Diversity In Construction: How Companies Can Help Improve It

Diversity in construction has always been a challenge, and the current construction labor shortage is a representation of that lingering problem. There are still several things that companies can do better to improve diversity in the industry as a whole. Here are some of the top things companies can do based on what some of the biggest names in construction are doing and recommendations from the experts.

Diversity In Construction

While diversity in construction has slightly been improving over the years, there are still many areas that are open for improvement. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics found that for construction, 88% of the employees were white, 10% were women, 6.4% Black or African American, 1.9% Asian, and 30.4% Hispanic or Latino. 

In regards to women being employed in the industry, the numbers are abysmal and have barely increased in the last two decades notes Rita Brown, CEO/President of Brown Construction Collective. The numbers don’t always reflect the real situation. "Even when combining the office staff with the boots on the ground women in construction, which the industry likes to do....the lack of inclusion and sometimes the deliberate exclusion is inexcusable," Brown says.

Unions have often shown themselves to align with parity and are on the side of diversity. While the nonunion shops have been slower to embrace it but as Brown mentions "the societal pressure is building and the excuses to pay women less for equal work has zero credibility in today's modern dialog."

5 Ways Companies Can Improve Diversity

1. Analyze The Hiring/Onboarding Process

The first step companies can take towards improving diversity in construction is by looking at the hiring/onboarding process. Stacee Barkley, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) leader for DPR Construction says, "Taking a hard look at hiring practices and who is engaged in the hiring process are great places to start."

It’s important to look at your hiring practices and analyze whether there are any biases in them. Barkley mentions they took steps to mitigate the potential for unconscious bias in their people’s practices, recruiting, and hiring. 

Within the last two years, DPR set up a multi-step program to create awareness around unconscious bias for hundreds of their leaders and talent acquisition team members. Last year, they began the next step and partnered up with an institute to deliver training to all of their employees to help prevent and reduce bias.

For smaller companies, they can implement similar programs at a much lower headcount. How and where you attract talent plus having practices that support attracting diverse candidates can change the state of diversity in the industry.

2. Ensure A Safe Workplace

It’s a company's responsibility to create a safe workplace and respond aggressively to harassment or bias-motivated events. "We continuously communicate that we have a zero-tolerance for harassment in our workplace," says Dexter L. Hendricks, Vice President of Community & Citizenship for Turner Construction Company. "We are encouraging people that if they witness harassment or a bias-motivated event, they should immediately report the incident. Our first order of business is to ensure that the individual or people targeted receive care."

By investigating every incident and holding accountable the individuals or individual responsible, companies create an environment in which every person at the workplace is treated with respect. 

"For our women in the field, make common-sense accommodations for a changing workforce," says Brown. It’s ultimately the project owners and general contractors who can drive the safety for the female workforce Brown notes. Address issues as they occur and incorporating physical and systemic process changes to improve the work environment, not just for women, but for all. 

3. Create A Culture Of Inclusion & Belonging

As a company, commitment towards cultivating a culture of inclusion and belonging is an important step towards improving diversity. "People need to feel like they belong, like they matter to the organization, are valued and can bring value," Barkley says. "To this end, we need to ensure we have business and people practices that are equitable."

As for some examples of what their company is doing that others can gain inspiration from:

  • Have a commitment to justice and social responsibility.
  • Look across the employee experience (lifecycle) to gain more visibility of opportunities to engage people in meaningful ways.
  • Ensure access to opportunities, mitigating barriers to success, promoting and perpetuating employee engagement, inclusion, and belonging.
  • Always asking if we can do more, do something different, or if there’s something missing.
  • Develop best practices and training to continue to "break" unconscious bias inherent to all people and organizations.
  • Form diversity councils and employee resource groups to build and foster community and be sure everyone has a voice in uplifting our employees.
  • Focus on supplier diversity in the communities where we build.

What’s important to note about all those efforts listed above is that they are sustainable, long term efforts and not simply quick fixes, Barkley notes. The lifestyle and culture of the company must reflect these continuous efforts.

4. Open Recruitment To Certain Institutions 

Sending company recruiters to specific colleges is a step in the right direction. As an example, DPR Construction recruits from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) – like Tuskegee and North Carolina A&T – and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) like Cal-State Chico and Arizona State University. 

Barkley notes that for institutions that aren’t HBCUs or HSI’s, engaging with diverse student associations on campus is an excellent option. She also suggests actively participating and engaging in diverse professional associations like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, and more.

5. Create Programs & Partner With Others

Creating programs at the company and partnering up with other programs can help reach candidates that companies wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to meet. 

Hendricks points out that in their efforts they partner with pre-apprenticeship programs, organizations, and schools that are working to develop a pipeline for local residents, minorities, and females into the trades. "Turner offers internships and funds scholarships to introduce and support diverse students who are considering a career in the construction industry."

By diversifying the talent pipeline, you can find a talent pool that better reflects the world we live in and the people you serve Hendricks notes. Companies can also follow DPR’s model and have a build-up intern program that focuses on providing under-resourced high school students with experiences in construction. 

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Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson is the founder of Contractor Advisorly. He has over 15+ years of professional experience as a home improvement and home construction contractor. Whether you're looking for DIY advice, tool recommendations or anything home improved-related, he's happy to share his insights.