An industry panel discusses how companies can examine their current workforce and take steps to encourage diversity, inclusiveness and more open communication in the workplace.
Network. Talk with your employees. Conduct surveys. Get your employees engaged. Measure where you are. Set goals, then establish steps to reach them.
These are just a few of the suggestions from participants on the Women in Construction panel during GlassBuild Connect in September about how to recruit a more diverse workforce.
The joint session from the National Glass Association and National Association of Women in Construction included the following panelists:
- Anne Pfleger, CIT, NAWIC national president, Charles Construction Services
- Lauline Mitchell, NAWIC vice president, BBI Construction
- Doreen Bartoldus, NAWIC president elect, Jacobs Engineering
- Nataline Lomedico, CEO, Giroux Glass
- Diana San Diego, VP of marketing, SAFTI First
- Moderator: Katy Devlin, associate publisher and editor-in-chief, Glass Magazine
Women in Construction
Recruitment and retention
“What gets measured gets managed,” says Mitchell. “If you’re interested in truly changing hiring practices, you have to take a moment and be honest about what you’ve done in the past and where you want to go and talk about the steps to get there.”
Several panelists recommended casting a wider net when hiring and perhaps even looking at anonymous resumes. “A lot of hiring happens because people know people, which is good in some ways, but it also means people often hire those who think like them,” says Bartoldus.
Hiring isn’t the end goal, however. Retention is also a significant challenge for employers. “Once you get folks there, you can’t forget they are different,” says Mitchell. “They need to be valued and heard like everyone else is. There has to be a culture of respect and that comes from the top.”
San Diego adds it doesn’t stop after the interviews. Continually investing in employees and training is critical, and will lead to more quality staff. “If they see this is a company that invests in people, it’ll encourage more to come,” she says.
“Retention is just as or more important that recruitment,” says Lomedico. “You can’t let them fall into the trap of, ‘I’m a woman and no one will notice me.’ Make them feel valuable and focusing on ‘We need you because this is what you’re going to bring and what you can get out in return.’ … Check in and make sure people grow and have the opportunity to grow.” Giroux Glass, for example, assigns each non-union employee with a buddy who is not a supervisor or a peer in the department. The buddy checks in to ensure the new employee feels heard and discuss future goals.
Panelists also recommended examining company culture to ensure it’s inclusive. For example, if the annual summer picnic is a golf outing, but most women don’t golf, re-think the yearly outing to something that appeals to more of the company.
Developing relationships with local universities and career centers also can be a boon. San Diego often has interns in different departments, which she cites as being especially beneficial on the technology side of the business. “Technologies move quickly,” she says. “I always learn from any new person we bring in. I have to be more open to those types of things. It makes the experience broader for everybody in our organization. Be in touch with local career centers. It’s old school, but that’s where your talent pool is coming from.”
How to ally
Even if employees are not directly in charge of hiring, they can be better allies. Bartoldus says to be supportive; be an advocate, mentor and teacher; and put an end to any harassment they might see in the office or on the jobsite. “We’re okay if you’re chivalrous,” she says.
Mitchell adds, “We value ‘mallies’ [male allies],” also echoing Bartoldus’ sentiment of speaking up if you see a woman’s comment being ignored at the table. Lomedico and San Diego encourage companies to “show you’re listening” and seek someone else’s ideas; that will only help you.
Encourage women to network, too. “What a beautiful thing to be able to network and hear from others,” says Lomedico.
“Networking is an incredible way to encourage other women. Help them with introductions to the right people.”
Resiliency in a cyclical industry
Those in the construction industry often consider it to be a particularly resilient industry and group of people. Although housing is poised for strong growth, the commercial construction outlook is bleak for the coming years. Resiliency, says Lomedico, is a choice. “At the end of this you can say, ‘Now you know how strong you are,’” she says.
Bartoldus also promotes honest communication with employees and what the outlook is for the company, so if they need to look elsewhere for employment they can.
“The precipice is calling,” says Mitchell. “Our industry is very cyclical. Spend some time and you’ll see the patterns and understand what happens and how they develop. Our industry will self-correct and adjust as the rest of society does … you have to remain persistent. You can’t let your dreams go. Just work harder, keep digging and keep going until you get where you want to be. Resiliency is a lovely thing, and hopefully it’ll come back, but you have to shape yourself into the vision you have for yourself. Encourage people to dig deep and think about what you want and how to achieve that with the current surroundings.”
Women and the Second Shift
Companies quickly pivoted to flex time and remote work amid the COVID-19 pandemic; the permanence of that flex time and remote work may be a lasting legacy. Despite the flexibility many employers offer, panelists agreed many women are still working the so-called “second shift” at home, particularly in light of schools and daycare centers closing and moving to virtual formats that require parental supervision.
“There’s additional stress on women right now, and that’s a concern,” says Bartoldus. The data supports that strain. McKinsey surveyed more than 40,000 North American workers in September and found one in three are considering leaving the workforce of scaling back her career because of the pandemic. Childcare was the most-cited reason behind the career considerations.
U.S. Department of Labor statistics showed in September alone, 865,000 women left the workforce or were laid off nationwide, compared to 216,000 men. Some economists have gone so far as to call this a “she-cession,” reports the Chicago Tribune.
San Diego said the shift from office work to work at home happened overnight. “We were here on a Monday, and Tuesday we weren’t,” she recalls. As things start to normalize, she anticipates figuring out this new method of working, what tools everyone needs and considerations to make for those with families. “People get fulfillment from work and don’t want work to suffer nor their family life,” she says, adding it could take months or even the better part of a year, to find the balance. “Giving that kind of support to all employees helps with retention and with helping your employees succeed, which helps your company succeed overall.”
“If people don’t feel like they have peace in their home or personal lives they won’t be very productive anyhow,” says Lomedico. “If that’s not incentive enough for companies to offer flexibility, I don’t know what is. It’s about having that balance and giving them the ability to be the parents they want to be and be productive for the company.”
Although a stressful situation for women in particular, Mitchell encourages women to look at it as an opportunity. “As women, we are jugglers,” she says. “Here’s an opportunity for us to step up our game and push back at home and the office when you feel like you’re doing more than is equitable. You might be heard better now than at other times. This is a great time that might allow us to shine even more.”