By Luke Carothers
Despite recent gains in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the AEC industry has historically been a male-dominated industry. Reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that women make up just under half of the U.S. workforce at 47 percent. Despite this, these same statistics show a glaring gap in women’s participation in several key areas and industries such as construction and transportation/utilities. Perhaps the most glaring of these statistics is that women represent just 10.3 percent of the workforce in the construction industry. Furthermore, a report published by the New England Institute of Technology notes that, within the construction industry, only 7 percent of the architects and engineers are women. However, current trends show that the number of women in the construction industry is growing at a rate that outpaces many other industries.
One of the people working to increase the number of women in the AEC industry is Catie Williams, Vice President of Product Development at InEight. Williams has been working in the construction and technology sector for over a decade, starting in 2008 as an application developer. During this time, Williams has moved from app development to data and analytics, but has always been focused on supporting construction through technological development. She describes her current motivations as “finding ways to add efficiency through [information and analytics] that might not always be apparent to the field that will make [it] more productive.” This analytical mindset has imbued Williams with a unique perspective and understanding on what the industry needs to do to move forward.
From Williams’ perspective, a direct line can be drawn from intentional and well designed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices to sound business development practices. By placing an emphasis on a “diversity of representation”, firms can gain new perspectives that will ultimately pay dividends down the road.
These DEI practices have both practical applications such as the design and function of the projects being built as well as internal applications. One of the first steps of this process, according to Williams, is to create a climate in which underrepresented groups such as women not only see themselves represented, but capable of achieving advancement. Enacting equitable maternity and family leave and accommodating for differences in ability on the jobsite are just some of the steps that can be taken to show women that a career in the construction industry is a viable path. Williams also notes that not all women joining the industry are interested in having or starting a family, so steps like equitable maternity leave are just part of the solution.
Attracting more women to the construction industry involves not only creating the paths and environment to be successful, but also showing those paths as a viable option to young people. Many efforts to recruit women into the AEC industry begin at the college level. However, Williams believes that this focus needs to be directed towards high school and college students. By showing these young women what it means to work in the construction industry and showing that it is a viable option, they are introduced to the industry’s impact on everyday life sooner and will be motivated to enter.
This perspective is unique in that it puts DEI practices in a practical framework. Unlike many industries, construction and the whole AEC impact the lives of every single person in a given place. Whether it is a bridge deck being replaced or a new set of public bathrooms being installed at a park, the design and construction of these projects has implications for those that live in the communities. These DEI practices are put to use as a diversity of representation becomes diversity of thought, and the processes that need to take place for projects to be completed come from a perspective that is much more representative of the communities in which they exist. For Williams, underrepresented groups such as women and women of color are a key missing piece of these processes.
Every group deserves representation, and this mindset can be used to approach the problems that the industry faces. Well designed and implemented DEI practices are important not only for business development, but also the development of the industry. Williams is quick to point out that the industry is currently experiencing a labor shortage, and that the best and most equitable way to fix it is to encourage more women to join the industry. Williams’ solution to the labor shortage highlights the importance of this moment for the industry. As the decisions are being made that will shape the industry for the next generation, it is important to point out that many issues the industry now faces are a direct result of a lack of representation. Thus, moving forward, it is important that we vigorously work to include these groups so that the inequities of the past can be addressed and avoided to move the industry forward.
Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.