Diversity & Inclusion: Is the KBB industry doing enough?

Is the KBB industry failing on diversity and inclusion? Is it a moral obligation or can it actually help your business? We look at what a more diverse and inclusive workforce could mean to this sector and whether it can be achieved. Francesca Seden reports…

The cover of the May 2023 issue of kbbreview caused quite a stir on social media. Under the headline ‘A view from the top’, nine prominent KBB brand leaders are pictured. All are male and eight are white. The image garnered a range of responses, from disappointment at the lack of diversity, to defensiveness

For context, it is important to point out that the article the cover was associated with was a review of the ISH bathroom fair. It had nothing to do with diversity and did not intentionally leave anyone out. It just so happened that at the trade show, they were the business leaders that were available for kbbreview to talk to. And that isn’t really surprising, given that, out of hundreds of KBB brands, there is a relatively small number of female managing directors and CEOs. The story is similar for those from black, Asian and minority backgrounds.

In the trades industry, including installation, plumbing, electrical engineering and construction, the picture is worse. In 2022, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that over the past decade the percentage of women taking up skilled trades and holding senior management positions within construction firms barely changed.

Of all skilled trades professionals working in the UK construction sector – such as joiners, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers, and carpenters – just 1% were women. And that represents just a 0.7 per cent increase during the past decade.

More recently, a report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and The MBS Group, published in the summer of 2023, revealed that although a very encouraging 93% of retailers have implemented a strategy to improve diversity and inclusion, there is still a “long road ahead”, with 66% of retailers having no specific targets in place to track progress. 

The ‘Diversity and Inclusion in UK Retail’ report analyses the retail landscape in 2023, looking at gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, social mobility, and age. It aims to drive change in the retail industry by tracking progress made so far, and identifying what more needs to be done.

Boardroom bias

The report found that almost 30% of boardrooms remain all-white, and gender diversity on leadership teams is still below the FTSE 350 benchmark of 40% (37.8%). The retail industry also lacks disabled role models, with only 17% of retailers able to identify one disabled leader.

“Now is the time for retailers to shift from introducing activities to assessing their impact and focusing on those that drive tangible outcomes. While a clear strategy is vital, it is just the first step in shifting the dial on D&I. Retailers must constantly adapt the strategies they put in place to ensure maximum impact on this crucial issue,” said the authors of the Diversity and Inclusion in UK Retail report.

In response to a lack of diversity in the installation indus­try, the British Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom Instal­lation (BiKBBI) recently hired Dr Stuart Lawrence in the newly created role of diver­sity ambassador, to educate kids from diverse and potentially deprived back­grounds on the ben­­­­e­­­­fits of a career in the trades and help fill that skills gap. 

The new role was created following the launch of the BiKBBI’s Education Steering Committee, which aims to assemble stakeholders, advisors and sector specialists to determine the direction of education and develop­ment within the KBB installation sector.

We also spoke to BiKBBI chief executive Damian Walters and Dr Lawrence to gain a deeper under­standing of the issues as they see them, and how they can be tackled.

Vital statistics

Key findings from the ‘Diversity and Inclusion in UK Retail’ 2023 report

Ethnic diversity board representation has improved by 5 percentage points to 10% since 2021 but 30% of retail boards remain all-white (4% are all-white in the FTSE 100)

Gender diversity board representation has improved by over 5 percentage points since 2021 to 37.8% However, this still remains well below an equal gender split

80% of retailers are focusing on disability
in their D&I strategies compared with 50% in 2021

• More individuals are comfortable to identify as trans, non-binary
and gender fluid

in the workplace

65% of businesses now include social mobility in their D&I strategies, compared to
20% in 2021

64% of businesses could identify at least one senior leader from the LGBTQ+ community, compared with 47% in 2022 and 27% in 2021

Walters describes the issue as twofold – firstly educational institutions are not investing in vocational training, putting most of the funding towards STEM and IT instead, and so few young people see it as an option. He also believes we are “still struggling with a lack of equality in businesses today”, and that, although there are more options open, “we are trying to undo generations of old-fashioned thinking, and if anything is going to change, we have to work at it and we have to invest in it”.

In terms of the solution, to both help solve the skills crisis and create a more diverse workforce, Walters and Lawrence asserted that the key is creating a buzz around the trades so that all young people know that such a career can be exciting and lucrative.

Dr Lawrence adds: “It is crucial for all industries to recognise the importance of diversity, not only as a matter of social inclusivity, but also as a driver for innovation and success. It would be good to hear from those at the top of the food chain about what they are going to do. We are working from the bottom, up, but we need top-down action too. If we can both work together, we’ll be able to achieve something amazing. 

“It’s early days yet, but I’m really optimistic about the direction we’re going in. We will help galvanise the people at grass-roots level and speak to the communities that we need to speak to, but we also need for people to start coming to the table about the different opportunities and possibilities that we can begin moving into.”

He continues: “We all need to rethink things, and make sure we’re not stereotyping and assuming roles for people. We need to make sure we give everyone their chance to shine and contribute to life and I think this industry could do that for people.”

From our investigation, it seems there are a number of people and organisations behind BiKBBI’s move to create a role dedicated to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), with many agreeing that the issue needs positive action.

KBSA retail and cor­­porate membership director Malcolm Scott says: “Installers could look to Women and Manual Trades (WaMT), a not-for-profit company that aims to make women the norm rather than the exception within the construction industry. With forums, networks and case studies, it supports women in the industry, helps employ­ers and promotes opportunities and training.”

BMA CEO Tom Reynolds, comments: “If the industry is unattractive to people with a given background, then we are closing ourselves off to untold talent. Stuart will use his passion and experience to break down barriers to entry into KBB installation and manufacturers look forward to working with him.”

But, how much of a problem there is in the KBB industry as far as inclusivity and diversity is concerned differs, depending on who you speak to. We asked a selection of retailers for their thoughts on diversity and responses were varied. Some believe that there is “a disgraceful lack of diversity”, that we should be doing more to improve diversity and champion the benefits of a more varied and diverse workforce, while others insist that the only criteria that should be taken into consideration when employing people is whether they are good enough to do the job.

Rubina Hughes, owner of Zara Kitchen Design, says: “We can learn from the interior design industry who are ahead of our sector in addressing this issue. They have initiatives such as United in Design and Design for Diversity that businesses can sign up to. I think making diversity a topic for discussion is long overdue. 


“We need to educate ourselves in order to identify ways in which we can encourage a more diverse range of people to enter our industry. For example, through apprenticeships and by going to schools and speaking to children about our industry.”

Others suggest that the situation is not as bad as some make out, saying that there are many female retailers and designers in the industry. Indeed, there are areas where diversity may not be as much of an issue, but does this mean we shouldn’t strive to be better in other areas of the industry?

The topic of diversity and inclusion was raised at the BMA’s annual conference last month. Authors and business coaches Kanthi Ford and Patrick Ricketts led a discussion on how to build resilience in the sector through workplace diversity. 

Spotlight on brands supporting EDI initiatives

Through its Give Programme, Grohe is a key sponsor of the Female HIP (heating, installation and plumbing) Skills Awards, which was set up to encourage women and girls to join these professions. 

Chris Dodds, leader, GIVE Program at Lixil EMENA explains: “The current gender imbalance not only represents inequity, but also poses a threat to the growth and success of the industry, particularly given the ongoing shortages of skilled labourers and installers in the UK. It is crucial we prioritise making the industry more inclusive for all women, tapping into their full potential, and fostering a more diverse workforce. 

The most practical way to level up diverse participation in the trade industry is by further providing more targeted opportunities, such as introductory events, training programmes, work experience and apprenticeships. We need to showcase what the industry can offer.”

“We need to be aware of all of our biases, conscious and unconscious,” Reynolds says. “We also need to share good stories, as they build familiarity and trust around the positive change that comes with EDI.” 

The question of whether there is a problem in this area will continue to be debated, so maybe the better question is, why is a more diverse workforce a good idea? and what are the benefits to the industry?

Firstly, as BiKBBI CEO Walters would assert, we need to solve the skills crisis, and the best way to do that is to attract as many young people into the industry as possible. 

Justine Bullock, co-founder of bath­room retailer The Tap End, points out: “Diversity attracts diversity – so if we start being more diverse, we will attract more diverse applicants for roles”. 

As the saying goes – ‘you can only be it, if you see it’ and diversity generally will mean diversity of thought – different ways of doing things and different ways of thinking.

