The impetus to improve diversity in the workplace is growing across the world and in the UK is being driven by growing awareness of the issues and new legislation.

Here at Dentons, we have established a Diversity and Inclusion Committee which "spans a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives and geographic locations" and is in keeping with our identity as a multinational, polycentric firm that keeps diversity and inclusion at the core of our practice. The wide-ranging activities undertaken by this committee and its supporters have been instrumental in raising awareness of diversity issues across Dentons' practice – a fact acknowledged by Stonewall in the publication last week of the Top 100 Employers Index 2017 for LGBT staff. We are delighted to report that we have risen some 80 places in the last year to 17th in the Index.

Thankfully, Dentons are not alone: many other law and other professional businesses have similar initiatives, as do our clients in the construction industry.

The Good Employer Guide 2016

The Good Employer Guide 2016 was launched by The Building Magazine back in November 2016 in a feature that highlighted some challenging statistics. Of the total number of employees in the building industry, women make up just 7%, and people from ethnic minorities make up only 3.2% (in 2009).

At page 8 of the report, David Blackman considered what firms are doing to "widen construction's gene pool" and commented: "It is fair to say that the construction industry in general does not have the best reputation for employing the most diverse workforce." Few would disagree with Mr Blackman or with the need to effect change. Employers' concerns about a dwindling labour force and lack of new recruits highlighted in the Farmer review only make the long-term effects of employing a non-inclusive workforce all the more acute.

Diversity initiatives in the construction industry

The scale of the industry's challenge to create a diverse and fair workplace should not undervalue the great work that has already been done by the government, various bodies and industry players. Just have a read of the following examples.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) is just one of the industry organisations raising awareness of diversity issues in the workplace. The CIC has a Diversity Panel: a collaborative forum and platform for members of all construction disciplines and professional bodies whose aim is to identify and promote diversity policy and activities within the construction industry. You can read the CIC Diversity Panel report here.

The National Centre for Diversity has set out three reasons for construction organisations to put equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives into practice: the pool of talent is increasingly diverse, as are the consumers and a diverse workforce is a key driver of innovation. You can read more here.

Statutory measures introduced

Generally speaking, the Equality Act 2010 (the EA) gives legal protection from discrimination, harassment and victimisation due to a characteristic as defined in the Act. The EA also includes specific provisions relating to the awards of public contracts: those bidding for such contracts who do not, and whose workforce do not, meet the minimum requirements of equality will lose out on the contract. This increased scrutiny of bidders' workforces operates to ensure that workforces reflect the diverse population in which they work.

The EA makes discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity illegal. Go Construct are working actively to encourage more BME people into the construction industry. You can read more about construction and ethnicity on the Go Construct website.

Go Construct also highlights the networking opportunities for LGBT workers and professionals in the construction and infrastructure sectors. Other networks have been set up too, such as Off Site – LGBT Construction and Infrastructure Network created by Pinsent Masons. Here, at Dentons in the UK, we have "GLOW" – an internal networking group for LGBT colleagues and allies which is open to all staff and partners regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The very existence of these networks raises public awareness of LGBT issues and provides support and encouragement to LGBT people who might be isolated or suffering from less well-informed colleagues' offensive behaviour or language.

Encouraging women into construction

Building Magazine and Hays Recruitment carried out a women in engineering survey in December 2016 through which they aimed to reveal more about the attitudes of men and women working in engineering. Building Magazine confirmed that the data will "be used to analyse morale, perception, pay equality, career progression and work-life balance within the sector".

The Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 is expected to come into force on 6 April 2017. From that date it will be mandatory for all employers with at least 250 employees to publish information about their gender pay gap.