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A Framework for Equity with Renee Cheng

Date Published: September 28, 2020

The data on diversity is clear – firms with diverse talent and inclusive cultures come out ahead. Yet, the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry lags on key performance indicators around diversity and inclusion. In this episode, Jen Hancock talks with Renee Cheng, the Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. An advocate for equity in the built environment, Renee explores what the building industry must do to remain relevant.

Our topic is diversity, equity and inclusion. This topic is especially pertinent considering at the time of this interview, we’re about two weeks into the Black Lives Matter protests happening in the US and across the globe. This protest has elevated diversity, equity and inclusion to a global conversation. It’s clear that it’s not awareness, but action is required in order for us to move forward. We want to acknowledge the importance of the Black Lives Matter Movement and the conversations that are underway, and ourselves looking at ways we can take action to help. In our discussion, we’re going to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the building and design industry.

Data shows that when companies are reflective of the communities they serve with greater levels of diversity, especially in leadership positions, they do achieve better performance. With that in mind and to discuss this idea further, I’d like to welcome our guest, Renee Cheng, Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. Renee is an advocate for equity in the field of architecture and has been honored twice as one of the Top 25 Most Admired Design Educators in the United States by Design Intelligence, an organization that ranks architecture and design schools across the US. Renee was also a significant contributor to the Guides for Equitable Practice. Welcome, Renee. Thank you so much for taking time to be with us.

Thanks for having me. It’s great to be able to talk about this with your audience.

As you’re a woman of color in architecture and academia world, you’ve worked with a variety of academic institutions, companies, clients, industry organizations like American Institute of Architects and the AGC, which is the Associated General Contractors of America. You have a pretty broad view. Tell us how diverse do you see the building and design industry?

If you look at the demographics, the industries, all of them are not very diverse. It can vary depending on which sectors you might be looking at. We do not reflect the numbers, at least demographically, of the United States or Canada. We are predominantly more white male than the population would suggest if we took a subset of the population. The other issue is that those that might be in school are not necessarily staying in the profession. The ones that are dropping out are predominantly women and people of color. There’s what we sometimes call the leaky pipeline, which aggravates the problems of demographics if you’re trying to get a demographic that’s reflective of the general population, which you may or may not be doing.

The leaky pipeline disproportionately is affecting the people that are least represented. It is not an accident because it’s harder to stay in a profession where maybe you don’t feel like you have role models or you feel like systems are set up for people that don’t look like yourself. Generally, there are obstacles that are either visible or invisible that you’re either aware of or you’re not. It tends to send messages around the stereotypical idea of what is an architect, a contractor, a developer or a building owner.

When I look at other industries, a leaky pipeline is a problem that many industries have. One of the parts of research that I was looking at talks about the importance of having diversity, especially on the leadership side. When we have a leaky pipeline, that also means that we’re also having fewer candidates on the leadership side going up through companies across the board.

You can look at a demographic of a company and you can say we’re 50% women, and that is certainly something to be celebrated if that was your goal. If you find that your entry-level people are 80% women and your leadership are 1% women, that’s going to send a certain kind of message. It takes time because you are usually developing people and it takes time to get them into leadership positions. Given where we’ve been at and all those things that are set up for women and people of color to not necessarily be present in the industry, the senior people that are women or people of color are fewer.

When you start to rise up within a company with experience in terms of title, rank or responsibility, you’re often over-tapped for things like diversity committees, recruiting, or serving on projects where there’s some kind of public reporting of the number of minorities and women involved. You end up often in situations where you’re more overtaxed, especially if you have the situation where you’ve got 1% of women at the leadership level, and 80% of women at the entry-level. Who’s mentoring all those entry-level women? It’s something where those that are trying to represent for more or ask to represent for more are also bearing an additional burden. For some of us, it’s fine and what we’ve accepted and what we know needs to happen. There are times where it can feel like a lot. It’s not necessarily always compensated or taken into account when workload or even evaluations begin to happen.

It’s a problem that is a cycle.

