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Perspective Chapter: The Sovereign Way - How Diversity in Construction Is Key of Success in the Digital Age

Written By

Bianca Christina Weber-Lewerenz

Submitted: January 3rd, 2022Reviewed: January 13th, 2022Published: March 15th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.102662

IntechOpen
Digital TransformationEdited by Antonella Petrillo

From the Edited Volume

Digital Transformation [Working Title]

Dr. Antonella Petrillo, Prof. Fabio De Felice, Prof. Monica Violeta Achim and Dr. Nawazish Mirza

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Abstract

It is true that women no longer have to be looked for with a magnifying glass in the executive floors of German businesses; however, their share is still small. The digital age holds great potential for increased inclusion and closure of the “Gender Leadership Gap,” especially in the construction industry. Industry standards, including global ones, are being examined to achieve more inclusive corporate governance models. The construction industry, which is regarded as one of the most traditional and conservative, male-dominated industries, serves as the best example for a long-overdue need for dynamic restructuring and action related to women’s leadership. This research is an approach to outline the framework answering the need to redefine, recalibrate and reshape this industry by increasing women’s role in the social, digital and business transformation processes. This approach is the most important finding as it bridges the current divide and facilitates movement from discussion and advocacy toward application and practice.

Keywords

  • women leadership
  • responsible leadership
  • digital innovation
  • digital transformation
  • digitization
  • AI
  • construction industry
  • diversity mandate
  • ethics
  • inclusion
  • diversity
  • blockchain

1. Introduction

Despite the good order situation, construction companies are exposed to persistent cost pressure and a shortage of skilled workers. New digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) improve operational efficiency, offer new business models and provide training for new qualification requirements that correspond to new job profiles. The construction industry is the key industry in Germany; it plays an important economic role. For example, construction investments by the German economy added more than EUR 387 billion in 2020—the highest level since the 2008 recession as per the statistics by the Main Association of the German Construction Industry [1]. Around 10% of the German gross domestic product is used for construction work. In 2020, the share of gross value added in the construction industry in Germany was around 6.1% of Germany’s total economic gross value added. With almost 2 million employees, the construction industry supports the overall economy in the COVID-19 crisis but is responsible for 38% of all global energy-related CO2 emissions. Energy and climate, digitization and the need for skilled workers directly affect the construction industry. The industry could benefit significantly by implementing the strategic decision-making processes, planning and operating phases more efficiently by standardizing both digital technologies and methods of AI in more diverse environments, pushed by legal regulations. In short, diversity and a new culture of thought are essential for the future-oriented portfolio in the construction industry to make the digital transformation holistic, successful and sustainable. Nevertheless, there is a lack of recognition of the potential of new technologies, there is a lack of courage and willingness to use them, and there is a lack of diversity.

The digital age holds great potential for increased inclusion and closure of the “Gender Leadership Gap” [2]. The construction industry, which is regarded as one of the most traditional and conservative, male-dominated industries, serves as the best example for a long-overdue need for dynamic restructuring and action related to women’s leadership [3, 4]. The Status Quo listed below is evidence of the strong need to redefine, recalibrate and reshape this industry by increasing women’s role in the social, digital and business transformation processes. By assessing why diversity is the key factor, this approach bridges the current divide and facilitates movement from discussion and advocacy toward application and practice. The evaluation of such assessment comes with two theses. Dealing with these goes hand in hand with significant calls for action on both legal and an overall societal level. They lay the ground for implementing diversity and follow the sovereign way to set value accents for Construction 4.0.

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2. Status quo of diversity

The 25th-anniversary celebration of buildingSMART Germany on October 27, 2021, in Berlin spurred the diversity discourse on-site and around the globe with the author’s keynote speech and a panel discussion on the “Success factor diversity in the construction industry” [5]. It offered approaches on how diversity in corporate culture and knowledge can help avoid discrimination and gender bias, optimize inclusion and further improve crucial aspects of digital ethics in data-driven technologies—such as fairness and transparency in AI.

Women strengthen public trust in AI, their communication skills, transparency and network breadth speak as independent characteristics for the success of female leadership potential. This is all the more important in an industry like construction, which has a very high share of the economy but lags behind digitization and AI, diversity and inclusion. The construction industry is traditionally conservative, a male-dominated industry with the attitude “Let’s do it as always,” “It works” and “We need a strong man on-site.” The “good old boys” network and gatekeeping have a long tradition. In recent years, the industry has had to accept a significant decline in the number of skilled workers. The digital transformation creates the conditions for disruptive reforms and changes to include women, win them over to STEM and offer new career paths. Virtual reality (VR) and blockchain technology for example show a great development from the technical perspective but especially from the innovation factor’s perspective carried by inclusion and diversity [6]. When it comes to global crises such as economic and pandemic crises, it is crucial to secure human and social rights. Furthermore, it is even more important to strengthen diversity, gender parity and inclusion and maintain democratic values to successfully master historical crises [7].

