Racism in construction includes graffiti, nooses, statements, actions, and other forms of discrimination on the jobsite. Whether obvious or subtle, these racist acts are widely condemned across the U.S. and Canada. And now more than ever, contractors are taking meaningful steps to stamp out racism — not only to ensure safety, but to boost profitability as well.
Why construction needs to stamp out racism
Racism keeps skilled workers away. Beyond discouraging skilled workers from joining the construction industry, racism is the reason why many contractors leave it. Which is a major problem for an industry already affected by labor shortages.
“It is essential that all workers feel safe and free from discrimination when they are on the job. Moreover, young people interested in working in the construction skilled trades – regardless of race or ethnicity – should feel welcomed to the industry.”
Racism and safety can’t co-exist. Racism leads to a lack of trust onsite. And without trust there is no safety. The outcome? More fatalities. As Mike Meagher, president of James McHugh Construction Co. said, “If you’re hundreds of feet up in the air or using heavy equipment, the last thing you need is doubt creeping up in your mind about whether your fellow workers have your back.”
Racism impacts profits. More often than not, it’s your reputation that wins you your next job. So in order to protect your bottom line, you must support diversity and inclusion. Because regardless of how good your bid might be, you’re not going to get hired if you’ve got a bad rep.
Ways to combat racism in construction
Report and track incidents: Encourage contractors to speak out against racism and establish a process for reporting racist behaviours. This will give you an idea of what’s happening onsite, allowing you to interfere before it’s too late.
Focus on the jobsite: While there might be an internal push for diversity and inclusion, it may not always transfer to the jobsite. Ensure you’re promoting and hiring contractors who will lead by example on the ground. Your job sites will be safer and more productive as a result.
Build awareness: Schedule toolbox talks about racism in construction so that everyone understands what it is and how to report it. You can use these talks to communicate policies and build awareness for diversity and inclusion.
Case in point: RESCON
Last summer, the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) learned of deplorable incidents of racism that occurred on Toronto construction sites. RESCON has always embraced diversity and inclusion, so they knew something had to be done; it was their responsibility to respond.
How did they respond?
RESCON formed a roundtable of 21 industry partners – employers, unions, employment agencies, educators, organizations representing contractors, the provincial and municipal governments, and the health and safety sector — to address the issue of racism in construction. The partners have already met to discuss the governance structure and form subcommittees around three key issues, including:
- Workplace policies and employer legislation
- Education and training
- Marketing and communications
The subcommittees will meet on a quarterly basis to develop ideas and policy responses on how to deal with racism in an effort to change the culture of construction for generations to come.
In addition to forming a roundtable, RESCON held a webinar on an employer’s obligations when dealing with racism and discrimination, plus launched a Construction Against Racism Everywhere (CARE) initiative, which includes the creation and distribution of hard hat stickers to contractors across Ontario.
“These stickers are important because they serve as a reminder that our industry will not tolerate racism.”
For a full list of anti-racism resources, articles, initiatives, and more, please follow this link.