for PDF of this call.  First draft submissions due 1 June 2012.

Globally, the construction sector remains predominantly white, male and able-bodied. This is despite a range of initiatives targeted directly at addressing this and a wealth of research providing evidence that this remains the case (see for example Dainty and Bagilhole’s (2005) CME special issue on equality and diversity). From a business perspective, this means that the industry, which is still facing skills-shortages in spite of the global financial crisis, is failing to attract and retain highly skilled employees from the breadth of the population. From an ethical perspective the construction industry has disregarded the ideal of social justice, equality and inclusivity for all.

Even in areas of the construction sector that have higher rates of minority representation, the evidence suggests that minority workers are often treated poorly and face numerous cultural and structural barriers. While statistical data is generally poor, evidence in the UK and Australia indicates that women, ethnic minorities, people with a disability and older people represent less than 1 in 7 construction workers. Comparative data is also scarce, largely as a result of international differences in defining minority groups. Research also shows that the under-representation of minority groups and division of labour in construction exists elsewhere, including for example: women in Nigeria (Adeyemi et al., 2006), Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain (Byrne et al., 2005), Zanzibar (Eliufoo, 2007), Bangladesh and Thailand (Hossain and Kusakabe, 2005), Singapore (Ling and Poh, 2004); migrant workers in Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain (Byrne, et al., 2005), Malaysia (Abdul-Aziz, 2001); ethnic minorities in Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain (Byrne et al., 2005); and disabled workers in the Netherlands (Clarke et al., 2009).

In much of the extant literature, women and other marginalized groups are implicitly compared to a white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied norm which has rarely been problematized or adequately described and analysed. For example, movements towards equality often focus on minority groups, such as women, being treated the same as men, irrespective of their differences. However, this concept has been problematized for failing to recognize differences between and within minority and majority groups, and for implying that the goal of equality can be achieved if subordinated groups assimilate to the culture of the dominant group (Pilcher and Whelehan, 2004). While there is now a wealth of research on the experiences of minority groups in construction, in particular the challenges women working in construction face, a number of areas remain under-explored. The first of these areas is gender, rather than sex.

Further work is required to understand how experiences within the sector may be different for subordinated masculinities and femininities. For example, it is naive to treat women and men as homogeneous groups; while some women are likely to relish working in a male dominated culture such as construction, it is equally likely that some men in the industry find the culture problematic. With some exceptions, much of the extant literature in the field is empirical rather than utilizing sociological theory to understand the persistent marginalization of women and certain groups of men. Theories such as hegemonic masculinity (as developed by Connell, 1982) and gender perfomativity (Butler, 1990, 2004) could be applied within the sector to understand how gender norms manifest within the sector and to help research move away from an essentialist view of gender.

Second, there is little research exploring the experiences of construction employees with a disability (Gale and Davidson, 2006). The construction sector is a major disabler of individuals, with construction workers at greater risk of developing certain health conditions than average (Brenner and Ahern, 2000). Common health conditions affecting construction workers include back injuries, injuries due to hits or falls, respiratory infections, arthritis and hearing deficiencies, (ibid; see also Clarke et al., 2009). Lingard and Saunders (2004) found that in Victoria, Australia, few construction companies had rehabilitation or return-to-work programmes for injured workers. They found that small construction firms lacked the resources and knowledge to support injured and disabled workers. Disabled workers are also hindered by employer attitudes. Many people with disabilities can work safely on construction sites with suitable support and physical barriers to working in office-based roles should be minimal (Lingard and Saunders, 2004). However, Lingard and Saunders (ibid) for example, found that employers were hostile and suspicious of workers’ motives in occupational rehabilitation, which may result in workers feeling blamed, discouraged or punished after an injury.

Third, there is little research on age discrimination in construction, which is significant given the extent of the ageing populations in many Western countries, at least. The most recent data available suggests that in England and Wales older workers aged 55 years or over are slightly over-represented in the construction workforce (15.4% compared to an average 13.4%). Yet literature exploring discrimination against construction employees on the basis of age appears to be sparse. There is some anecdotal evidence that young construction professionals, or those who appear young, may experience negative attitudes from site workers (Sang, 2007). Data from other sectors suggests that stereotypes about older workers can significantly and negatively affect employees’ willingness to work with older workers (Chui et al., 2001).

The Guest Editors welcome theoretically informed papers on any aspect of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the construction industry, from any country. We particularly welcome submissions which move beyond a business case argument for EDI and beyond existing evidence outlining the barriers faced by women working in construction. We also welcome papers from researchers from outside the sector, but whose empirical research and theory from their own field may apply to EDI within the construction industry. In addition, papers which examine gender (including masculinities), ethnicity (including whiteness), disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, class and religious belief or how these intersect are welcomed. Papers which address age and disability should move beyond a focus on occupational health and safety (which can be addressed to Helen Lingard’s Special Issue on that topic). Themes which authors may seek to address include (but are not limited to):

  • Critical evaluations of diversity measures
  • Intersection of diversities
  • Problematization of essentialist concepts of gender
  • Masculinities/femininities in construction
  • Age discrimination
  • Sexual orientation or queer theory in construction
  • Disability in construction
  • Marginalization of minority groups in construction
  • Critiques of existing research on EDI in construction


Abdul-Aziz, A.-R. (2001) Foreign workers and labour segmentation in Malaysia’s construction industry. Construction Management and Economics, 19(8), 789-98.
Adeyemi, A. Y., Ojo, O., Aina, O. O. and Olanipekun, E. A. (2006) Empirical evidence of women’s under-representation in the construction industry in Nigeria. Women in Management Review, 21(7), 567-77.
Brenner, H. and Ahern, W. (2000) Sickness absence and early retirement on health grounds in the construction industry in Ireland. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57, 615-20.
Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble. London: Routledge.
Butler, J. (2004) Undoing Gender. London: Routledge.
Byrne, J., Clarke, L. and Van der Meer, M. (2005) Gender and ethnic minority exclusion from skilled occupations in construction: a Western European comparison. Construction Management and Economics, 23(10), 1025-34.
Chui, W.C.K., Chan, A.W., Snape, E. and Redman, T. (2001) Age stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes towards older workers: an East-West comparison. Human Relations, 54(5), 629-61.
Clarke, L., Van der Meer, M., Bingham, C., Michielsens, E., and Miller, S. (2009) Enabling and disabling: disability in the British and Dutch construction sectors. Construction Management and Economics, 27(6), 555-66.
Connell, R. W. (1982) Class, patriarchy, and Sartre’s theory of practice. Theory and Society, 11:305-20.
Dainty, A. and Bagilhole, B. (2005) Guest Editorial. Construction Management and Economics, 23(10), 995-1000.
Eliufoo, H.K. (2007) Gendered division of labour in construction sites in Zanzibar. Women in Management Review, 22(2), 112-21.
Gale, A. and Davidson, M. (Eds.) (2006) Managing diversity and equality in construction: initiatives and practices. Abingdon: Taylor and Francis.
Hossain, J.B. and Kusakabe, K. (2005) Sex segregation in construction organizations in Bangladesh and Thailand. Construction Management and Economics, 23(6), 609-19.
Ling, F.Y.Y. and Poh, Y.P. (2004) Encouraging more female quantity surveying graduates to enter the construction industry in Singapore. Women in Management Review, 19(8), 431-6.
Lingard, H. and Saunders, A. (2004) Occupational rehabilitation in the construction industry of Victoria. Construction Management and Economics, 22(10), 1091-101.
Pilcher, J. and Whelehan, I. (2004) 50 Key concepts in gender studies. London: Sage.
Sang, K.J.C. (2007) The health and well being of architects and the role of gender. Unpublished PhD thesis, Loughborough: Loughborough University.

The Guest Editors for the Special Issue are happy to discuss ideas for papers. If you would like further information or wish to discuss an idea, please contact: Dr Abigail Powell, University of New South Wales, Australia (a.powell@unsw.edu.au) or Dr Kate Sang, Heriot Watt University, UK (k.sang@hw.ac.uk).

First draft submissions due: 1 June 2012



About Will

Professor of Construction Management and Economics, University of Reading, UK. Editor-in-Chief, Construction Management and Economics (1992-2016). Programme Director, MSc Construction Management. School Director of Postgraduate Teaching Programmes.
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