Evolution not revolution may best describe the current state of inclusion and diversity in the construction industry, according to those leading the efforts to create more egalitarian work environments.
“Our industry has woken up to the need to be more inclusive,” says Silvia Siqueira, Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Hilti North America. “We’re moving slowly but we’re moving. We’re focusing on where we can have the most impact.”
The wakeup call is accelerating as more people recognize that inclusion and diversity efforts are vital to alleviating construction’s chronic skilled labor shortage, said Nancy Novak, senior vice president of construction at Compass Datacenters in Dallas, TX.
Diversity Good for Business
Focusing on diversity is not just about fairness and equal opportunity, Novak wrote recently in an opinion article for Data Centre Dynamics. Companies need to attract talent, and put the right people in the right roles, in order to be competitive. Organizations that aren’t actively working to diversify their teams run the risk of stunting their growth by limiting their access to talent, she added.
The construction industry has been flat in regard to improving production and efficiency over the past three decades. “Having a more inclusive and innovative workforce will greatly improve this and we need to improve,” says Novak.
Both Novak and Siqueira point to efforts targeting the gender gap as examples of gradual success.
Novak is actively involved in a number of organizations dedicated to the advancement of woman in business including Above Glass Ceilings (AGC) and Women Construction Owners and Executives (WCOE).
“We have not seen the numbers greatly improved, but there are pockets of improvement across the nation, especially in engineering,” Novak says.
At Hilti, for example, women make up about 17 percent of engineering management jobs, which is higher than the industry overall, Siqueira notes. However, in the skilled trades, women comprise only eight percent of workers.
Women make up about 10 percent of the construction industry, Novak says, but in upper executive roles less than two percent are women.
“Overall in construction, the majority of women have jobs in marketing and human resources,” she says. “The numbers really drop when it comes to jobs offsite.”
Success Begins Offsite
To address this challenge, Compass Datacenters created entry-level positions on jobsites to attract more women workers. They selected hires based on skills and potential, instead of construction experience.
“We’re bringing in women with very little experience in construction and we’re training them. It’s been unbelievably wonderful,” Novak says.
Over the past 18 months, seven women have been put into these new roles to document daily activity on jobsites and compile status reports.
“This is what a successful program looks like. When we see women out in the field from different and diverse backgrounds, it creates an atmosphere where more questions are asked, and different ideas and viewpoints shared. The synergy makes the whole team behave differently,” Novak points out.
Inclusion and diversity strategies have put more women at Hilti into project management roles in architecture and engineering, Siqueira explains.
The number of women employed overall at Hilti now stands at about 30 percent. That compares to about 17 percent five years ago. Promoting women from within the company has helped to retain them and to attract other women. “Eighty percent of women at Hilti have been promoted from within,” she said.
In January, Martina McIsaac, former general manager of Hilti Canada, was promoted to Region Head and CEO of Hilti North America.
To help spread successful inclusion and diversity strategies industrywide, Siqueira co-created a group called DICE – Diversity and Inclusion in Construction and Engineering – in 2017. The peer collaboration group was formed to discuss the most pressing issues around inclusion and diversity.
DICE members include businesses of many sizes and specialties across construction and engineering. The goal is to educate companies and to demonstrate that inclusion and diversity efforts bring real business benefits.
Since the first DICE meeting in April 2018, several meetings have taken place, and the next gathering in April has representatives confirmed from 15 organizations.
The key points to moving inclusion and diversity forward at Hilti are based on embedding inclusion and diversity into all areas of the company, from hiring and talent development to motivating employees.
Managers must be equipped with the right tools via education and training to share the message with their teams. Hilti created workshops called Beyond Bias, where team leaders worldwide learn to improve their self-reflection and become aware of their biases.
Change Starts at the Top
In the end, it’s about changing corporate culture and norms, because the norms dictate behavior, according to Siqueira. Most importantly, the change must come from the very top.
Hilti has partnered with Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works with leading companies to accelerate progress for women at work. Through the Catalyst CEO Champions for Change program, Hilti North America Region Head and CEO, Martina McIsaac, is committed to advancing more women into all levels of leadership at the company.
“The CEO must be the champion for change,”Siqueira explains. “An engaged CEO with a commitment to making diversion and inclusion a priority sets the tone for the entire company.”
Commitment from leadership, not only CEOs but others in the upper executive ranks, is vital, adds Novak at Compass Datacenters. “Real change only happens when people in positions of influence and power take on the roles of advocates for talented women and minorities.”