By Lynn Pearcey, MBA, Copywriter, AIA Contract Documents
October 12, 2023
When Paul Rhodes founded Arlington Remodeling more than 40 years ago, he did so with the understanding that there would be challenges along the way. Being an entrepreneur is a tall task regardless of how much success a person achieves. But for someone like Rhodes, there was an added element that would make reaching his goals that much more difficult. So, there he stood, a business owner, entrepreneur, leader, and manager. Most important of all, Rhodes was a Black man, operating in an industry that wasn’t very receptive to men of his hue being in those positions.
“In the 80’s, there was an unwritten code that said Black and Brown men were supposed to work in the field, doing the lifting, hammering, and pouring – the actual construction. Leadership positions were designated for White men only. So, seeing me operating in a leadership capacity, some in the industry weren’t ready for that, “says Rhodes.
While there has been some progress with initiatives like Construction Inclusion Week, not much has changed in the four decades since Rhodes opened his business, especially as it relates to key leadership positions. Whereas industries like high-tech, medicine, and professional services are aggressively integrating racial and gender diversity into their business mix, construction has been slow to evolve, especially when it comes to management.
Research shows that of the 233,245 construction management positions available across the country, 165,604 or 71% are filled by White men. Of the remaining 29%, 17% are Hispanic, 4% are Black, with the remaining 8% being classified as Asian or American Indian. The situation turns more dire when you view it from a gender perspective. Although women have shown a strong interest in construction in recent years, only 8% are currently working in key leadership and management roles.
Why Diversity Matters in Construction
Embracing racial and gender diversity in construction is important. This is especially true since the world we live in is becoming more and more diverse. This global shift means that the talent pools construction companies use to build their businesses are following this trend. With that, if an organization, regardless of the size or scope of its operation, is to remain viable and compete for market share, recognizing the need to build a diverse employee population will be a critical component of its success.
Understanding the changing racial and gender environment and the need to shift is one thing. But taking the time to build programs and allocating resources to drive this portion of a business is another thing altogether. Many organizations, especially those operating in industries that are slow to embrace change, are content to tout their diversity platforms. Sadly, a closer look often reveals that their touting is nothing more than a box-checking exercise with no real effort, mission, or vision behind them. This risk is not worth taking and one that can potentially yield unfavorable returns.
Racial and gender diversity is important across all economic sectors. The argument can easily be made that in sectors like construction that is recognized by most as a true pillar of the global economy, embracing the changing face of society is a must. Using these four strategies will help construction companies infuse diversity principles into their business model and position them for long-term success.
Get Management Buy-in
If management doesn’t buy into building a workforce that mirrors society, chances are the program, regardless of the amount of resources, people, or investment, is doomed to fail. Having a management team that understands diversity and its role in their present and future success is a win-win for the current staff and any future hiring prospects.
Build a DEI Program
The first step to becoming a diverse organization is building a DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) program. This step includes assembling a team of diverse employees to champion the needs of persons of genders and races that have historically been left out of the growth mix. A successful DEI program accounts for all races and genders and fosters an environment of inclusion that yields positive results on every front.
Having a Clear Vision
Once these two steps are complete, create a vision. A vision means understanding exactly what your organization is looking to achieve. Are you looking to create pathways for females in management? Do you want a more racially diverse field leadership team? The vision could also have hiring components. For example, are you looking to attract, retain, and train a historically underserved race? All these elements must be clearly mapped out in the vision.
Create Viable Growth Avenues
There’s nothing wrong with starting in the field, operating heavy equipment, pouring concrete, or doing manual labor that’s so much a part of the construction process. These are the roles people of color historically occupy. The problem comes when there is no clear avenue to growth or means where they can see themselves ascending past that position. Integrity and trust are critical in this area because the picture won’t change without them.
There’s a seismic shift afoot in the world, driven by fresh ideas, new concepts, and innovative ways of thinking. A large part of that shift is rooted in race and gender, especially in the workplace. For construction companies, embracing these changes is necessary, and the need to build workforces that reflect our society becomes more important with each passing year. Building programs that are based on integrity and honor are a must. Those organizations that recognize this will be championed as true market leaders with successes that extend far beyond the workplace.
AIA Contract Documents has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors.