DEI: Diversity, equality, inclusion. What do those words mean in regard to employment and recruiting and technology today? Consultants at Deloitte define them this way:
Diversity: The characteristics with which we are born and gain through experience, both seen and unseen, that make us different and similar.
Equity: The outcome of diversity, inclusion, and anti-oppression wherein all people have fair access, opportunity, resources, and power to thrive with consideration for and elimination of historical and systemic barriers and privileges that cause oppression.
Inclusion: The actions taken to understand, embrace, and leverage the unique strengths and facets of identity for all individuals so that all feel welcomed, valued, and supported.
DEI sounds logical; who wouldn’t want to open doors to all people who want to work, who have skills, who can benefit the company? And yet, the numbers tell a different story, closer to a nightmare than a happy fairytale.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current representation in construction is:
- 1% women on the jobsite and 10.9% women in office jobs
- 6% Black people
- 2% Asian people
Compare that with the actual representation in the U.S. population:
- 51% women
- 13% Black people
- 6% Asian people
If you’re looking to deal with the construction field labor shortage, actively recruiting diverse team members and making the effort to have an inclusive culture might just be the best path forward. After all, if those segments of the company’s workforce became more representative of the overall workforce:
- 5,500,000 women would be added to the talent pool
- 1,400,000 Black people would be added
- 647,000 Asian people would be added
Now some will say they can’t find people in these categories, with the skills they need, in their location, and so they throw up their hands and hire those they can find. In 2020 and through much of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic caused disruption to all businesses. Lockdowns and cancellations, material shortages and delivery problems, funding and financing issues all hit construction. Layoffs were common as job access was restricted to “essential workers.”
Remote work, where possible, put people in their homes instead the company’s offices. Once the vaccines became plentiful, workers were encouraged to return to offices and jobsites, maintaining precautions, but not all were interested. What has become known as the Great Resignation depleted the labor market with many people changing careers as well as jobs.
According to Bridgit, while the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help the industry, it’s certainly helped to shine a more focused light on the growing issue of staffing and how quickly a labor shortage can go from bad to worse. Bridgit is a woman-run human resource-focused technology company founded in 2014 by Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake. Lake has a degree in Civil Structural Engineering from Western University and they both saw a need to help the construction industry maximize profits and reduce risk by taking a people-first approach.
Depending on the state, construction was put on halt in 2020 for anywhere from 2-4 months, then it was deemed an essential service and, with some restrictions and new regulations in place, projects were able to start up again. In that relatively short time, the industry lost more than one million workers. To put that into perspective, the housing crisis in 2008 caused the biggest dip in the construction talent pool: around one million workers left the industry.
But those are just numbers—unless you, a friend, a co-worker, a spouse or relative was among those no longer employed in construction. When the housing boom turned into a housing bust, workers left the field, many never to return. When the COVID-19 pandemic slowed and construction restarted, as many as 80% of the laid-off workers returned. The hole that remains, where skills are missing along with the workers, is where DEI can make a difference.
Again, Bridgit points out, as the demand for projects continues to grow, contractors and their respective human resource departments need to start thinking about how they can increase their available talent pool. But expanding the construction talent pool will take time. With the pending—hopefully—infrastructure funding being negotiated in Congress becoming a reality, time is getting shorter.
Skills are one of the first criteria that a hiring official will ask about: Can you do the job I have open? Recruiting by skillsets can automatically open doors for many minority candidates if the training in those skills is available. Unions, through their apprenticeship programs, were the traditional locus for skill development; later, community and technical/vocational colleges joined the unions in teaching skills for construction.
Now, unions are a shadow of what they were 50 years ago, and almost non-existent in some right-to-work states. Community colleges and tech/vocational schools, public or private, are hard pressed to offer training in all the skills demanded in all the industries that are experiencing labor shortages.
Starting in high school, career direction isn’t being focused on construction and other manual work, but towards office and computer-related jobs and “fun things to do.” Women, particularly, are misdirected away from the good paying, but physically demanding jobs that could be great careers. That must be stopped at the earliest stages.