It compounds, although some things are getting better. I know that in the architecture is better than in other areas. The number of black architects has not gone up in decades. It’s 2% or something of all the architects and the number of Native Americans is so few. Every time there’s one retirement, you may or may not have one entry-level person coming in. The numbers for some of these groups are small if you start to look at the demographics of where they are in their careers. We see some signs that things are getting better like the number of women has been at 50% for a while in schools. It’s not necessarily changing as quickly as you would expect as those people think. We’ve been 50% for a while and they’re not necessarily moving up. You’re not starting to see them on leadership level reaching 50% or anywhere close.

Some firms are making the commitment and there are ways that they’re recruiting and attracting women and people of color. There are some firms that have figured this out more than others. As industries, I don’t think that we’ve been able to say that we’ve moved the needle. Some of it we’ve been tracking better and we’re maybe a little bit more aware of some of the obstacles. I would count that as progress, even if we can’t count the numbers as something that’s radically changed or changed enough that it even makes sense over time, given the ups and downs that might be happening in any given time that you’re capturing.

You did mention the architecture industry where you have the most experience. Do you have any sense of where the building design industry sits comparatively to other industries across the board in terms of diversity and equity?

The work that we were doing with the American Institute of Architects, we were fortunate to talk to the Women’s Leadership Edge group, which is a law school group out of Hastings School of Law in the University of California. They had been studying law and also engineering. There are similar issues in terms of the number of women in school are not necessarily reflected in the numbers of women in those senior leadership roles. They were also doing some work with people of colour. There’s also Race Forward and a number of things through the Society of Human Resource Management that begins to track.

A lot of the research that we drew on the AIA Guides came from the non-architecture and non-building industry because the other industries have been tracking it longer. They’re not necessarily seeing more success, but they’ve been checking it longer. It’s not an uncommon problem. I do think in the building industry, we also have some power differentials where subcontractors are sometimes having more people of colour than general contractors. The trades are considered different or they do have a different demographic. They potentially have a different voice and a different role in the industry.

It sounds like as industries, the design industry is different from contracting, but it has a similar problem that’s spanning across engineering and other different disciplines.

It’s a similar demographic problem. The sources of the issues or the continued barriers might be very different. For example, any of the design disciplines like landscape architecture, urban design architecture, that studio base and the whole idea of apprenticeship, and those types of maybe stereotypes or general ideas that people have about the education and the way one gain status in the fields, are based on white male models. In those particular areas, there are different issues than in some other fields.

When we talk about this, why would you say equity is important? This goes across the board for all businesses. You might have a lens especially to the design, but why is it important that our businesses reflect the communities around us and the diversity in the communities around us?

There are multiple ways of thinking about it. There’s a moral case that you could say it’s the right thing to do. There’s a business case where you can say that there’s been research that shows companies that have three or more women on their boards are more creative. They are more likely to survive economic downturns. Several different factors show that they’re more resilient. You also have another business case where you’re starting to see companies that are clients to our industries requesting to see the number of women or people of colour in the organization. You also have, if it’s public projects sometimes, requirements that are put in place for a number of minorities and women on businesses that participate. There are several dimensions to the business case.

The biggest answer I would give is that equity supports everyone. An example that’s often given is when the American With Disabilities Act happened. Curb cuts started coming into play for ways that people in wheelchairs could access sidewalks and cross the street. Now you look at who’s using curb cuts. It’s people with strollers, people that are mobility impaired, and people on bikes. Lots of people get to benefit from that. Even though it was a more serious obstacle for someone who was in a wheelchair, there are lots of people for whom that makes a better life. There are many examples where transparency in salary bands, pay scales or any of the things that relate to criteria for annual review, when those are opaque, first of all, they are subject very much to bias that often falls along racial or gender lines.

Opaque pay scales and promotion criteria are detrimental to everyone. When people don’t understand what they’re being judged upon, it’s seen as some kind of black box where you need to have some inside track into things. It makes employees generally less engaged. The more deeply an employee is engaged and feels part of something bigger and feels like they trust the system that they’re working within, they’re much more likely to be retained, to give loyalty, to recommend their firm to others, both to the potential clients as well as to the potential employees. All of these things have a real value that you can measure in lots of different ways that have to do with making things better for everyone, making things clearer, and making it easier for people to engage. It provides a culture where engagement is a positive thing and something that everyone has an equal shot at. That’s something that everyone wants regardless of what their race or gender is.