Nevertheless, there are prejudices and a lack of role models, although the construction industry cannot do without the qualifications, know-how and socially communicative digital high potential of women. To fundamentally rethink the technological progress that enables new business models and to keep pace with digitization in the long term, all those involved are required to promote best skills, diversity and inclusion. Thus, the digital change is also accelerating the merging of these previously separately working units. Evidence of hard facts such as increased profitability (ROI) and overall excellence in digital corporate culture rationalize the gender discussion. The need for action is high: increasing the far too low proportion of women in the construction industry in general (Figure 1), enthusiasm for more female students in civil engineering (Figure 2), toward more female mandates and board members (Figure 3) and closing the still serious gender gaps in AI occupational fields (Figure 4).

Figure 1.

Women in construction in Germanysource: statistics in construction 2021, main association of the German construction industry (German HDB).

Figure 2.

Female civil engineer students in Germanysource: statistics in construction 2021, main association of the German construction industry (German HDB).

Figure 3.

Distribution of positions of power in German companiessource: allbright report as of 05th march 2021[8].

Figure 4.

Gender proportions in machine learning (ML) researchsource: EQUALS report 2019[9].

Companies that prioritize gender equality in their hiring practices and workforce also generate 41% more revenue than those that do not. Recently, McKinsey & Company found that companies with different leadership teams were 21% more likely than their counterparts to outperform their peers. Plus, they were 27% more likely to create and deliver value [10]. According to a McKinsey and Company study in 2015, AI-controlled talent intelligence immediately triples the diversity of the talent pool and at the same time lowers recruiting costs by up to 60%; diverse teams are 35% more profitable and 1.7 times more innovative; interview pools with a diversity of at least 40% tend to optimize the hiring processes.

AI is the result of human intelligence, enabled by their enormous talents and also prone to their limits. Hence, it is imperative that all teams working in technology and AI be as diverse as possible. Diversity of people does not only mean the obvious in terms of demographics such as race, ethnicity, gender and age, but also people with different skills, experiences, educational backgrounds, cultural and geographical perspectives, opinions, ways of thinking and working. The digital transformation has great potential to make the life cycle of construction projects economical and efficient and to enable the greatest possible social benefit, economic prosperity and the protection of our natural foundations of life. However, the digital age requires strengthening strategic values for a more inclusive environment and the common good. Gender mainstreaming is the answer, as this concept of gender equality at all social and political levels fundamentally and systematically takes into account the interests of women and men.

Courage and the will to innovate‑this courage is expected, especially from the German building trade. Here is a lot of strength, self-confidence and potential for innovation, as well as in other parts of the world [11]. Diverse knowledge, skills and strengths are necessary to tackle the challenges. They are key for success, weighing up decisions and exploiting the potential. Where technical feasibility and social responsibility meet, a field of tension arises. The particularly high shortage of skilled workers, the loss of attractiveness of entrepreneurs for applicants, the increasing pressure in global competition and the more necessary interdisciplinary dialog strongly clarify the need for action. With diversity in technical and interdisciplinary know-how, through diverse backgrounds, communication that “takes people with you,” a good mix of personal and social strengths, human and technical transformation is filled with life and the digital era is shaped sustainably. The digital era means both opportunities and risks. Diversity leads to success.

The step-by-step implementation of various gender and equality strategies initiated by UN, EU, UNESCO, UNICEF and World Economic Forum are reason to celebrate but always combined with the task of responsibly dealing with high-tech, building, traditions and our society as a whole—and its transparency and control [12, 13]. It requires full attention to find out which technology helps the human, how and where it supports human work best, makes human work more efficient, much easier and safer, and how the human can (and must) make full use of the potential and lay new paths in the digital era. To date, there has been no lack of technical development, especially in construction. We all know where the dowel should fit. We all know where the nail on the head needs to be hit. But do we always have our compass ready for internal alignment and meaningful changes of direction and decision-making?

