Fostering diversity in construction starts with community engagement

BROOKE WOODSON | 3/19/2020, 2:21 p.m.
Diversity in construction has long been a hot button issue within the industry. Despite research that ties workplace diversity to ...
Construction

Diversity in construction has long been a hot button issue within the industry. Despite research that ties workplace diversity to greater engagement, productivity, and innovation, many construction companies still fail to recruit from historically marginalized groups––particularly among women and people of color.

Here in New York City, lawmakers are working to change this current reality by setting some of the most aggressive goals in place throughout the country. Since its formation in 2016, the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises has made it their priority to grow the participation of minority and women-owned businesses in government contracts. Similarly, New York State has been one of the most aggressive states in the country at setting high impact MWBE goals—during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, MWBE utilization on state contracts reached 29.13%, one of the highest in the nation. Just a few months ago, New York City increased its 10-year target for contracts awarded to certified MWBEs from $20 billion to $25 billion by 2025, demonstrating their ongoing commitment to broaden the scope of the city’s workforce. 

There is no question that these goals have had an impact in many industries—but increasing diversity in construction goes beyond just best faith efforts to meet goals. 

Here in New York City, lawmakers are working to change this current reality by setting some of the most aggressive goals in place throughout the country. Since its formation in 2016, the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises has made it their priority to grow the participation of minority and women-owned businesses in government contracts. Just a few months ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio increased New York City’s 10-year target for contracts awarded to certified MWBEs from $20 billion to $25 billion by 2025, demonstrating their ongoing commitment to broaden the scope of the city’s workforce.

These MWBE goals set forth by Mayor de Blasio have the potential to create significant impact in many industries. Yet, increasing diversity in construction goes beyond just best faith efforts to meet goals.   

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30% of workers are Hispanic or Latino, 6% are African American, and just 2% are Asian, while women account for just 10% of the overall industry nationwide. This certainly isn’t due to a lack of available jobs within construction––according to a survey by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk, a large labor shortage in the industry continues to exist. The survey found that 80% of construction firms are having a difficult time filling hourly or craft positions, which comprise the majority of the industry’s workforce. As the construction boom continues to create thousands of jobs for New Yorkers––a record 161,000 in 2019––historically marginalized groups should be able to readily take advantage.

Companies must evaluate if they are truly representative of the communities in which they work. In New York City, the hub of diversity, this means a workforce that accurately depicts the many different types of people who live and work here. Diversity and inclusion strategies should be woven into all parts of company’s day-to-day practices, not only with employees, but also with partners in the broader community. Companies should work to actively engage with local, small contractors to make impactful investments within the local economy.

Large-scale national construction companies can also take it upon themselves to attract women and people of color through corporate-led programs. At Suffolk, we actively recruit eligible candidates through our career start initiative, which gives college students from different backgrounds across the country the chance to experience different areas of the company and the construction industry. Programs like this are impactful because they mean we are hiring smarter by capitalizing on inclusivity and broadening our talent pool.

We still have internal diversity goals we’d like to see met, including increasing our percentage of women employees––but they are just part of Suffolk’s larger vision for a more diverse construction industry. Construction companies must work to create a culture and work environment where all employees can thrive.

Brooke Woodson is national director of Trade Partner Diversity at Suffolk Construction.