It’s pretty hard to disagree with a business case around equity making it better for everyone. The curb cuts example is a great one. There are probably many other examples where we could point to having someone with a different point of view at the table, bringing that idea forth or something that maybe anyone else from the table hadn’t even thought about. It’s important to have those points of view there.

That’s discussed a lot, which gets into more complex issues sometimes because having diversity present is not necessarily having diversity bring that creativity and innovation. It’s true that diverse teams will outperform the very best of the homogeneous teams in terms of creativity, innovation, thinking in ways that are different. You also can have diverse teams that underperform the worst of homogeneous teams if they’re not managing their diversity well. If you just bring diversity to the table, whether it’s different points of view because of their training, their gender, their background or their cultural norms, you’re going to get conflict. That’s what is producing all that benefit. If you don’t have conflict, that means you’re masking the differences. You’re saying, “Even though you come from all these different backgrounds, we want you all to act or think the same.”

Anyone who comes with a different point of view is going to be listening and be like, “I need to fit in, I need to say these things and squelch down anything that doesn’t seem to agree with that.” If you’re not seeing conflict, you’re suppressing it. In that case, why bother with a diverse team because you’re making it harder for some people? If you bring conflict forward and you don’t manage it, it’s going to be detrimental. You’re going to have mistrust and less efficiency. If you bring forth conflict in a productive way, that allow people the tools to engage in it in ways that are still trusting and still provide the psychological safety for someone to say something that may not be part of what the group is seemingly agreeing on, then having diversity present isn’t necessarily going to get you that. When you asked me what the benefits are of equity, that’s what that is. The benefits of diversity are nothing, you just met your goals for a certain number. If you’re talking about the benefits of equity and inclusion, then you’re talking about being able to use diversity in ways that will get you somewhere different than if you didn’t have it there.

To that point, that’s important to note that if a company is trying to hit diversity targets, they may end up with a team that does work well together even in conflict. Generally speaking, you have to authentically want to go down that path and be able to make psychological safety so that your teams can have different points of view and be able to bring those to the table. Bringing those to the table is where you’re going to get your best ideas from and your best innovative work. The warning sign for you would be if you have a diverse team, but you’re hearing a lot of the same ideas.

You’ve probably sent the message that you want everyone to fit in with some baseline that you believe is common for everybody. You’ve asked them essentially to downplay any differences.

You’re not going to get the benefits out of any pathway you’ve gone down. If you tried to actively make sure you’ve got a diverse group, you’re not getting the benefits out of it. Ultimately, your employees at that point, when we talk about people being engaged at work and loyal, you’re likely also not getting any of those benefits if they’re not feeling like they can bring their whole selves to work in whatever way that is.

If they feel unwelcome or that they don’t belong, they’re probably not going to say anything or they’ll say something on the side or be quiet.

In prepping for this, I was looking at the McKinsey Diversity Matters report from 2015. They did note though some of the financial numbers coming out of the backside. You mentioned that generally, diverse inclusive like equitable teams can outperform a homogenous team. If you have a team that’s not working well together, even if they’re diverse, they can perform worse than a homogenous team. What is interesting on that data and what I saw is it looked like the teams that were performing in that last quarter that were not performing well, the diverse teams in that not performing well quarter still outperformed the ones that weren’t diverse in that chunk. I wonder as people start to think about, and we know that firms and companies are going to have to actively start to work on their equity within their companies, they’re going to stub their toe along the way. They have to know that’s going to happen. There’s benefit across the board of still going down a path of having a hard look internally at your company. Do you have any recommendations for companies starting to think about that?

You will make mistakes and you will have a time where your intention is not going to match your impact. Part of that is because this is hard. We’ve been working in ways for so long that we haven’t had to think about this. The other part of it is that everyone is so different. You can’t possibly know what all of the ways that they might be receiving things based on their cultural background or experiences that they might have had. You can get paralyzed if you try to make sure that anything you say or do is going to be received well by everyone. It’s never going to be a one size fits all. The important thing to realize is trying to figure out the patterns of things.