We live and work in complex surroundings with increasing data, more technology, faster, more tasks, more interfaces and more specialist knowledge. We devote ourselves passionately to our daily work topics, but also to shaping our future together. It is us, humans, we shape the environment in which we live and work. We daily operate in multi-complex areas of tension: between what is technically feasible and in ethical compliance, digital change and humane change, innovative technologies and social expectations.

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3. Why diversity is key for success

Here are two theses: Digitization does not automatically lead to more diversity. Technology does not solve our social problems either.

We want to create value, we want useful technology that supports us, humans, we want complete data of the highest quality to make AI non-discriminatory. At the same time, we are surrounded by a complex world of data, constantly new requirements, in a less agile environment. There is a lack of knowledge, not only in construction but also across disciplines: “Think outside the box” with qualified and diverse specialists. In 33.5% of companies in building construction, in civil engineering even 37.9% lack skilled workforce according to construction industry statistics as of September 2021. Demographic change shows in October 2021: There are more retirees than trainees and students.

Many of us are not equally familiar with digitization and AI or are aware of their potentials or their unwanted effects. To unravel the aforementioned areas of tension, there is a key factor: DIVERSITY and a change in the culture of thinking. The pressure is already there:

  1. Companies need to provide evidence of their social commitment and how they are fulfilling their responsibilities and inclusion.

  2. Only as an attractive employer is it possible to attract new skilled workers with new knowledge.

  3. It is important to reaffirm the trust of stakeholders, employees and customers, in particular by showing intangible values in annual reports.

Recent examples of successful interdisciplinary and diverse cooperation for technical innovation in construction are the German pavilion at Dubai EXPO2021: All strengths are bundled, and diverse and talented teams laid the foundation for the integrative multidisciplinary environment for sharing knowledge and strengths leading to this outstanding construction project. Same with the world’s first adaptive skyscraper at the University of Stuttgart, which is used for research purposes: this project brings together interdisciplinary knowledge, for example, from engineering and mechanical engineering: Hydraulic cylinders are integrated into supports and are part of 128 measuring points, to, for example, make environmental influences on the building measurable.

These strategies are vivid samples of the Berlin Declaration at the 68th Assembly of the Federal Chamber of Engineers in October 2021 states: “Engineering competence is an indispensable value for the design of our environment ... sustainability .... a must: to consider the entire life cycle of buildings ….”

City, Country, Construction - We can do more than just build!” Everything at the Construction Industry Day 2021 revolved around innovation, added value, such as “Construction sites become new models” and other value strategies embedded in the European Green Deal [14] to minimize CO2 and become first climate-neutral continent.

Diversity is a topic that stimulates, touches and sets vibrations. So how does diversity define success in construction?

  • Diversity ensures balance and creates values

  • Diversity means allowing many aspects, listening, and requires mindfulness, empathy, respect

  • Diversity facilitates well-balanced decisions (strengths complementing each other)

  • Knowledge from many subjects, professional diversity that comes together

  • The complexity of know-how, data, people, requirements, expectations, constantly new technology and possibilities, changing environmental conditions

  • Diversity of interfaces enables the exchange of knowledge in times of digitization and AI; diversity is indispensable to design this technological support for people regardless of gender

  • New job profiles, new areas of responsibility, new professional and personal qualifications, an adaptation of curricula and teacher qualifications

  • Adaptation of training: teaching qualifications, access to education, access to media and digital working media, information

  • Interface skills (well beyond specialist boundaries), broad-based networks, cooperation in various teams (complement each other, change of perspective)

  • Role models, role models, best practices are in abundance (successful companies/research/innovations led by women = statistics show where and how women are the engine and key factors for technical innovations and entrepreneurial success.)

  • Country and culture, specialist discipline, skills and knowledge, strengths, experience, perspectives and ways of looking at things

  • Diversity brings together skills and strengths. Joint search for concrete approaches.

Diversity connects us, humans, strengthens trust, creates mutual professional benefits and supports lifelong learning. Trust, security, awareness and education are key elements for understanding and applying new technologies. buildingSMART Germany, as part of the global construction-wide competency network buildingSMART International, copes with the challenges of the digital era by sharing user practice and up-to-date research findings with its innovative members. The author contributed keynotes and scientific presentations during their events.

With a view to the two previously raised theses: Digitization does not automatically lead to more diversity. Technology does not solve our social problems either.

Isn’t diversity rather an engine, one of the most important success factors in the digital age?

By paving new paths for your success as a competitive company, you are building the foundation for diversity in your children’s professional lives and their career opportunities! Let us make full use of this historical opportunity, which this technical and human change offers—well thought out, and with full speed.

The German building craftsmanship, our engineering skills and our values are considered as a role model in the world. A seal of quality shines on our partners all over the world. For example in China one says, the Germans build for eternity, German products are extremely reliable, and German engineering craftsmanship deserves the highest recognition. This awareness of how German engineering and engineering ethics are valued from outside of the country, knowing, which expectations are equally directed toward us, and how we repeatedly challenge ourselves is a great motivator and inherits large responsibility. Because such responsibility means to maintain and strengthen values and constantly develop our skills. New technologies offer a historic opportunity! It is important to prove the reputation of the construction industry.

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4. Calls for action

Strategies on the national, European and global levels drive diversity, gender issues and inclusion toward more innovation in AI and digital change (Table 1). Statistics from the AllBright Foundation 2021 show that corporate governance codes or ethical codes are not half as effective as corporate management that exemplifies these values in a diverse corporate culture.

  • The 17 Sustainability Goals of the United Nations (2016)—UN SDGs

  • United Nations Convention on Women’s Rights (1981)

  • The Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome (2020)—Rome Call for AI Ethics Guideline [15]

  • Digital inclusion strategies from UNESCO, UNICEF, World Economic Forum [16]

  • EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020–2025 (Union of Equality) [17]

  • European Commission (2020) White Paper on Artificial Intelligence—A European Approach to Excellence and Trust (world’s first proposal for a legal framework for AI) [18]

  • European Commission (2021) Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council: Harmonized rules on AI (Artificial Intelligence Act) and amending certain Union acts

  • European digital strategy 2030

  • Enquête Commission of the German Bundestag “Artificial Intelligence—Social Responsibility and Economic, Social and Ecological Potential” [19]

  • Data Ethics Commission of the Federal Government (2019) Report on data ethics

  • AI strategy of the Federal Government

  • Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure BMVI (2017). Implementation of the step-by-step digital planning and construction

  • Curriculum: in preparation (2021) by the German Chamber of Architects: “BIM in academic teaching”

  • T20 Policy Briefs for G20 summit Italy 2021

Table 1.

Calls for action source: Bianca Weber-Lewerenz.

The construction industry, which is considered to be one of the most conservative, male-dominated industries, is the best example of a long-overdue dynamic need for restructuring and action in relation to a more diverse environment. The most important catalyst is diversity in all social, digital and business transformation processes.

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5. The sovereign way: new approaches to implementing diversity

Success in the digital age requires a strong push, disruptive innovations in an interdisciplinary environment with an open corporate culture exemplified by the management. Well-balanced decision-making and the full exploitation of potential are possible when advantages and disadvantages, chances and risks of digital methods and AI are thoroughly thought out, and where diversity enabling new innovations is seen as an opportunity, particularly, when it comes to creating the corporate unique selling point with innovative digital business models. In companies, long-term personnel development is one of the main focuses and is one of the approaches for the practical implementation of diversity (Table 2).

New approaches to implementing diversity
  • The role model role of women in the social, digital and business transformation processes

  • Enable new data-driven technologies and AI

  • Diverse, integrative environments = the basis for successful, sustainable paths

  • Bridging the current gap between discussion and practical implementation

  • Responsible leadership, diversity mandate, ethics council

  • Diverse corporate culture and management that exemplifies diversity

  • Legal regulations (in addition to entrepreneurial personal responsibility)

  • Key competencies, qualified staff, adapted curricula

  • Increase the share in the value chain

  • Aligned to the common good and sustainability goals

  • Renown abroad: “A transparent and ethical AI - Made in Germany.”

Table 2.

New approaches to implementing diversity source: Bianca Weber-Lewerenz.

One of the core tasks in the digital age for decision-makers in the societal, political, social and business environment is to recognize the benefits of AI and to operationalize it in a responsible and morally justifiable manner. The ethical components of diversity are essential for the non-discriminatory design of AI. Progress helps to develop creativity and improve the quality of life. Because technical decision-making processes are about evaluating and weighing up advantages and disadvantages, opportunities and harm, freedom from discrimination and equality are top priorities. For buildingSMART, it is both mandatory and encouraging to pursue the key factor diversity more closely.