Elizabeth Pantling-Jones, managing director at Lima Kitchens, adds: “People buy from people. They need to feel comfortable, understood, and wider representation will achieve this in other ways than we do today. Also, when you are more out­­wardly diverse, you are more likely to create momentum on becom­­­ing increasingly diverse.

“Taking into account the male / female divide, I also think that there needs to be more diversification in roles. While there are a number of females in designer, lead-taking, showroom manager and other ‘administrative’ positions, there are still restrictions on other roles. This is part of the diversity and inclusivity issue that many misunderstand. I also think that there is a distinct lack of males in some industry roles as males are often in more senior, technical or physical positions. Achieving inclusivity would be more fluid.”

The BMA’s Reynolds adds: “Our association is interested in all aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), and we tend to think of this agenda in terms of people with legally protected characteristics. However, I find the notion of ‘diversity of thought’ very interesting. The idea that people coming from different backgrounds and mind-sets can strengthen businesses by thinking differently about the challenges they face.” 

Role models

Mike Gahir is managing director of Lakes Showering Spaces, which sponsors the Sport 4 Life initiative that helps to educate and empower young people into education and employment via sport. In a similar vein to Reynolds, he talks about diversity of thought as being a positive outcome of having a more inclusive and varied workforce. 

He says: “We have seen in many industries and situations that by challenging the ‘normal way of thinking’, we can each grow as individuals. Embracing diversity allows for progression of people and in turn, organi­sations that contribute to skills and know­ledge transfer, enabling successive generations to enjoy a richer life and keep mankind on a journey of growth. 

“Statistically, organi­sations that embrace diversity are on average, 1.32 times more productive than those who don’t.”

Indeed, this is all backed up by several studies by the likes of McKinsey, Forbes, and The World Economic Forum.

Spotlight on brands supporting EDI initiatives

Lakes Showering Spaces is a key sponsor of the Sports 4 Life (S4L) initiative, which supports young people aged 11-29 into education, training and employment and ultimately towards better futures by transforming their life skills, improving their well-being, gaining qualifications and increasing their employability.

It does this by delivering key activities – structured sport and physical activity, accredited qualifications (including functional skills), one-to-one mentoring and workshops (including engagement with employers, work placements and work experience). While sport is the vehicle the organisation uses it to deliver these programmes, it supports young people into a plethora of sectors. 

Lakes CEO Mike Gahir says: “It’s very important. While S4L provides support to NEET (not in employment, education or training) young people aged 18-29, it also works with 11-18-year-olds who are at risk of becoming NEET when they leave education. We know this is needed because disadvantaged pupils are, on average, 18 months behind the rest of the class in academic achievement by the age of 16, and 60% of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds don’t have a Level 2 qualification by age 19, compared to 30% of their better off peers.”

A 2021 report by Forbes found that companies with a diverse workforce are 35% more likely to experience greater financial returns than their non-diverse counterparts. They are 70% more likely to capture more markets and are 1.7 times more innov­ative than those that are not diverse.

The benefits of diversity are increasingly being recognised and there are several organisations starting or getting involved with initiatives. 

As the BMA’s Reynolds notes: “Initia­­­­tives within BMA members are wide-ranging and growing in frequency and scale. They span active partici­pation in Pride month, employing new starters from different backgrounds to initiatives to bolster gender equality in the plumbing trade.”  

Reynolds also challenges the  preconception that the KBB industry is heavily white male-dominated. He says: “For sure, this has historically been the case and consequently the leadership of the sector remains skewed towards that demographic, but things are changing”.

He says industry gatherings are now far from homogeneous, and there are strong female and BAME leaders at many of the best-known brands in the sector. “Is there more to do? Undoubtedly, but we’re on the right path and talking about it.”

Grohe is involved with the Female HIP Skills Awards and Lakes Showering Spaces is involved with Sport 4 Life, and then of course, there is the BiKBBI and its current efforts, as well as its plans with its upcoming KBB Futures initiative – something we will hear more about in the coming year. This is, of course, just a snapshot of the EDI initiatives running across the industry, there are likely to be
plenty more. 

Although there is a lot of debate over how much matters of diversity, equality and inclusion are an issue in the KBB sector, it is generally agreed that having a diverse workforce is beneficial for everyone. 

As Google CEO, Sundar Pichai says, “a diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.”

As an industry, in order to improve and evolve, we just need to be open, be able to self-reflect and challenge any potential biases and keep having these conversations.

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