A new equality and diversity toolkit sets out how procurement can be used as a driver for change
The construction sector has long been aware of the need to increase the diversity of its workforce – both from a business need to address skills shortages and improve performance, as well as because it’s the fair and socially responsible thing to do.
But achieving this aim can be challenging, especially with the lengthy supply chains common in the industry.
Procurement can be one means of pursuing equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) aims, through including EDI in social value or community benefits commitments from contractors.
A new resource, produced by the Buying Social Justice research project, offers practical guidance and real-life examples of how to incorporate equality and diversity objectives throughout all stages of the procurement cycle.
The Buying social justice through procurement: an equality and diversity toolkit aims to be of use to all those involved in procurement – from public sector clients commissioning large projects, to private contractors managing their own supply chains and suppliers seeking to understand what is needed in order to win contracts.
It should also help EDI professionals to understand the importance of procurement as a lever for change.
‘Procurement is key’
At an event hosted by Building People to showcase the toolkit, founder Rebecca Lovelace said that “the real way to change the culture of the sector is by a clever contractual stick, as well as a practical and collaborative carrot”.
For Lovelace, “procurement is key”, with actions mandated from the top to drive joined-up changes.
The Buying Social Justice research project investigated the use of public procurement to advance equality in employment in England, Scotland and Wales.
It focuses on the construction sector using a mixture of methods – expert interviews, a survey of procurement officers, good practice case studies and collaborative workshops.
Public sector case studies
The nine case studies from local authorities, housing associations and universities across England, Scotland and Wales highlight the results that can be achieved when public sector commissioners work closely with contractors to deliver outcomes.
At the toolkit launch, Babu Bhattacherjee, from one of the case study organisations, Poplar HARCA, a housing association in East London, said procurement had a huge role in its work trying to eliminate poverty in the community.
He highlighted that its successes came from working in partnership with contractors. He welcomed the toolkit as valuable for sharing examples of good practice with wider audiences.
In 2022-23, it recorded that 309 jobs and apprenticeships had been created across City Deal projects, with 171 for those from priority groups.
Driving equality in construction
A case study of Islington Council showed that Section 106 agreements are used to require apprenticeships for local residents on new housing developments, with efforts made by the construction employment team to ensure that opportunities are provided to women.
It was noted that 12% of jobs on construction sites across the borough were filled by women in 2022, of which 80% were in the building trades, significantly above the national average of 2% of women in the building trades.
The interactive format of the toolkit allows users to move easily between stages of the procurement process – preparing to procure, writing the specification, selecting suppliers, tendering and assessing, and contracting and monitoring.
Download the toolkit here.
Tessa Wright is professor of employment relations at Queen Mary University of London.