July 30, 2020
By Gita Anand, Canadian Consulting Engineer
Diversity and inclusion are more than just buzzwords; they are an important business strategy for engineering firms.
Confronted with the reality that huge numbers of baby boomers are retiring, the construction industry overall is experiencing widening gaps in its workforce. BuildForce Canada estimates more than 20% of the current labour market will retire from job sites in the next decade. To replace them, the organization suggests employers should concentrate recruitment efforts on historically underrepresented groups, including women and Indigenous and new Canadians.
Although women comprise more than half of Canada’s population, for example, they are significantly underrepresented in the engineering profession and in on-site construction industry occupations, including skilled trades. One of the keys to recruiting them and other underrepresented groups to the industry—and retaining them—is a strategy of diversity and inclusion.
This notion was addressed in Engineers Canada’s 2019-2021 Strategic Plan, which made the recruitment, retention and professional development of women in the engineering profession a priority. Through its ‘30 by 30’ initiative, which was launched in 2015, the industry organization has a goal of raising the proportion of newly licensed engineers who are women to 30% by the year 2030.
Diversity vs. inclusion
To better understand diversity and inclusion, consider this analogy: a jigsaw puzzle comprises hundreds of unique, multi-coloured pieces in different shapes and even sizes.
‘Diversity’ could describe the variety of qualities and characteristics of each individual piece, as it does to represent the uniqueness of each individual person. ‘Inclusion,’ on the other hand, relates to the completed puzzle, whereby the individual pieces fit together for the benefit of the collective. It is about creating a work culture that respects, values and accepts differences.
So, together, diversity and inclusion strive to embrace the uniqueness of each individual within an environment that values and respects them for their talents, skills and abilities to the benefit of the group—i.e. a celebration of a piece within a puzzle.
Value for business
There is no doubt diversity is good for business.
Workplace diversity has proven its value in sparking innovations, fostering creativity and solving problems. Cultural and gender differences can help introduce new ideas and fresh perspectives. In fact, research has shown teams with gender diversity are smarter and more innovative than those without.
Innovation leads to better results, which in turn drive better company performance. In the construction industry, especially, better-performing teams can achieve better project outcomes. Positive impacts of diversity can be seen in terms of productivity, quality, revenue, market share, absenteeism rates, employee retention and safety.