Reap the benefits of a diverse staff

CE May 2010 » Columns » BEYOND WORDS
Jennifer Goupil, P.E.

Before one considers how to reap any benefits of a diverse work force, it is fair to ask why a diverse civil engineering staff is important. According to Sybil E. Hatch, P.E., principal of Convey, a marketing communications firm based in Berkeley, Calif., and author of Diversity by Design: Guide to Fostering Diversity in the Civil Engineering Workforce, “In the broadest sense, diversity is about being open to the individual talents and skills, ideas, and insights that everyone brings to the job. A diverse team of civil engineers will develop a broader range of approaches to problem solving. And a broader range of engineering solutions will more likely meet the range of needs posed by our diverse communities.”

The book was sponsored by the Committee on Diversity and Women in Civil Engineering of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and published by ASCE in 2008.

Not only this, but it simply makes good sense to recruit from a larger pool and from a more diverse spectrum of civil engineers, she contended.

Creating a diverse workforce takes a multi-pronged approach through the efforts of the entire profession to make meaningful changes. Following are the keys Hatch outlined in her book as critical to success:

Recruit — According to Hatch, “Diversity candidates have many employment options in today’s market because many organizations are aggressively seeking diversity employees. Licensed, experienced engineers of color or female engineers are a valuable and sought-after asset. As a result, to attract and retain diversity candidates, employers need to sell their organization to prospective diversity employees and present them with a convincing case as to why their organization is a good fit for the diversity candidate.”

Following are critical to recruiting diverse civil engineers:

  • demonstrate diversity in your firm or organization;
  • establish an employee referral program;
  • support minority and women’s professional organizations;
  • contribute to community diversity efforts and groups; and
  • focus college and university recruiting efforts on diverse programs.

Retain — Civil engineers, as a whole, are remarkably similar in what they’re looking for in their careers: In general they want to work on interesting projects, see a relatively well-defined and satisfactory career path in front of them, be compensated appropriately for their work, and contribute to the betterment of society. Hatch further explained, “One of a civil engineering organization’s key priorities is to its employees. A group of engaged employees will re-create a positive experience for the organization’s clients. Companies earn loyalty by treating employees better than other organizations at which these employees have the option to work.”

Following are basic actions that she described as essential to retaining a diverse staff:

  • build a workplace for all employees that is founded on communication, flexibility, and respect;
  • establish organizational responsibility for diversity; and
  • foster mentoring.

Manage — “Managing a diverse workforce can be considered a two-pronged approach. The first prong consists of being aware of and sensitive to diverse employees’ issues and making addressing those issues a high priority within the organization. The second prong is the act of designing and building a diverse workforce,” concluded Hatch. She also concluded that while managing a diverse workforce is not necessarily an innate civil engineering skill, with some training in the following areas, managers can become experts in managing diverse employees:

  • perfect two-way assimilation and respect for all staff;
  • define goals, expectations, and accountability for diversity within the organization; and
  • partner with experts on the subject to enable success.

Civil engineering organizations come in all sizes, provide a wide array of technical specialties and services, and are situated in geographically diverse locations. Projects are even more diverse in size, type, and complexity. According to Hatch, civil engineers naturally gravitate toward complexity and diversity in their multidisciplinary projects and programs, so building a diverse workforce is simply an extension of the profession’s normal course of action.

“There is no one ‘silver bullet’ solution to fostering a changing demographic in the engineering workforce,” she said, “But by understanding the issues and implementing changes at your firm, you will undoubtedly make the workplace more vibrant and successful for all civil engineers.”

Jennifer Goupil, P.E., is editor of Structural Engineering & Design. She can be contacted at jgoupil@stagnitomedia.com.


Upcoming Events

See All Upcoming Events