If there’s a pattern of certain groups of people and members of certain groups that don’t speak up, if there’s a pattern of people from certain groups that aren’t getting promoted at the same rates, if there are patterns where some of the HR policies seem to be excluding certain groups, those are all things that start to cue you that something is going on that’s not necessarily biased, although it could be. It could also be messages that you’re sending or things that make it harder for certain groups of people to participate. One of the things that we talk a lot about in the Guides is you have to try stuff. If you worry so much that you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to be stuck. There’s a detriment to that as well. Some of it is knowing that you’re going to make mistakes and making it clear that you can get feedback when something’s not going well.

Also, be clear on what your goals are like, “We’re seeing this happen so we’re making this change,” and then evaluating. Did the problem shift? Did we disadvantage a different group? In some ways, if you disadvantaged a different group and it’s a group that constantly gets advantages in every other place, you say, “Maybe that’s okay. They can be disadvantaged in this one place because they get many other advantages elsewhere,” but you’re not going to find a one size fits all. If you approach this by saying, “We’re going to bring diversity, and then we’re going to do everything the way we’ve always done it,” what you’re probably going to find is that there are going to be patterns. It’s going to work for the people that are in the dominant culture who thinks they’ve worked for a long time. Those that you bring in that may not fit that culture may not be very successful, and so then where are they going to stay?

You have to have a willingness to try it out. Don’t let perfection be the stopping point because you’re never going to get that right off the bat anyway if we’re going to take action going forward. I want to go back to something I was curious about and the idea around equity and design in actual architecture and building types and styles. Having a company that has diversity equity in their firm, what does that do from a design in a community standpoint?

It’s broader than when you’re just engaging in a community. Pretty much every building, even if it’s privately owned for a fairly limited number of people that are intending for its actual day-to-day use, everything that’s part of the built environment participates in the fabric of the city, or the infrastructure or adds to the life of the sidewalk, or is part of a bigger community and says something about the community and how they can use space. It’s very rare that you have a project that doesn’t have any interaction with some larger set of community. When we define community, it’s not necessarily a community center or even a school or a library. It’s any building that has some aspect of how it engages with people that aren’t part of maybe more specific groups that are the building owners.

Even if you have within private ownership, very often the owner that sits at the table is not the person that’s going to be operating the building or using it day to day or the group that might be disadvantaged if the building doesn’t work well. There are a lot of times where even in a hospital where you’re designing for patients, that’s patient-centred. Patients aren’t necessarily going to be at the decision-making table. You might have patient advocates or representatives of patients or things like that, but they’re not going to be the majority of the voice at the owner’s table. That’s appropriate because the owner’s got other criteria related to the business practices and things like that. There are people that know the technical aspects of things and the medical care sides of things.

It’s not like you should turn this all over to the patients to design their own hospital. You have to find ways that you’re eliciting good information about what you’re not necessarily seeing. We were interviewing some of the people for the Guides and there was a wheelchair user that was saying, “People tend to think, like the public library, that wheelchair users want to be in every place that an able-bodied person can stand in.” A lot of times, if you were to interview someone in a wheelchair, they don’t necessarily need to be within every book stacks. They want control and to not have to ask someone for help. You could do something with the retrieval system. This person was saying, “I would be perfectly happy if I had a good retrieval system that I could access on my own, that I didn’t have to be in a position where I was asking someone for help. I don’t need to be physically in every book stack. I just need to be able to get to every book or a book needs to be brought to me.”

The cost to design a library where a person in a wheelchair can get to every single place that a person not in a wheelchair can get to is a great deal higher than developing a retrieval system that allows someone in a wheelchair to have the autonomy and not have to ask for help. Once you can find ways to ask and find ways to realize that you’re making assumptions that potentially need to be questioned, whether it’s because you don’t look like the people or you don’t have the experience. There are tons of examples of community projects where someone comes in who doesn’t know the community very well and provide something that they think the community needs based on some analysis. They then find that they’re replicating, replacing, or doing some damage for assets that were already in the community that didn’t get taken into account and built upon by the new project. There are all kinds of reasons and a lot of it have to do with wasted time and energy or if you build something that you’re intending. It’s not about intent, it’s about how the impact plays out.

