Diversity and inclusion: How can designers and contractors go beyond the percentage requirement?

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North Carolina Construction News staff writer

How can architects, engineers and contractors go beyond “the percentage requirement” in achieving diversity and inclusion in teaming and project execution?

Panelists at a Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Research Triangle Chapter event discussed this challenging issue on Jan. 14.

Speakers included moderator Candis Parker with Balfour Beatty, with Renee Jones (All for 1), Chris Hilt (CLH Design, PA) and Pamela Gales (HUB program manager for Wake County Public Schools System).

“Each of these panelists drew on their passions for creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace,” Donna Francis from Clark Nexsen reported on the chapter’s website. “Their experiences and insights into the topic left us all with some provocative thoughts on how to promote an office culture that embraces the value of diversity and inclusion.”

As the panelists reflected on what Diversity and Inclusion really means, Hilt shared this quote from Vernã Myers: “Diversity is getting invited to the party, but inclusion is being asked to dance.”

In the past, the thought that we have people from different backgrounds and cultures within our company is enough to claim diversity in the workplace, but as Renee Jones stated, true inclusion is difficult.

“As our community becomes more diverse, the workforce must be shaped to create a safe, accommodating atmosphere for all employees to grow and achieve their potential. Inclusion is not just the responsibility of leadership or HR,” Francis wrote. “Young professionals need advocates within the workplace who can recognize their potential and offer pathways to leadership for development.”

All panelists shared that true inclusion happens when leadership begins to think outside the box while building our work environments. “From thinking differently about potential job candidates, inviting potential partners into our work environment, to selecting leaders with opposing viewpoints can help to build the inclusive workforce that we are all seeking,” she wrote.

Relating to women in the design professions, panelists observed that currently 54 percent of graduates are women, but only 24 percent of those graduates seek licensure. Creating family-friendly workplaces and providing professional and leadership training can increase the number of licensed, professional women in leadership positions.

We should ask ourselves, “does the culture of our workplace embrace Diversity and Inclusion?,” Gales said. Change can happen from a grassroots level.

Gales also discussed the importance of supplier diversity, in that as businesses we need to look beyond the normal way of doing business and support small businesses to keep local economic growth stable. There are many programs in place to support WMBE firms which offer training and professional interaction to grow and learn how to succeed in the current work environment. Diversity and inclusion can positively impact the bottom line of any company.

“As attendees, we were all inspired by the leadership initiatives of this panel toward creating better workplaces for all employees, and better communities through these efforts,” Francis wrote. “I know that I left thinking more about how we can make our firm a place where ‘everybody is invited to dance.’”

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