Diversify, soon

Dec 10, 2018

We need a comprehensive approach to encourage heterogeneity in our firms. It starts, but certainly does not end, with simple awareness.

Zweig Group’s new mission to Elevate the Industry was unveiled at the 2018 Hot Firm & A/E Industry Awards Conference in Dallas in September. This mission has five focus area – promote, diversify, educate, change, and celebrate – all of which I’m sure you’ll hear more about in the coming months.

I’m excited to be championing the Diversify task force. Diversity in all its forms – age, experience, gender, race, and ethnicity, among others – represents a clear competitive advantage. It’s time we embrace it, within our firms and in the greater world in which we do business.

For pure bottom-line reasons, diversity makes sense. McKinsey research finds companies that have a high level of gender, racial, and ethnic diversity are more likely to have above average financial returns. More diverse companies are more creative, have higher employee satisfaction, and are better able to win top talent – something that is so important right now for AEC firms.

Let’s face it, our business is not, and has never been, a diverse one. Or, in the words of one of our clients, it’s “stale, male, and pale.” Zweig Group’s data shows that the leadership-level demographics are quite homogenous. According to the 2018 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey, 93 percent of this group is Caucasian, 87 percent are male, and just 4 percent are under the age of 40. While 62 percent of respondents feel there is a problem with a lack of diversity amongst principals, the hard part is figuring out what to do about it.

Our industry is an ethical one. Ironically, that makes this battle for diversity much more difficult to win. I don’t think a lot of outward sexism, racism, and other overt discrimination is present in many firms. What does occur is far less blatant, much more difficult to tackle, and starts early in life, even before people have a chance to consider the AEC profession as a career path.

In Zweig Group’s 2018 Recruitment & Retention Survey, we asked, “What does your firm do to ensure a diverse, nondiscriminatory culture?” Eighty-seven percent said, “Offer a range of benefits that appeal to different people;” 40 percent said, “Specifically recruit women;” 36 percent said, “Specifically recruit minorities;” and 10 percent said, “Hold diversity seminars.”

While these are good efforts, it’s not enough. We need a more comprehensive approach to encourage diversity in our firms, and it starts with simple awareness of the issue. Other things we need to support are early STEM programs for girls, minorities, and those in under-privileged schools. We need to eliminate implicit bias in hiring practices. We need to create detailed policies and benefits that support and motivate a diverse staff. All of this is just the beginning.

In the coming months, I’ll be exploring more of the stories about people and firms that embrace diversity in all its forms, and the positive impacts this can have on an organization and the greater AEC universe. If you have a story you want to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of marketing and awards. Contact her at czweig@zweiggroup.com.

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.