It goes back into having all the right stakeholders pulling that information to the table and understanding. The interesting thing about design and even building is it’s an exercise that we do. The impact of that building and design product is hopefully in service for 40, 50, 60, 80 years. The impact of the people who have to live in and around it and/or use it, and/or operate it, all of those things.

You can’t interview them all, or ask them all to vote, or find ways to survey them all. You have to find methods that you’re seeing other people’s points of view. It’s very natural to designers to do that empathetic way of thinking where you’re trying to imagine what it’s like for someone else, then trying to figure out information, whether you’re drawing from an analysis that you can do at more arm’s length, or whether you’re doing surveys or trying to look at precedents. These are all things that have been in our toolkit for awhile. At the same time, we have to realize that there have been a lot of times where the assumptions that designers have made, have harmed communities and created buildings that have been unusable to the point that they need to be destroyed, or send messages that are not intended and not helpful around who’s welcome and who’s not welcome.

In talking about diversity, inclusion and equity, one of the things that I’ve been battling with is there are affinity groups that are formed. There are lean-in groups, which tend to focus a bit more on women. There might be groups for orientation, culture, or ethnic background. Someone might fit into multiple of these affinity groups that they might identify with. Affinity groups are a siloed piece of the whole conversation. What’s your thought on affinity groups and if they help or don’t help?

There is a lot of research on why they help. I can read the subtext in your question of if we’re trying to be more equitable and inclusive, is it negative to separate and highlight the divisions among various identity groups? It is positive though because you’re creating a place where people are self-identifying as sharing an identity or being an ally to a particular group. It provides a clear set of criteria for we are going to be talking about this from the point of view of this affinity group. We are all here because of this identity, either because we identify with this identity group or we are allied with this identity group. We want to know more about what this identity group experiences relative to whatever issue you’re talking about, whether it’s mentoring or recruiting or the assignments of jobs, urban design, whatever topic it is. Very often what happens is that unofficially, the dominant group is the filter that you are talking about.

It’s like, “Let’s have a meeting to talk about HR practices.” It’s likely that the dominant group is going to be the majority numerically in the group. The points of view presented are going to be from the dominant culture point of view. When you have the same topic identified and you say, “Now we’re going to talk about it from the point of view of the women, or the minorities, or the people who don’t have Canadian citizenship, or whatever it is.” They’re going to be bringing forward topics and subtopics that are particular to them. Others are going to more quickly be able to grasp and understand, “What does this mean if I don’t have citizenship?” Whereas that might be a minor point in a different meeting where you haven’t said transparently that this discussion is around HR policies for people with immigrant status.

It brings the transparency to, “This is the lens we’re using to talk about this thing.” It is not the definitive end of the discussion. It is we needed to sort through things, because it’s not going to be a unified approach, even among people that are immigrants, for example. You want to be able to talk through all the nuances and all the slight differences with someone who’s got a US visa versus someone who’s got a European visa. You want to pull forward those things, and then be able to report back if it’s appropriate to the bigger discussion and say, “This affinity group concluded. It may not work for everybody, but in case you’re curious to know, this is what would work for them.” Maybe it doesn’t work for someone else, then you go back to those decisions where you can say, “This works for the dominant culture, but it doesn’t work for people with kids. It doesn’t work for women that are trying to come back to work after having kids.”

You then choose and say, “What works for them would be this.” That doesn’t work great for another group, but maybe we say, “We’ll make it less comfortable for this one group,” because they have a lot of other things that where they are, the privileged group or the other group that benefits. We can have a clearer discussion about why it’s benefiting one identity group versus another. It doesn’t feel like you’re pitting one identity against another. It feels like you’re understanding what that identity brings to the discussion and what they would need to succeed. You’re not wondering like, “Why do we have so few women with kids?” It’s like, “Because we made these series of decisions that we knew was going to disadvantage women with kids.” That’s where we ended up as opposed to, “Why is this happening? I don’t understand. They must not like us. Maybe we need to do more picnics,” or whatever. That may not solve your problem. Maybe it’s not a problem, maybe you’re okay with that.

