New UNSW research reveals barriers to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the construction industry

Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW released a new report, 'Building an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace: A blueprint for Australia’s construction industry', on Tuesday

New UNSW research reveals barriers to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the construction industry
Oxford Street, Sydney. Image: Shutterstock

Homophobia, bullying and harassment continues in the construction industry despite improving attitudes towards LGBTQ+ employees, according to new research from the Australian Human Rights Institute at UNSW released Tuesday.

The report, which looked into the experiences of LGBTQ+ people working in construction and the effectiveness of current diversity and inclusion strategies, was undertaken in conjunction with InterBuild’s People Engagement working group and sponsored by the Lendlease Foundation.

Researchers Dr Natalie Galea and Dr Melissa Jardine found that while LGBTQ+ inclusion has improved, there is a “significant variation across the industry” and many people still don’t feel safe bringing their authentic selves to work.

New UNSW research reveals barriers to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the construction industry

Participants in the study ranged from tradespeople to senior executives of multinational companies, and gave detailed accounts about coming out at work, the experience of transitioning gender in the workplace, and the effectiveness of existing diversity and inclusion strategies.

Another study published by PwC’s GLEE team showed that homophobia was more present within the construction industry than on average.

75 per cent of respondents from the construction sector, Australia’s most male-dominated industry and the third-largest national employer, indicated they had observed homophobia, compared to 56 per cent in other sectors. 

Lead author of the UNSW report Dr Galea said that while most participants felt there was a positive trajectory in workplace attitudes, many noted the sector was coming off a very low base.

“The research found it was particularly challenging for those in junior positions, apprentices and FIFO workers to navigate the construction sector as an LGBTQ+ worker due to a lack of power and a desire to ‘fit in’ to avoid anticipated negative responses,” Dr Galea said.

One of the participants, who is in their 40s and identifies as queer, said: “I’m going to wait until I finish my apprenticeship and get a permanent position [before being more open about my identity] even though my role is considered permanent... I feel like I need people to see that I do a good job and I’m an okay person.”

New UNSW research reveals barriers to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the construction industry

Co-author Dr Jardine said the research found that industry leaders often lacked awareness of inclusive LGBT+ practices and in some cases failed to act on homophobic or discriminatory behaviours.

“Despite many examples of good leadership, participants expressed frustration that some leaders turned a blind eye and failed to act or challenge homophobic behaviour and attitudes, especially from ‘old school’ men,” Dr Jardine said.

The report, which included recommendations for government and businesses, noted that this risks entrenching current behaviours and may lead to the loss of new talent.

Other recommendations to recalibrate industry behaviours and value the engagement of all workers included sexism, homophobia and transphobia education, publicly available inclusion policies, and a mental health service for LGBTQ+ tradies with qualified counsellors who understand the construction sector.

The full report, titled Building an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace: A blueprint for Australia’s construction industry is available to read here.

Max Kwok

Max Kwok

Max Kwok is a staff contributor at urban.com.au. Based in Sydney, Max has previously worked at Property Observer where he specialised in content creation and editorial research.

Tags: 
Homophobia Construction Industry Unsw Research LGBTQ+

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