As construction struggles to fill its workforce amid a labor shortage, leaders in the industry have turned their attention to attracting largely untapped segments of the population. Numbers show that it’s working: Women and BIPOC individuals have begun entering into construction jobs at higher numbers than ever before.
The data also shows, unfortunately, that the percentage of these underrepresented populations within the industry remains static over time. Women make up around nine percent of the construction workforce—that percentage has not changed for 24 years. African Americans make up around six percent of the construction workforce, a statistic that hasn’t changed in a quarter century. All this points to one thing—women and people of color aren’t staying in the industry for the long haul.
As part of the ENR Groundbreaking Women in Construction (GWIC) conference, Procore hosted a roundtable discussion to examine the reasons behind this trend. Sasha Reed, Director of Industry Advancement at Procore, and Flatiron Construction’s Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Giovanna Brasfield led the discussion about what comes next in the quest to make all people feel welcome in construction.
Why Women Make Powerful Allies
The past couple of years have brought construction a long way to bringing diverse talent into the fold. Real change has happened through those are committed to listening and understanding the barriers that remain for minorities in the field of construction.
“Many leaders are ready to not only lean into this conversation, but push the envelope and take a stand,” said Reed. As an industry, we can focus on creating an inclusive culture so that other minority groups, not just women, are positively impacted.”
In that way, 2020 was a year of exploration, of listening to workers to see what was still needed. This year is poised to be a year of action.
Women are a powerful element in this process. They can open the door for allies to further the conversation. Brasfield compared it to a relay race, suggesting that women find allies that can introduce those important conversations. Find the people who will take up the baton and carry it after you, Brasfield explained, saying the power comes when people who aren’t necessarily alike work together for a common goal.
Creating Changes that Stick
If 2021 is the year of action, then 2022 will be when we first observe whether diversity and inclusion strategies are working, Brasfield said.
Recent initiatives have included one-off events like holding inclusive conversations, training, and education. However, a key part of making a sustainable effort going forward will be long-term initiatives. It will require working together to make long-haul plans bearing out important projects like continued training and employee resource groups.
Going forward, every company will handle things a little differently because each one is a bit different. Self-checks using numbers to assess progress are important.
“The true evolution goes beyond checking a box or as a nice-to-do for organizations, to make inclusion an essential business imperative for internal and external practices. The metrics are essential; the numbers just don’t lie,” Brasfield said.
Keeping an eye on those metrics will help keep each company’s ‘why’ front-and-center in the conversations.
Everyone is on the Same Team
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the industry is really all on the same team. Each organization recognizes the need to move forward and attract talent from all walks, looking to each other for answers on what is working.
We want to help create an open and honest dialogue,” said Reed, who helps run Procore’s Women in Construction program. “We want to be able to talk about unconscious bias and how to reduce the barriers that cause leaders to stumble as they grapple with how to create diversity programs.”
As the conversation and action around diversity and inclusion continue, it is necessary to recognize it’s about more than only welcoming women.
“Women in construction is about so much more than just advocating for more women in construction. It’s about the bigger picture as we fight for equality,” said Brasfield. “It’s also about including parents with children by promoting work/life balance, including the LGBTQ+ community, and including people of color. It’s about including everybody.”
Now that the idea of inclusion is firmly entrenched within construction, leaders need to take concrete and sustainable actions to help everybody feel welcome. Open conversations pave the way for important programming, while metrics help discern whether actions are having the intended long-term effect.