Affinity groups provide significant benefit. One of the ones is using affinity groups to plan out policies and know sometimes that some groups maybe went through the information. Some groups may be put at a disadvantage. If you’re going to make policy or look at how you’re running your company, you can at least do that with more eyes wide open because you’ve had the conversation and you do understand those perspectives.

You can set some metrics and say, “We’re going to do this. We think it might disadvantage these groups. Let’s track this over time.” If it didn’t have a negative impact, then maybe you don’t need to change. If it is having a negative impact and it’s somehow related to other goals that you’ve set, then you can say, “Maybe we need to change.”

As I’ve been out in the industry and speaking to people in management on the topic of diversity, equity, inclusion and moving forward, I’m pretty sure there’s unconscious bias. We all have unconscious bias. When we talk about looking to expand either the number of women or racial minorities that we may be hiring, I’ve heard people say, “It doesn’t matter to me their gender, their age, or their skin colour. I hire the best person for the job.” What would you say to that comment, knowing that we still haven’t changed the metrics within our companies?

I have yet to meet a person that says, “I am biased and I do not hire because I don’t get along with women or people that have different skin colours.” No one intends to discriminate that I know of. Maybe there are some, but the vast majority of people are not intending to discriminate. If they were to have it pointed out to them, there’s a real pattern that over time, “This is who you’ve hired.” They would be worried potentially and try to say, “How could I change that?” If you believe that there’s no bias in the way that you’re interviewing and choosing a person, then potentially you need to start looking at who’s your pool and who have you recruited. Maybe you need to look at your rubric for how you’re evaluating those people. It may not be something that you’re doing intentionally. It may not even be related to your unconscious bias.

It may be because you’re sending messages. There’s a fair amount of data out there of how job descriptions that are more based on future work are going to appeal to women as opposed to things that you’ve proven. There are some gender biases with the language you can use. There are a number of messages that people of colour pick up on and job descriptions and recruiting materials. There are things that you can do that will be more neutral because most people prefer to be neutral and prefer not to be sending those messages. There are resources that point some of that stuff out to you. There’s a fair amount of research on how certain language in the rubrics that you might be using to evaluate people. There’s a saying that women have to prove it and prove it again. Men are more often hired and promoted based on their potential, and women are much more on what they’ve done.

For women, in this case, it’s often compounded if you’re a woman of colour. If you’re a man of colour, some of these things might be a little bit better or worse, depending on which bias we’re talking about. There’s a research around if women and people of colour negotiate, they’re seen as much more aggressive than white men who negotiate and are seen as entrepreneurial. There are adjectives people use to describe certain behaviours that come based on the identity of the person. It’s not necessarily something that you can completely avoid because these have to do with societal messages that bombard us. It’s consciously trying to see, “Here’s the pattern of what’s been happening. What can we do to correct for this pattern or try to change that pattern?” Those are places that I would look for as the language and recruiting, the criteria you’re using for hiring, and the pattern of what you’re getting overtime regardless of what your goals are.

If we were to ask people to go ahead and take some action, what would be your recommendation for a couple of actions that companies could take to look within, and make changes from diversity, equity, and inclusion standpoint?

It is to look within. That’s what you mentioned. That is the first step. There are some companies that have a lot more data than others. There are some data that’s out there on what’s happening in our industry. I wish we had more, but we have some. You can figure out your own internal data and judge that against the baseline and see if this is something that you want to do or can set some goals. It’s also great when companies can share information with other companies because we’re all a little short on information in our industry. Seeing trends and seeing how it is relative to other peers is helpful. A lot of the building industries have to rely on some of the corporate businesses, law firms and engineering firms that might have some data because we haven’t been gathering it for that long.

Demographics are helpful to look because they’re relatively straightforward to count, depending on the legal context because, in some parts of the world, you can’t collect information on race. There are complications for some, depending on what jurisdictions you’re in. Generally speaking, there are demographics or something that you can start on. Potentially, it’s more difficult to measure things around the types of policies and the messages that are being sent. In that case, surveys or focus groups that particularly ask groups that might not be in the dominant culture what their experiences are and getting a sense for what would make it easier for them, which may not be possible to do, but to find out what would make it better, and then have discussions at the leadership level of what they are willing to do and what fits within the business plan.

