Diversity & Inclusion in Wisconsin’s Engineering Industry
The topic of diversity, inclusion, and belonging is critical for the future of the A/E/C industry. In Wisconsin, there is a substantial challenge to developing a diverse A/E/C workforce and talent pipeline because of our less diverse demographics. For example, less than 20% of Wisconsin’s population is a racial minority. Without the availability of a diverse population, increasing participation from underrepresented groups will require innovation and creative thinking. Fortunately, we are seeing that the call to improve inclusion in our industry is a priority and efforts to highlight social equity have gained momentum.
The business case for seeking a more diverse workforce is undeniable. The intersection of multiple perspectives improves design and outcomes for clients. New viewpoints can challenge the status quo when it comes to design and help us offer better solutions. For engineering firms designing in Wisconsin’s urban environments and diverse communities, it’s important to understand how our ideas may impact a variety of people. After all, our clients care about the communities they are in; our work can have a lasting impact beyond just the infrastructure we leave behind. Our charge is to think beyond the project and see the potential for positive impact throughout the community.
For the past three years, Mead & Hunt has invested in a diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DI&B) initiative. One of our first tasks was to create an employee-led Employee Resource Group (ERG). Our ERG has worked with the Human Resources team to evolve policies to be more inclusive, to create action plans from the results of our first diversity and inclusion survey, and to develop a plan to recruit more diversity to our workforce. In 2021, two ERG Program Manager positions were created and filled to keep the momentum. We currently have groups for those with interests in the following: Individuals with Disabilities, Multicultural, LGBTQ+, Women, and Military/Veterans.
Company leadership encourages the group, creates opportunity, and arrives to the conversation with a willingness to learn. We’ve added an option for employees to add pronouns to their email signature, created support groups for working parents, revitalized our marketing materials to include statements related to important social issues, and improved our website’s accessibility. We won’t always get it right. But putting in the work is the right thing to do.
Focusing on DI&B efforts also combats the talent shortage facing this industry. Where opportunity abounds, recruiting can be challenging. One idea is to create opportunity where it hasn’t readily existed before. This may require companies to bypass normal recruiting channels to find ways to inspire the next generation. Introducing middle and high school students in underserved communities to STEM programs, offering job shadow programs, and mentoring college students as they choose their path are a few examples.
Prioritizing inclusion and belonging assists with retention in a highly competitive market, and helps employees feel heard. When employees openly share ideas, creativity thrives – and that means more unique solutions. I don’t know any consulting firm that doesn’t want to foster innovation in the work they do. At our firm, our ERG is a strong partner in other initiatives involving innovation, community giving, and more.
We also want to improve synergies with business partners, many of whom are also pursuing similar ideals with the goal of creating a better built environment. Together, our influence can be powerful.
I think we’re all striving for a future in which young engineers of diverse backgrounds thrive in the consulting environment and do meaningful work for our communities. This is a deliberate and directed effort and it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s going to take time and all of us working toward the same goal. Bringing the DI&B discussion to the forefront in all aspects of business makes space for that to happen.
About the Guest Blogger
Andy Platz, PE is the President & CEO at Mead & Hunt, an ACEC Wisconsin member firm. Andy is a Vice Chair of ACEC National’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Committee. Embodying Inclusion and Diversity is an integral piece of both the ACEC National and ACEC Wisconsin Strategic Plans.
As CEO, Andy focuses on providing employees whatever it takes to help them be successful. He views the people who make up Mead & Hunt as the company’s strongest resource and sees his primary role as providing support and structure for all employees to achieve their own career goals.