The Seattle Times

Op-Ed by Maria Boyer, Vice President of Preconstruction

Embrace diversity in the construction industry

It seems that every industry is talking about the advantages and need for diversity in employee hiring. Having spent the past 30 years in the construction industry, I can assure you that this topic is not only being talked about, but also showing up in tangible ways on the jobsite, in our designs and in the way we work each day. 

In 2020, the pandemic’s impact coupled with the social justice uprising after the murder of George Floyd had contractors looking closely at an industry that had traditionally been slow to change but yet played a pivotal role in building and maintaining the very infrastructure our communities are built upon. This is an industry that continues to grow, and failing to tangibly embrace diversity in thought, background, race and gender will be detrimental to our country’s future. 

The need for change is backed by experience and data showing how underrepresented minorities and women are historically included in the industry. For example, although Black Americans make up 14% of the U.S. population, only 6.3% of construction workers are Black. Women comprise 10% of construction workers, even though they make up half of the national workforce.

Our strength in this industry is the skill set of our workforce and our engagement in our communities. It is time that our companies look like the communities that we live in and serve.

Locally, especially with a heavily tech-dominated market, attracting workers to the construction industry, specifically to the trades, is a critical first step in realizing this change. 

To boost the hiring pool, contractors have created numerous initiatives. Among them:

  • Working with nonprofits that serve and support minority and underrepresented populations to offer an entryway into the construction industry through internships, apprenticeships and job training programs. For example, ANEW, a nonprofit in Tukwila, offers pre-apprenticeship training programs to minorities interested in working construction jobs. ANEW graduates receive direct or preferred entry into a construction apprenticeship program. At MacDonald-Miller, we have hired four ANEW graduates in the past 12 months. We are also the first construction firm to partner with SPIN (STEM Paths Innovation Network), a nonprofit in Southeast Seattle that introduces girls in grades 9-12 to STEM career opportunities. Ultimately, it’s about bringing people into the construction industry who haven’t had access before by removing barriers. Historically, someone may not have been exposed to this as a career path based on where they were raised, their ethnicity or gender.
  • Expanding recruitment beyond traditional in-state colleges and universities to students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and tapping into associations like the Society of Black Engineers. For example, MacDonald-Miller has established a unique partnership with Prairie View A&M, a Texas HBCU, as well as others, to find interns from its prefabrication, mechanical engineering and construction management programs that are interested in exploring a career and life in the Pacific Northwest. 
  • Hiring expertise and program leaders to advise on and create new DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging) policies and practices. Construction firms can help ensure the growth of MWBEs (Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises) to work on construction projects or as suppliers. Although more government construction jobs are requiring involvement by diverse businesses, many private firms are now incorporating this requirement, as well.
  • Since 2020, we have had an employee-led, executive-endorsed “Inclusion Council” to advise on various diversity and inclusion initiatives including leadership accountability, company training and education, community outreach and diversity in suppliers and recruitment.
  • The Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Washington has made a significant investment in diversity by creating a task force that will build diversity tool kits for all 52-member mechanical contractor firms and offer each the opportunity to work with a diversity consultant to increase a more diverse pipeline into the industry.
  • We are happy to share that MacDonald-Miller has achieved a 40% increase in gender diversity and a 30% increase in people of color in our recruitment pipeline as a result of the intention set over the past several years. We, along with other construction companies, are proud to be leading the industry in Washington state.

Having more diversity of backgrounds, diversity of thought and gender allows the whole industry to grow. But talking about it isn’t enough when there are opportunities in our area to make a difference today. Our industry must continue to intentionally embrace this effort and adopt it into our collective culture. Taking this issue seriously and implementing new programs is the right first step for our industry. The change we need is reachable if we partner together with intention and a focused effort.

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Categories: General

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