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Is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion focus really needed in the construction industry?

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Is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion focus really needed in the construction industry? Yes, it is and we have a wonderful member making the case on our behalf. Kathleen Dobson, Safety Director for Alberici and NAWIC member in the Detroit Chapter, has taken the torch and composed an article for Construction Tech Review. In this article, Dobson brings to light that despite the changes in society and this industry, it has mostly remained unchanged. The construction industry has held onto biases and prejudices that not only hurt the individual but the whole workforce. By marginalizing women and people of different ethnicities, collaboration, experiences and insight that could improve the process is lost.

When people of DE&I are given the opportunity to participate in construction, the age old issue of equality vs equity arises. As many of us have heard, seen, and experienced, equality does not mean equity. Dobsonmade a brilliant correlation to the size of gloves, which will hopefully give insight to the majority in the organization.

“Everyone gets a pair of gloves. That’s equality. But if the gloves are all size XL, only a small percentage of workers will receive gloves that fit. That’s inequity. In order to be fully equitable, the tool crib must be stocked with gloves in every size (and for every task),” Dobson said.

Only when equality is present can a team reach its full potential and thrive. It makes you wonder with so much to gain, why hasn’t there been change? While there could be many reasons, Kathleen points out that we aren’t aware and when we aren’t aware, we can’t see it. There are different ways that the industry could be aware. It can start with children. Kathleen explains that parents are often influencing their children’s career choices by pre-school. Exposing children to the industry, its opportunities and the great wages could change the course of their future. She also addresses that businesses could make changes when recruiting to ensure biases are excluded when looking at candidates. We should no longer assume who is going to be having children, likes to travel, or wants to work extra hours. It may sound obvious but people should be assessed on their own merit. When a business is thinking about ways to ensure good candidates, they should also think about what they are providing. Something like sanitary conditions can make a difference. Every woman can attest to that, whether in the field or the office. Kathleen moved on to talk about improving PPE. Like her quote from above, how many people have had to wear PPE that does not fit right, won’t stay on or even became a hazard because of the size? Knowledge of available products and a proactive effort on our part can show someone that they are important to the industry and that we care that they make it home safely.

Kathleen moves on to cover two parts that interconnect within the organization: culture of the company and education. Assessing the culture can be a key place to start. She recommends looking at the acceptance levels of new persons, stopping intimidating or harassing behaviors and ensuring all employees understand these behaviours will not be tolerated. The other part is education. Often men get excluded from DE&I conversations but we can team up as allies when we all are on the same page. Kathleen reminds us, “an awareness of sexual or racial biases is essential for the growth of us as individuals and as team members.”

A couple takeaways she recommends are to reflect on your past and present self and talk to your leaders to advocate and amplify the conversation. We need to challenge ourselves and expose ourselves to multi-cultural experiences. In challenging ourselves, we should consider unconscious biases and work through them.

Once companies take the stance that the bottom line on DE&I is the bottom line, they can find success in the economy as well as with their employees. Kathleen makes a great point to companies of the construction industry in regards to embracing DE&I, 

“It’s the right thing to do. To paraphrase Game of Thrones - Change is coming. If you’re not growing and changing - you’re dying.”

For the full copy of this article, look for Building the Case for DE&I in Construction at Construction Tech Review. Thank you, Kathleen, for your work in NAWIC and within the construction community.


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