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Diversity Council Report: Pushing New Boundaries

Diversity Council Report: Pushing New Boundaries

The Constrafor Diversity Council is a forum for leading industry professionals to provide in-depth perspectives about obstacles and opportunities in diversity, equity and inclusion for the construction industry. 

Diversity in Construction: Pushing New Boundaries 

Diversity and inclusion practices in the construction space are increasingly scrutinized and, in a growing number of instances, a critical factor for winning or losing a project. 

The Diversity Industry Council forums are a place to share ideas, provide best practices, spotlight obstacles and find optimal solutions on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s a place where individuals with a similar role in diversity at their construction firms can bounce ideas off each other, share successes and challenges with the goal of learning from each other and building a community. 

In this second Diversity Industry Council forum, the participants took an in-depth look at the definition of diversity, ways to foster an inclusive environment and best practices for tracking/reporting diversity goals. This document is a summary of those findings. 

The Evolving Definition of Diversity: Take a Holistic Approach 

The formal definition of diversity according to the Oxford Dictionary is the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.

In the context of construction, diversity requirements, goals and actions have undergone considerable evolution. It’s a practice that is rapidly moving from simply a measure of supplier and subcontractor M/WBE requirements to a more enterprise-wide holistic approach with procedures that evaluate both internal and external actions.  

A rising number of owners are asking bidding firms to better outline diversity and inclusion track records and to present roadmaps for further improvement. These RFPs are looking beyond dollar spend, number of M/WBE subcontractors and suppliers, etc. They want to know how a general contractor is going to be successful in the subcontractor and supplier diversity realm for their project. One of the newer contract requirements that’s begun to emerge is a request for joint venture partnering with an M/WBE firm. 

Some owners are even asking about a general contractor’s internal team diversity. These owners want to see more equitable space at, for instance, the construction manager level of the project, not just at the trades workers or the subcontractor level. 

Mechanisms for Improvement & Inclusion: Reassess the Norm 

It’s not easy to foster and build a diverse and inclusive environment where good relationships drive quality performance—and the process takes time. 

Every organization should have a plan in place to ensure that its work environments in the office and on the jobsite are safe spaces for all employees. Developing that safe space, might require a reassessment of training programs. 

For instance, if you provide Unconscious Bias Training, are you seeing engagement by all attendees? Do the people in these sessions share feelings, thoughts and experiences? In many cases, training has become a box to check, versus a true vehicle for raising awareness and inclusion. If your training is not getting interaction, change the narrative. Perhaps smaller groups or meetings outside teammates might be considered. Training is all about improving performance—if your people aren’t engaged, or don’t feel free to speak, rethink your methods. 

Similarly, Microaggression Education is increasingly common in organizations and a vital action to enable long-term change. In many cases, people don’t even realize that their behavior is hurtful. These microaggressions are often a consequence of implicit biases. Derogatory terms to a person’s heritage or race, corporate role assumptions, implied insults regarding reasons for promotions and the like are all common examples of microaggressions. Raising awareness and providing education builds a stronger organization that cares about the health and well-being of all of its employees. Adapt your education program to your organization. 

One of the newer techniques for raising awareness, improving personal interactions and shaping a culture of inclusiveness is through immediate and empowered oversight. For instance, one leading contractor has deployed a D&I Steering Committee. Within an hour of a reported incident, work is stopped and the committee members conduct a full investigation to ensure worker safety, both physically and psychologically. Where appropriate, the investigation engages subcontractors and trade partners as well. The organization has found that the immediate action gives employees a sense that their concerns are heard while demonstrating an intolerance for conscious or unconscious words and actions. 

Fostering an Inclusive Work Environment: Build External Partnerships

Building a diverse organization requires time and focus, and sometimes a restructuring of existing programs. Here are a few ways that leading firms build diversity within their organizations and on their projects. 

Local Engagement: Given the workforce shortages across the construction space, many construction firms have built working relationships with local organizations and trade associations to create pathways to construction jobs beginning at the high school level in specific segments of the population. Focus these engagements on meeting your diversity and inclusion goals. There are plenty of organizations available such as the ACE Mentor Program of America focused on outreach to high school students in underserved areas. 

Summer Intern Programs: Build intern programs that are targeted to specific segments of the population and set targets. If your organization hires 100 students every summer, perhaps set a target (e.g., 25-30%) women and minorities. These goals will help facilitators think creatively for potential candidates.

Early Outreach: If you know you’re going to bid on a big project, begin the search for partners early. Host events in advance to get people excited about the opportunities ahead and build your diverse portfolio. 

Diversity Tracking & Reporting Best Practices 

As author and management consultant Peter Drucker once summarized, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” 

The path to true diversity and inclusivity is going to take time. Knowing you’re on the right track requires setting goals and then having the data to evaluate if you’re meeting those goals. 

Here’s a few metrics to facilitate comprehensive diversity tracking practices:

  • What is the current demographic breakdown of your organization or department? Not just gender and ethnicity, but military veterans and those with disabilities.
  • What’s your organization’s promotion rate?
  • Who are you interviewing and who are you hiring?
  • Where are you looking for potential candidates?
  • Do you have a clear path for professional growth?
  • Is your professional growth path equitable for everyone?
  • Are your policies and practices clear?
  • What are your supplier development goals? Are you upping those goals annually?

To build true diversity, it’s imperative that organizations are intentional about finding and selecting a pool of candidates that represent many different groups. 

Future Discussion

With an interactive and open discussion, not every question has time to get answered and not every topic gets covered in depth. Here are a few items of interest discussed briefly during the panel that will be covered in depth in future discussions.

Diversity Goals – Owner accountability & recommendations

Success stories – Real world examples of diversity outreach programs

Partnerships – The importance of external partners in diversity procurement


Constrafor Diversity Tracking

Interested in learning how Constrafor can help you meet your diversity requirements? Learn more here or book a meeting with an expert below.

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