Having a clear business plan is important because this work is too hard to do, simply because it’s the right thing to do. It has to fit within the larger mission and business plan of the company, otherwise, it starts with all these good intentions. You then set goals that maybe are going to be unrealistic or need a lot of resources. They fall by the wayside because it becomes unclear like, “Why are we doing this again? I know we set these goals, but what was the purpose again? What are we gaining from this?” Unless that’s clear to people at every level, you’re going to get not only potential loss of momentum, you are going to get push-back especially from people who’d been pretty comfortable.

They’ll say, “Why are we changing all this stuff? Now I have to think about this hiring practice. It’s been working fine. I’ve been getting great people. Why do I have to do this?” It then feels like it’s changed simply to be politically correct or fit into something that was arbitrarily set as a goal. You do damage to progress because it doesn’t feel like equity or something for everyone. It feels like it’s a hassle and to get at some goal that’s pretty much everything looks the same, but your demographics are different. That’s a difficult message to get people to stick with.

You have to be authentic moving forward with this. You have participated or contributed to the Guides for Equitable Practice. Even the introduction, for someone coming in from outside the design and building industry, it’s a great document to moving forth with that. If a business wants to go that way, your recommendation for that is a great one. You also point me in the direction of Diversity Matters, the McKinsey report, which is useful across the board for any company. Maybe as a step that you’ve recommended, look within first. As you look at your policies and those people who aren’t in the dominant culture, ask them and get some of that information, it’s to look within first and have maybe some of that information. That research information helps you solidify the reason you’re going forth so that it can be from an authentic and genuine best for your business going forward and best for the people in your company.

It’s very goals oriented. You can set your own internal goals and look at how equity relates to those goals or you can set specific equity goals. You could also get consultants to help you look at what the perception that others have of your company in terms of equity or whatever is relative to your other goals, whether you’re nimble and innovative, those kinds of things. You can look completely within, depending on the resources of the firm. Holding up the mirror piece is important to say, “Here are our goals. Here’s where we’ve been on those goals,” and to set goals that are stretch but realistic and goals that you then know are going to make a difference. Figure out what you can do for resources to make them so that you can make progress and keep momentum.

A lot of times, this stuff is hard and it takes a long time. It takes consistent effort at almost every level of the company. How do you keep celebrating intermediate goals and achievements, and checking in so that you’re not overly patting yourself on the back for something that was not that meaningful of a metric? It’s hard to do, but it’s extremely rewarding and valuable in ways that sometimes companies don’t always expect that they’re able to achieve other goals that have to do with sustainable design or lean practice because of equity and diversity. There are all sorts of benefits that might be indirect that companies are seeing by having more discussion and clarity. You’re able to meet not only your internal goals, but your perception by others, your retention, and your ability to compete for work. All of that starts to go up.

Renee, thank you so much. You’ve given me a lot to think about. You’ve pointed me in the direction of some great resources, the Guides for Equitable Practice. You can google those and find them. Also, the Diversity Matters, McKinsey report from 2015. You’ve shown us that diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to our businesses and our communities. Building companies with diversity, equity, inclusion has a value at all levels and especially including leadership levels, which is very important from the data. As companies, we’re better able to win top talent, improve our view of customers and what they see, employee satisfaction, and then general decision making. All those things lead to better returns when we can do it well. I love the action step of setting goals and looking internal.

I want to highlight that for people. It’s not until we listen, understand and authentically embrace the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion, that we’re going to be able to take meaningful actions in our businesses and industry. From talking to you, I’m going to challenge myself and others to how are we making sure we act so that our companies are ahead of the curve. It’s no longer a nice-to-have. We need to be moving in this direction. We absolutely need action. What actions are you going to take? How are you being responsible and leading the market as a business? If anyone reading takes an action and moves on, I would love to know what you’re doing. Feel free to reach out to me at JHancock@Chandos.com. I know everyone is busy. Renee, I know how busy you are. I appreciate you taking the time. Thank you very much.

You’re welcome. I hope this is helpful for people.

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