Inaugural event aims to boost diversity, inclusion within construction
In an effort to make diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) a new normal in the construction industry, a group of large construction firms (including three BC&E members) are staging the inaugural Construction Inclusion Week (CIW) this October.
Scheduled for October 18-22, Construction Inclusion Week encourages companies throughout the industry to host toolbox talks and other events focused on DEI education and advancement. The initiative’s website – https://www.constructioninclusionweek.com/ – provides videos, outlines for toolbox talks, suggested exercises, podcasts, recommended books and movies, and other content. Topics include unconscious bias, supplier diversity, jobsite culture, community outreach and how company leaders can advance diversity, equity and inclusion. Organizers of the inaugural week include BC&E members DPR Construction, Clark Construction Group and Gilbane Building Company.
“It is very exciting to be one of the founding members of Construction Inclusion Week,” said Camilo Garcia, the Baltimore/D.C. Business Unit Leader for DPR Construction. “It is time for change. We have to act. Inclusion is one of the most important things we need to do as a company and as an industry. We must ensure we have an environment where all kinds of people can flourish.”
Although diversity in the construction industry has improved over the years, it remains out of sync with the overall population. A 2020 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that just 9.9 percent of construction professionals are female, 6.2 percent are black, 2 percent are Asian and 30.7 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
Construction companies need to ask “what does our leadership look like? Do we have enough leaders who are female?” Garcia said. “Are we attracting people of color to our company? Are we attracting LGBTQ employees? Are we employing people from the communities we serve and reflecting those communities?”
Organizers of Construction Inclusion Week acknowledge that it can be difficult for individual GCs, subcontractors, vendors or other companies to tackle an industry-wide challenge.
“We recognize and understand that each of our firms may be at different places in our diversity, equity, and inclusion journeys. The great thing is that CIW provides a lot of the ‘how-to’ for firms that don’t know exactly where to begin,” said Will Englehart, Project Development Executive, Clark Construction Group.
Those efforts can range from toolbox talks and raising awareness to more inclusive recruiting, retention and employee development efforts.
DPR, for example, is attending job fairs and other events at schools it didn’t previously focus on, such as Howard University, and putting more effort into showing students how they could build careers in the construction industry, Garcia said. Gilbane has launched several Employee Resource Groups to help various employees feel more included appreciated and heard. Those include Asian Professionals in Construction (APIC), empoWer which focuses on women, Young Professionals, Pride, Military Advantage, HOL@ (Hispanics Organizer Leaders @ Gilbane) and Ujima which focuses on Black/African American employees and advocates.
At Clark, “one program we are incredibly proud of and has proven to be very successful is our Strategic Partnership Program (SPP),” Englehart said. “The SPP is a 10-month, executive MBA-style program that provides small, minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses with access to the skills and training they need to build confidence, capabilities and capacity and successfully compete for opportunities on large-scale construction projects. The program is entering its 15th year and is offered in eight markets across the country. Most recently, it launched in Baltimore. Since its inception, more than 1,250 small business owners have graduated from the program and over $1 billion in contracts have been awarded to those companies.”
Organizers of Construction Inclusion Week modeled the initiative after Construction Safety Week and hope it will become as widespread and important as safety to the industry.
“We know that diverse perspectives/points of view and backgrounds will only strengthen our industry. We believe that this will enable us to continue innovating, delivering our nation’s infrastructure, and attracting the best talent,” Englehart said. “Our ultimate goal is an industry where inclusion is a natural state, not a priority or initiative.”