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Building Diversity and Inclusion in the Construction Industry

Many events over the last year have brought increased attention to the need for equity and inclusion in our society. The COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minorities and the nationwide growth of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd are the most prominent examples, but they are not the only two. Recent events, such as the deadly Atlanta shooting that left eight dead, are bringing attention to anti-Asian sentiments and hate crimes across the U.S.

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

A January executive order from President Biden directed federal agencies to assess how they can improve racial equity and support for underserved communities. There’s no better time for all organizations, including those in the construction industry, to ask themselves how they can improve diversity and inclusion efforts within their own organization.

In addition to the broader benefits for society, improving diversity and inclusion also brings several benefits within the organization. Studies show that companies with greater levels of gender diversity and ethnic and cultural diversity are more likely to outperform their peers. The reasons for this include more access to talented workers due to selecting from a wider pool of applicants and because groups with varied experiences and backgrounds have been shown to reach faster, more creative solutions to problems.

“Both of these benefits should be apparent to employers in the construction industry, where the pool of new qualified workers can be small and where getting the job done safely and on time requires good teamwork and communication,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Creating a workplace that treats everyone equally is also simply the right thing to do, and a pillar of the labor movement.”

The Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion

Organizations that want to improve diversity and inclusion should first understand the difference between the two terms, which are often used interchangeably. Put simply, diversity is the “who” and inclusion is the “how.”

“Diversity focuses on the makeup of your workforce – demographics such as gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, veteran status … and inclusion is a measure of culture that enables diversity to thrive,” says Rita Mitjans, ADP’s chief diversity and social responsibility officer. “You can certainly hire in diversity – whether it’s more women, more Latinos or African-Americans – but if your culture does not embrace different perspectives, you will not be able to retain diversity.”

Image courtesy of LIUNA Local 42 – St. Louis, MO

In short, inclusion first requires organizations to hire a diverse group of workers, value everyone’s contributions and provide an opportunity for people to do their best work and advance.

Just like a commitment to worker safety is an ongoing effort, there’s no finish line for creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. It’s an ongoing process, and one where measuring outcomes can be difficult. Organizations at various stages can ask themselves the following questions:

  • Does the leadership of the organization reflect the current workforce and pool of potential workers?
  • Are women and people of color advancing at the same rates as white men?
  • Do new hires reflect the available talent in the market across all roles?
  • Is pay equitable across gender, racial and ethnic lines?
  • Do all employees feel like they’re treated fairly?

Growing a More Diverse, More Inclusive Construction Industry

It’s safe to say that many construction sites today have a very different workplace culture than a typical office setting. The challenge is to maintain the positive aspects of this environment, such as the tradition of earning respect through hard work, while making it clear that being discriminatory to people who may not fit the mold will not be tolerated. Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace isn’t the time for “we’ve always done it this way” kind of thinking.

All workers have an equal right to a safe, healthy workplace that provides them with respect and an opportunity to grow and advance on their own merits. In addition to being the right thing to do, providing an inclusive workplace increases the chances that skilled workers stick around. One of the biggest budget items for any organization is the amount it spends on salary, benefits and training for workers, so putting an end to a toxic workplace culture can also be seen as an investment in lowering turnover.

Promoting diversity and inclusion also stands to help the industry as a whole. Prior to the pandemic, the construction industry was facing a shortage of skilled workers. Now, as many workers find themselves unemployed in their current industry, employers have an opportunity to attract new workers to a new career in construction.

[Nick Fox]

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