Confronting racial discrimination

Central Piling MD Steve Hadley shares his views on tackling unconscious bias.

Following his appointment as chair of the FPS (Federation of Piling Specialists) earlier this year, Central Piling MD Steve Hadley has written a series of blogs on industry issues.

Steve had pledged to speak regularly during his two-year tenure about issues close to his, his company’s, and the FPS’ heart, and one was about racial diversity.

In it, Steve claims we cannot proclaim to live in a post-racial society in the UK and it’s reasonable to assume that the prevalence of racial discrimination is at least as strong within the foundation industry.

And he cites the example of a friend, an experienced black Chartered Civil Engineer who runs his own geotechnical consultancy, who entered the building of the Institution of Civil Engineers and was challenged as to why he was visiting it. While he was happy to show his membership badge, he did ask why he had been singled out when other well-dressed individuals like him hadn’t been challenged?

He perceived it was because of the colour of his skin, and this was apparently reinforced when he was approached by two young graduate engineers who thought he was a security guard.

“These anecdotes are reflective of an endemic problem – that of stereotyping due to unconscious bias,” believes Steve.

In 2009, the Equality and Human Rights Commission carried out its own inquiry on race discrimination in the construction industry and noted that numbers of non-white construction workers were not improving, and they were particularly under-represented at managerial levels. They proposed the following ways forward:

  • Prominent leadership from industry heads and professional bodies, pulling together the different drivers for racial equality in the industry
  • Promotion of good practice through the Sector Skills Bodies
  • Diversifying the supply chain – public bodies should monitor their current supplier base and set targets to encourage more ethnic minority-led businesses to tender for opportunities
  • Increased participation of ethnic minority trainees on work-based learning programmes and apprenticeships
  • Development of an industry standard for equality monitoring in both the workforce and membership bodies
  • Ongoing evaluation of positive action campaigns and feeding back impact to the sector and the public, with prominence given to ethnic minority role models

Little progress in rectifying this problem has been observed in the past 12 years since the report was written. Unfortunately, following the completion of a STEM subject at University, BAME persons are still 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. For trade apprentices the statistics are much worse as BAME persons are 5 times more likely to be unemployed.

However, the FPS, via its association with the Ground Forum and Construction Industry Council, has been involved in producing the inclusive website which provides resource tools for individuals and businesses in the built environment looking for career opportunities and best practice guidance.

For more information on the actions that Central Piling and the FPS is taking to address this issue, and for this article in full, please click here.


It is important we accept there is a problem, which will lead to very difficult conversations which may result in awkwardness or people feeling uneasy,” said Steve. “But with a change for the better, that feeling will pass and, in many situations, what will be left is a better understanding of how, for instance, the impact of careless stereotyping and words of prejudice can be harmful.