One approach is to do local recruiting online, where many younger people gather. If you do, you’ll need to take a holistic approach to improving DEI in your organization because the younger generation, exposed to social changes will ignore your postings if you are “old school.” It goes beyond just seeking people with different backgrounds, it goes to the heart of the matter: corporate culture.
Here are some strategies that Bridgit suggests implementing:
Show off your diversity. Job seekers want to see a future for themselves within your company. If your website images and leadership profiles are exclusively Caucasian men, you might find it difficult to have a serious conversation about career opportunities with diverse candidates.
State in your job descriptions that you are an equal opportunity employer. This shows your applicants that inclusivity is a top priority. This may carry legal obligations, so make sure you reference your local compliance department.
Use inclusive language. Language influences the way we think and process information. If you use exclusionary language, it’s likely that your culture will reflect that.
Eliminate privilege when listing prerequisites. Think about how many people with the skills you’re looking for won’t apply simply because you’ve outlined expensive courses or certifications that not everyone has access to. If someone has the skills you need, offer the opportunities they’ll need to get trained, certified, or even degreed.
Get creative with job postings. Ask your current workforce where they spend their time, online or “in the real world,” and what their interests are. This can help inform new opportunities to post your job openings. In a similar vein:
Set up a referral program with your current team and be transparent about looking for diverse applicants.
Set goals—not quotas—and track progress. Understand where you’re at by auditing your current work environment and being honest about areas for improvement.
Using technology in your daily activities? The greater the adoption of technology the greater the chances of recruiting younger, more talented individuals. As a company you need to invest a system and technology for capital and maintenance projects. But even more importantly, you need to create a culture of innovation and growth that enrich communication between the office and boots-on-the-ground.
Use more to help diversify and expand the company’s inclusion. We highlighted comments from Bridgit on improving the company’s DEI status so it should be obvious they have a vested interest in helping achieve those goals, too.
Bridgit Bench is a workforce intelligence platform built specifically for construction, fully customizable to help operations and HR teams track any data relevant to their organization. This includes project histories, skills and experience, certifications, and any DEI metrics you might be hoping to track. Bridgit Bench allows general contractors to use data from previous projects to forecast workforce needs for future projects. The platform even enables users to filter for workers who want to minimize commute time or who want to work on specific projects, or parts of projects.
But specialized software is an aid, not a panacea. Change takes time, buy-in from leadership, and a concerted effort to remove any company bias, conscious or unconscious, when recruiting. According to Deloitte, across all industries, companies that prioritize diversity and inclusivity are twice as likely to exceed financial goals, are six times better at anticipating and responding to change, and generate 30% more revenue per employee.
The company culture must be receptive to changes in the workforce as much as the management must be open to making those changes. In some cases, the organization of the company, its structure, will be a determining factor. Employee-owned companies, for example, have a better track record in being open to change because the employees themselves see their own personal values in what the company is and does.
One of the largest employee-owned electrical contractors, Rosendin, shows how an active approach can improve the DEI outlook. Rosendin uses the podcast, an online broadcast format, to explore the challenges of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the construction industry. The series, called Construction DEI Talks, is a monthly series available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms, and made available through a collaboration with Granite, one of the country’s largest diversified construction and construction materials companies.
Rosendin and Granite management want the shows to be uniquely focused on tackling challenges in construction, demonstrating how discrimination and inequities hold the industry back. Listeners will learn how to identify bias, empower individuals, and create inclusive workplaces where everyone feels physically and psychologically safe. Guests will include company leaders, DEI professionals, and construction industry visionaries. The first show welcomed Rosendin CEO Mike Greenawalt and Granite President and CEO Kyle Larkin.
Taking it a step further, Granite supported the inaugural Construction Inclusion Week that took place October 2021. Construction Inclusion Week, which coincides with Granite’s internal Inclusion Core Value month, was conceived by an industry consortium, “Time for Change,” in 2020.
“Whether winning awards or winning bids, diversity, equality, and inclusion are keystones to success in the coming decades. Being open to change and fostering a culture of openness towards all people will make the future better. Join the wave!
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