Industry leaders work to improve the built environment workforce through social equity, diversity and inclusion
Equity, diversity and inclusion are crucial in the built environment sector — it is imperative for attracting top talent into organizations and for ensuring that the workforce of the future represents the global communities our profession supports and serves. The range of roles and opportunities that the built environment offers is often misunderstood, which can make attracting the best and brightest talent difficult. With this war for talent cited as the number one concern by construction industry professionals, we need to consider how best to ensure social equity, diversity and inclusion at all levels and throughout people’s careers… and this requires initiative and a collaborative effort within the building industry.
Social equity and diversity can’t happen without leadership, and in order to truly move forward in creating an equitable and diverse environment, communication and change must start at the top. Last week, more than 40 association leaders of the built environment participated in high-level discussions during a virtual roundtable — Improve the Workforce of the Built Environment through Social Equity — hosted by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), designed to share best practices, data, industry challenges and strategies for improving social equity in leadership positions within the industry.
“Individuals often grow in their career based on leadership opportunities, honors, awards and certifications achieved through our associations,” said NIBS President and Chief Executive Officer Lakisha A. Woods, CAE. “We must focus on equity in leadership roles within our industry.”
Woods referenced race and gender data on board seats held at Fortune 500 companies in 2018. Sixty-six percent of seats were occupied by white men, and 18 percent of board seats were held by white women. Just 12 percent and four percent of seats were held by men and women of color, respectively. “If the Fortune 500 companies have such a challenge with diversity — we have some work to do,” she said. “The building industry has far greater diversity challenges.”
“This is a complex topic and there are a number of issues that are very deeply intertwined,” said International Code Council Chief Executive Officer Dominic Sims, CBO. “The key to understanding, and eventually achieving, equity, diversity and inclusion is open communication. As building safety professionals, we shape the future of the built environment for a diverse population who live in it and our profession should be reflective of that community diversity and relate to the communities we serve.”
To address social equity, diversity and inclusion, executives shared what their organizations have done to meet today’s challenges. They include:
- Analyzing board of direction makeup and making changes to reflect the local community.
- Engaging external consultants to address diversity, equity and inclusion concerns.
- Creating an equity initiative to address lack of diversity within the organization.
- Working with diverse suppliers and corporate sponsors whose goals align with the organization.
John Martinez, president of the Regional Hispanic Contractors Association, said construction has been wonderful for the Hispanic labor force. But there still are issues, namely the ability to move up into leadership positions. “In 20 years, Hispanic laborers will still be laborers,” he said. “Diversity without equity is not inclusion.”
Paula Glover, president and chief executive officer for the American Association of Blacks in Energy, said the industry gets it wrong when “we start to diversify an organization without thinking about the organization you’re bringing people into. [We need to] start with equity, move through inclusion and then go to diversity.”
The Code Council strives to be a place where people feel like their ideas are valuable. It provides opportunities for all new, current and potential members to grow and flourish and become an inclusive network of professionals.
In addition to a plethora of training, education and certification programs designed to help diverse professionals achieve and maintain knowledge milestones in an evolving workforce, the Code Council offers scholarships to support building and fire safety by supporting the ever-expanding education of existing and future code officials and increasing participation in code development career opportunities, a career center to match qualified candidates with construction industry employers, an online discussion forum for professionals to network and share ideas, and its signature Safety 2.0 initiative designed to welcome a young, diverse workforce to the building safety profession. Its many programs are designed to find ways to make the construction sector more appealing to many who might not look toward the industry as a first choice, while consciously providing them the field experience, via older professionals, so they can connect the virtual, technical environment with the built environment.
“The International Code Council believes in the importance of being open to new ideas and new ways of thinking and creating an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere for all employees, members, partners and stakeholders,” Sims continued. “As a mission-driven, global association dedicated to providing building safety solutions, our work is cultivated by not only our intellectual diversity but also through the different life experiences and approaches we bring to our work. With diversity as a priority, we can best achieve our mission.”