Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, design, architecture, engineering, and construction companies across the world have adjusted to the myriad personal and professional challenges of remote work. In addition, the outcry for social justice sparked by police brutality against the African American community has set off global protests that continue even today. For many company leaders, this has led to critical and sometimes challenging conversations about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in their companies, communities, and the industry as a whole.
To gain more in-depth insight into how our industry is addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and what strategies companies are employing, Cameron MacAllister Group conducted a nationwide study of AEC firm leaders. Seventy-seven leaders from architecture, engineering, multidisciplinary, and construction companies from all regions of the country participated in the online survey, which was open from September 11 to September 21. Participating organizations ranged in size from fewer than 25 people to more than 500.
Below are some findings from the survey. The full research report can be downloaded here.
Motivation as it Relates to DEI
The survey revealed that issues surrounding DEI have become important to design and construction practices, and it wasn’t exclusively because the client marketplace is demanding they be addressed. More than one-third of the organizations surveyed said they wanted to enrich their work by including a greater range of voices and viewpoints, and approximately one-third believe that embracing DEI issues is critical to the future of their organization. Some of the respondents also recognized the inherent challenges of that endeavor.
Steps Taken to Address DEI
While one in four organizations are still working out how to address DEI, the survey revealed that the majority of companies are engaged in one or more activities to move the needle within their respective organization. Most are actively working on making change through creating a DEI group in their company, implementing more inclusive personnel policies, and/or conducting training programs to increase awareness. One-third have reached out to their communities in advocacy of social and racial justice.
Biggest Challenges with DEI Programs
While most respondents recognized the critical importance of implementing a DEI initiative, they are also grappling with the economic realities our industry is facing. This is made even more challenging if there is little agreement internally about how to proceed. Many of the “other” responses detailed difficulties in how to move forward with changes in DEI. For one in ten, doing something about DEI “is not an issue for us now.”
Most Effective Actions Taken in Addressing DEI
Nearly one-third of the organizations surveyed identified more than one activity that helped ensure success in addressing DEI issues in their companies. This included:
- Providing various platforms that allowed people to speak openly and honestly.
- Putting together a task force to assess, evaluate, suggest, and/or implement actions.
- Joining organizations that provide support, education, and empowerment as they implement DEI change.
- Implementing programs that increased bias awareness and provided people with specific tools to change patterns of behavior.
- Making deliberate adjustments in identifying and recruiting new hires with DEI in mind.
- Getting leadership buy-in and support.
Beyond making changes internally, some leaders felt it was important to have an impact in the broader community and participate in programs that would also cultivate the future generation of designers and builders.
Define Your Goals
The challenges we face as we move toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace were significant before COVID-19; now they are more pronounced as many of us are working from home for the foreseeable future. At the same time, we are being asked to address longstanding racial justice inequities in our communities. So where do you start? Engage your leadership team and your staff in a frank and open assessment of your internal culture and workplace policies. What are you doing well? Where could you make improvements?
Challenge Traditions and Be Open to Conversation
Our employees and communities are asking that we be open to a dialogue not only about who we are but also what we do. All organizations are recognizing the need to broaden their outreach as a way to achieve equity and diversity. Do you tend to recruit candidates from certain institutions? Have you reviewed your job postings for bias in language? What are some of the cultural traditions or artifacts that exist in your organization and might those be excluding some groups? How do you review and promote people in your company? What traits do you value for leadership? These are important questions we should all be asking.
Our industry is also being asked to engage with the built environment in a more just and equitable manner. What is the work that you are engaged in, and who are your clients? How can our work better support a more inclusive and just society for all?
Numerous organizations in our industry are doing important work to lead the way toward equity and inclusion of a more diverse workforce and towards a more just and inclusive approach to the design and construction of our built environment. We would encourage all survey participants to get involved in those efforts, whether through the AIA Guides for Equitable Practice, NOMA, Design Justice, or Equity by Design. There are also likely groups in your region who can lend support as your organization looks to recruit, hire, retain, and promote diverse staff members.