Empowering diverse groups within your organization is paramount to understanding your employees, your clients, and the industries you serve.
When employees come from diverse backgrounds they bring different perspectives, ideas, and experiences to the workplace. This diversity of thought can lead to innovative new solutions, unique perspectives on age old problems, and a positive impact on any organization. In order to reap this benefit, industry leaders must first learn how to get in touch with diverse talent during their hiring search.
Creating the connection between diverse professional and collegiate talent pools is the foundation for providing your company with the tools it needs to grow in our increasingly diverse world. As an executive chairperson for the Dallas/Ft. Worth Professional’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, I have witnessed firsthand the advantages that companies can experience when connecting with these diverse groups.
The need for diverse professional groups. Growing up, most of the decisions we make and the opinions we formulate about ourselves are shaped by what we see in the world around us. From a young age, most children proudly exclaim that they want to either be a fireman or an astronaut. Few children, if any, will tell you they want to grow up to be an engineer for NASA (even though NASA currently employs more than 8,400 engineers and only 24 people have ever visited the moon).
This fact isn’t stated to deter young students from pursuing their wildest dreams, but is instead here to illustrate a very peculiar phenomenon. Children don’t have an initial desire to become engineers when they grow up because many aren’t aware that engineers even exist. This notion is almost comical when said aloud because engineers have a hand in the design, optimization, and delivery of so many products across almost every commercial industry. From the roads we drive on, to the components of the smart phones that allow us to speak with family and friends around the globe, engineering and its effects are omnipresent in today’s world. However, engineers are not.
The minimal pop culture media presence and lack of exposure to engineers are major problems for up-and-coming generations, and this problem is exacerbated in diverse communities. Children who grow up in areas that have few engineers in their community and attend poorly funded schools that struggle to meet the standard in mathematics and science testing are at an enormous disadvantage when compared to their counterparts. Many of these students are unaware that a career in STEM could even be a possibility for them. Often, as humans, to believe something is possible we must see it done by someone else first. Seeing is truly believing.
Diverse professional groups and the work they do within their communities allow younger generations the opportunity to meet with and speak to professionals in career fields they might not have ever known existed. These relationships help tear down enervated notions that career paths must be linked to some sort of athletic achievement, and they open a wide variety of new doors and opportunities to communities that are often overlooked by the technical world. This level of representation matters and is paramount in inspiring the next generation of culturally responsible engineers. Diverse professional groups such as the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women in Engineering, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers have a tremendous responsibility when it comes to leading, teaching, and inspiring the next generations of diverse technical talent.
The significance of elevating diverse professional organizations. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, African Americans make up only 6.7 percent of the current AEC workforce. People with a Hispanic heritage make up 9.5 percent of this group and women currently make up 26.3 percent of the industry. While each of these statistics has experienced a positive trend over the last 10 years, there remains a large disparity between the AEC world and the rest of the labor market.
The AEC sectors undertake projects across the country that cater to individuals of all races, colors, creeds, and ages. Without our contributions, essential infrastructure such as water and rail systems, airports, and public buildings such as schools, hospitals, courts, and museums would not exist. Considering the extensive scope of our projects and operations, it is imperative that we embody the diversity of the individuals we serve.
Research has shown that having a diverse workforce can boost productivity and profitability while enhancing a company’s culture. Industry leaders who recognize this trend are often at the forefront of the most innovative, dynamic, and successful companies. In order to continue this positive trend and to capitalize on the benefit of employing a diverse workforce, it is essential that company principals make an active effort to elevate, enhance, and engage with the diverse professional organizations in the industries they serve.
This could mean partnering to host educational STEM fairs at local underserved high schools in the area, participating in volunteer events within the community that directly impact the individuals that our work influences, sponsoring scholarships that many of these groups award to students who may not have the financial resources to pursue a degree in an AEC related field, and most importantly, attending the career fairs that each of these organizations host throughout the year in order to hire their members and open the door for the next generation of diverse talent.
Collaborating with these organizations allows AEC firms to create a more lasting impact on younger generations, which in turn can help to inspire them to become the next great titans of the AEC world. Whether it is through financial backing, volunteering your time, attending events, or just simply spreading the word, every little bit of effort is a huge step in the right direction and shows a commitment to creating a more inclusive and diverse AEC world.
The next step is forward. Creating a diverse workplace is not only beneficial for a firm’s employees, but also for the organization as a whole. By actively seeking out and connecting with diverse talent, industry leaders can unlock the potential for creative new solutions and unique perspectives into the communities they serve. Additionally, partnering and engaging with diverse professional organizations can have a significant impact on the next generation of diverse technical talent.
By participating in events, sponsoring scholarships, and attending career fairs, companies can help inspire and encourage young students to pursue careers in STEM fields that may have previously seemed unattainable. Developing these relationships and exhibiting the exciting career paths that are available in the AEC industry are the vehicles that will take our profession to the next level. As we continue to work toward a more diverse AEC industry, it is important to recognize the value of collaboration with these diverse professional groups and to actively seek out opportunities to support, uplift, and amplify organizations that work tirelessly to inspire the next generation of AEC leaders.
Wesley Jones is an engineer in training at Peloton Land Solutions. Contact him at email@example.com.
ElevateHER® Founded by Zweig Group in 2019, ElevateHER® is about the future of the AEC industry. It is Zweig Group’s commitment to help recruit, retain, and engage the best minds in the industry. By serving as an advisor and a hub of information and resources, this movement brings us together to elevate the industry. We believe that with inclusive and strategic steps, we can work together to advance the future of AEC firms, because we believe that diversity brings about positive change. Click here to learn more!