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The politics of sameness in the Australian construction industry: Comparing operative and manager attitudes towards cultural diversity

Martin Loosemore (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Florence T.T. Phua (University of Reading, Reading, UK)
Kevin Dunn (University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Umut Ozguc (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 5 July 2011

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Abstract

Purpose

Australian construction sites are culturally diverse workplaces. This paper aims to compare operative and manager attitudes towards cultural diversity on Australian construction sites, and to examine the strategies that are used to manage it.

Design/methodology/approach

A face‐to‐face questionnaire survey was undertaken of 1,155 construction operatives and 180 supervisors on Australian construction sites.

Findings

The vast majority of operatives and managers are comfortable with cultural diversity. However, there is some anxiety about cultural diversity, especially around safety risks, and there is evidence of racism. Those concerns are more keenly perceived by operatives than by managers. Both operatives and managers see some of the negative issues (discrimination, racist joke telling) as inevitable daily outcomes of cultural diversity on sites. The normalisation of these negative forms of cross‐cultural interaction reveals a pessimistic disposition towards cultural diversity. Cultural diversity policy, and programs, are not seen as a priority by managers, and some see such strategies (e.g. affirmative action plans) as discriminatory, and unfair, since they may favour some groups over others.

Originality/value

No research has compared operative and management attitudes towards cultural diversity in the Australian construction sector. This paper provides a first glimpse into the value attributed to cultural diversity programs by managers within construction sites. These insights will be of value to managers and supervisors who have to manage multicultural workforces in the construction industry. Conceptually, the paper reveals how the “politics of sameness” are hegemonic within the construction industry, presenting as an a priori anxiety towards difference, the normalising of poor cross‐cultural relations, the non‐prioritising of policies to better manage cultural diversity or their ad hoc adoption.

Keywords

Citation

Loosemore, M., Phua, F.T.T., Dunn, K. and Ozguc, U. (2011), "The politics of sameness in the Australian construction industry: Comparing operative and manager attitudes towards cultural diversity", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 363-380. https://doi.org/10.1108/09699981111145817

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited