The business case for workforce diversity in construction
The conventional image people have of construction leaves them with the impression that it’s a virtually homogeneous work environment, resulting in a damaging perception of the industry that needs to change.
As workplace demographics inevitably continue to shift, it’s vital for the construction industry to maintain the pace to build well-rounded teams and sustain success. The younger generations are increasingly diverse, so once older generations retire, it’ll be even more imperative to draw new talent with a welcoming environment.
For business executives in construction, the goal should always be to obtain the best talent, regardless of ethnicity, gender identity, or socioeconomic background. By implementing strategies to attract diverse, skilled workers, executives benefit just as much as their employees.
To change demographics, companies first need to change attitudes. With the drive to address diversity concerns and cultivate an inclusive workplace, companies can combat antiquated opinions and champion progressive opportunities to gain a competitive edge in the construction industry.
Workforce Diversity Boosts Productivity
By detaching biased views and ensuring they recruit the most qualified workers, companies can use workplace diversity to provide better service and create conditions that are more attractive to premier talent. In a high-complexity job, one talented person can be eight times as productive as average employees.
Workplace diversity also reduces a company’s risk of groupthink, fostering an environment where fresh ideas and perspectives can deliver innovative solutions. All these factors lead to a more efficient workforce where every employee contributes unique value. When faced with a challenge, a group of individuals who approach matters differently can reach a better solution in less time.
Workforce Diversity Increases Safety
Safety has always been a priority in the construction industry, and for good reason. The total cost of fatal and nonfatal injuries alike is an estimated $13 billion a year industry-wide. Businesses lose workers, productivity, and money when they fail to encourage a culture of safety on the jobsite.
Research shows that language and cultural barriers also create barriers to safety, leading to an environment where Latino workers alone face a nearly 50 percent higher rate of workplace fatality than that of all workers together. Furthermore, women on the jobsite often feel discouraged from speaking up about safety concerns in a male-dominated environment where communication may be construed as complaining.
Companies that focus on diversity are in a better position to tackle these preventable accidents. Businesses that make an effort to create an infrastructure for bilingual communication and use images to illustrate easily-visualized tasks can cut back on potentially dangerous errors, for example.
On a broader level, leaders who encourage a collaborative environment allow workers to feel safe making their voices heard. While dismantling a work culture based on toughness is not easy, companies who make strides here can identify issues that have gone unnoticed and promote safer work environments for all of their employees.
Workforce Diversity Enriches Company Culture
Employees in a diverse environment are going to be more conscious of their employer’s efforts to be accommodating and appreciate the company’s investment in them. Not only does this create a more favorable environment for potential hires interested in working for the company, but it builds camaraderie among everyone currently employed.
Construction hinges on teamwork and trust, so a company culture that prioritizes employees establishes an environment where workers are happier and more engaged.
Extending diversity into managerial positions can further improve company culture. When employees with varying backgrounds have someone to vocalize their unique perspectives, they can have greater confidence their employers will hear and address their concerns.
The Importance of Welcoming a New Generation
Employers should prepare to hire people from different backgrounds, and recognize population trends indicating that diversity will only continue to expand. Estimates indicate that by 2023, less than half of the US population under the age of 30 will be white, illustrating how the minority-majority will comprise most of the prospective labor force.
Skilled labor shortages have already affected the construction industry, so if the sector seeks to prosper, it needs to maintain a broad pool of potential employees to pull from.
Since the workforce is inevitably going to become more diverse, construction companies could benefit from being ahead of the curve and advocating for diversity now. Companies can’t afford to ignore differing perspectives. Businesses that establish a solid foundation will see change occur at the top and work its way down.
How Can Companies Encourage a Diverse Workforce?
Construction executives may be wondering how they can put their money where their mouth is and begin creating a more inclusive environment to address the issue of diversity in the workforce. Fortunately, examples of successful initiatives can be found in construction companies throughout the nation.
Rhode Island-based Gilbane Building Company has led the way in opening itself up to increased diversity. The company has committed to a range of programs to strengthen the diversity of its workforce, including focused recruitment efforts and an in-house diversity council. Furthermore, Gilbane seeks to support local suppliers outside its own business by working closely with Women-Owned Enterprises and Minority Business Enterprises on all projects.
Another method for success includes offering programs that provide potential employees with an opportunity to receive formal education and training necessary to perform their jobs well. With the costs of formal education at an all-time high, it’s crucial for companies to provide opportunities that allow a future workforce to find their footing.
Thompson Machinery sought to provide a more accessible program through their ThinkBIG technician recruiting program. By offering scholarships with South Georgia Technical College, Thompson established ThinkBIG for those interested in learning how to service equipment, earn an associate degree through a two-year program and begin a technician career with them.
Thompson’s ThinkBIG program covers the cost of tuition and offering a paid internship to handle additional expenses, providing an excellent example of how a company can sponsor programs that demonstrate their investment in the growth and well-being of their employees.
Workforce Diversity Is Imperative for the Future of Construction
Construction companies can’t be expected to transform their work culture in a day. But purposeful strides toward inclusion will give these businesses a leg up in recruiting and retaining a talented workforce. Robust training programs and mindful management can impact business in a powerful way.
Diversity is much more than a buzzword for socially-conscious businesses — it’s key to business growth and financial success. By promoting diversity in the construction industry, executives can open the doors to improved employee engagement, innovation, and productivity, securing the future success of their businesses.
Written by: Holly Welles, BOSS Contributor
Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.