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6. Conclusion and value accents for construction 4.0

Diverse, integrative working groups ensure a variety of perspectives and thus a quality boost for research and development. The fundamentally necessary discussion about diversity and humane change in the construction industry could not be better embedded than in the digital transformation process. New technological feasibility creates new opportunities for the design, visualization, realization, use and recycling of a building. It is important to localize, implement, control, maintain and protect the sensible use of AI. It is critical to implement and enforce a framework of rules and best practices that, when organizations adopt AI tools, they are well allocated and trained, and that there is a clear strategy to demonstrate transparency about how the algorithms are designed and identify who is involved, how the software applies and data need to be fed and updated. It will be necessary to adopt a number of principles of digital ethics to guarantee diversity and equality of the sexes, guarantee data protection and data security—going well beyond the general provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and also making the adoption more transparent promote measures (e.g. the IEEE Standard P7003 adopted in 2021 to avoid algorithm bias, algorithmic testing of fair, gender-independent treatment).

Ethically justifiable products are regularly more competitive, and the responsible use of digitization and AI can only be achieved through diversity. The people who fill civil engineering with life are challenged to re-think radically, face innovative technologies openly, align professional personal skills with them and build them up anew. The discourse on the design of corporate responsibility in the digital society requires a new quality of discussion. The implementation of these requirements is the key competence in Germany. The author fills this scientific niche with her research project on CDR in construction [20].

How does technology support us, humans, sustainably and in our value-based decisions in the construction industry? [21] How do we design a digital transformation in construction that makes sense, makes work safer, and processes more efficient? [22] Old questions that are more modern than ever—in the course of the digital transformation—especially under the focus of the humane transformation [23]. This debate is completely absent in the construction industry [24]; the author introduces it for the first time in the course of her research. It goes beyond the dominant financial focus by deriving signposts for meaningful and value-based digitization and AI. These offer orientation in thinking and acting, enabling them to act as a role model in Germany and to become a seal of quality for the German construction industry at home and abroad.

Nevertheless, a radical rethinking is required: the traditionally conservative attitude, hesitations and the lack of legal regulations on the mandatory use of digital methods, which are still strongly anchored in the construction industry, worry [25, 26]. These are still the greatest obstacles to more efficient building life cycles, progress and the acquisition of skilled workers. The time is long-overdue to restore society’s trust, to show that construction projects can be performed professionally, successfully and sustainably. More courage and willingness to innovate would help the construction industry as a whole to regain a positive reputation.

Such a holistic approach as tackled by this research is new and builds on the previously outlined calls for action. CDR in construction enables companies to implement and live up to their responsibility for diversity, technological innovations and shaping a sustainable digital age. This field of research is still completely new in the construction industry, and there is only comparative literature in other specialist disciplines. Unfortunately, diversity in a traditional, conservative industry, such as construction still, is promoted very little, even though it is one of the most important drivers of digital change for the construction sector.

Diversity in construction is an essential element of building trust, involving various perspectives and strengths, enhancing innovation and moving technological development forward. It is key for a successful digital transformation.

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Conflict of interest

The author has no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose. There is no conflict of interest/competing interest.

Publication permission was given by all respondents. Some public statements, which come from the Internet, literature and archive research, also underline the quality and statistical values of the expertise and survey values obtained, as well as limitations and urgently necessary measures.

The author of this study conducts external research, is company-independent and is not financially supported by third-party funds, companies or other institutions. She is free in her research and shares her findings at the interface of “application practice - applied technical research - economic and social transfer.” In this way, the author is researching the responsible use of digitization and AI—neutrally, critically and inclusive—and promoting the ethical debate about AI technologies.

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Acknowledgments/other declarations

This chapter is to encourage everyone to use the full potential of women in the Digital Era—in their thoughts and actions. The unexploited reservoir of women’s potential is to increase the share in the value chain for more sustainability and success at all levels.

I would like to thank all of the experts interviewed in this research. They not only shared valuable insights but contributed to the founding of the “Excellence Initiative for Sustainable, human-led AI in Construction.” I would like to thank the European Association for REsearch on SERVices (RESER) and the buildingSMART Network for the great cooperation and support in addressing the ethics and diversity debate for moving digital innovations forward.

In particular I would like to thank my supervisor, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Marzia Traverso, Head of Chair of the Institute of Sustainability in Civil Engineering, Faculty of Civil Engineering at RWTH Aachen University, Germany.

Statistics and reports were of great support with data and facts to underlay the statements and recommendations made in this chapter. The huge interest in this chapter by experts, companies, decision-makers and activists in the Digital Era demonstrates the key role of women leadership.

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

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Written By

Bianca Christina Weber-Lewerenz

Submitted: January 3rd, 2022Reviewed: January 13th, 2022Published: March 15th, 2022