Like communities around the world, businesses are asking important and long overdue questions about equity and bias: How can team rosters be strengthened by diversity? Are hiring practices fair? Do systemic prejudices exist in our industries? What might be done differently by individual companies to level the field?
Here at VPCS, we are proud of our accomplishments in this area – we are a minority-owned business, two-fifths of our executive leadership is female, and the ethnic and gender diversity of our team reflects the diversity of California itself. Still, we recognize there is always more work to be done.
We operate in an industry that is historically white male-dominated, especially in leadership roles. According to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 30.7% of construction professionals are Hispanic or Latino, 6.2% are Black, 9.9% are women, and only 2% are Asian.
Within our company, our practice has always been just to recruit and hire the most qualified candidates, regardless of what boxes they might check on a census form. We’re lucky to live in a region with an abundance of construction-related academic and training programs that deliver a deep pool of extremely talented young professionals who mirror the diverse demographics of our state’s population. So as our company has expanded in size and scope, our team has organically grown more diverse. We believe strongly that those two things are linked; that our very success is tied to the non-homogeneity of our employee roster.
What’s more, a diverse construction or program management team is in a better position to serve its clients. We bring a varied set of problem-solving perspectives to the table, which benefits the communities and districts we’re hired to support. Our diversity literally makes us better at our jobs.
But it’s important to remember that diversity is an ongoing concern that deserves our full and constant attention. As a company, VPCS is committed to adapting, changing, and evolving. That starts with listening.
We invite you to listen, as we did, to a few of our employees’ perspectives on this topic:
Mony Thach, Project Manager:
I think this is largely a pipeline issue. We don’t have enough minorities coming into the field or people trained to understand the industry enough to sell it onto a new generation. Many only think of construction from a labor standpoint and don’t realize there’s more than that required to make it all work. A lot of this is about who is in a position to make the decisions that will bring in a more inclusive and diverse leadership. The number of women in leadership is starting to change, probably for more than it has in many generations, although the industry is largely still white male-dominated. There are certainly more female project managers in the pipeline , so that’s good to see, but I think there could be more.
Ultimately, clients benefit when there is more diversity on our projects, as it will help spearhead changes and innovation.
Jennifer Kerr, Project Manager:
Being a young woman in the construction industry definitely poses challenges. People sometimes assume you don’t know what you are doing just because of your age. There’s also the stereotype that young people are lazy, when in fact younger people often have to work harder to prove their worth. There are also those who think that women don’t belong in construction, which can lead to difficult situations; people assume you don’t know things or explain things to you that you already know, rephrasing what you have already communicated, and just not listening to you and needing to have someone else communicate your thoughts/direction so you are heard. I am excited to see more women working in construction and I think we will only see more joining the industry. We’re excited to prove the point that there are no jobs that women can’t have. I’m especially thankful for the women in VPCS leadership roles I can turn to for advice when met with these kinds of issues.
Having a diverse team helps to ensure that different points of view and ideas are being heard. Many people working in construction have been doing so for a long time; those who are newer to the field can bring new perspectives that might have otherwise been overlooked because things have always been done a certain way.
Minh Dao, Project Manager:
Here in the Bay Area and surrounding regions, I think construction is an industry that has been diverse and values hard work and effort. The perception of construction has also changed a lot; working in the trades isn’t given as much (if any) attention versus taking the college route – there’s almost a perception that those working in construction are not intelligent enough for higher education. Some Asian cultures in particular steer their kids away from construction and manual labor, as they can be viewed as unskilled work and not a fulfilling career. But with the growth of construction majors in college and their ties to other academic areas (such as technology), I do see more inclusion, especially as more of these disciplines start integrating into day-to-day construction.
Having a diverse and professional construction management team can do wonders in changing how a community or group views construction. The more professionals we have from a variety of backgrounds, the better it will be for the industry.
Damel Turner, Project Manager
Like many industries, construction has made an effort to include more women and minorities, but I do not feel that it is enough. While in college, I was always the only Black student in my engineering classes. While most of my peers accepted me as their equal, I always felt that I had to prove that I belong. Even now in my professional career, I feel that I still have to prove myself due to what I look like. I have been in the construction industry for more than seven years now and during my tenure I have only worked with three other Black people and never have I seen someone of color in a VP or even a PM role. I think it is really important for construction and every industry to bring in more people of color and women – not just for show, but so they can rise to be leaders and role models for the next generation.
Diversity always helps provide a better team. People from different backgrounds will have different views, ideas, strengths, and weaknesses. It is up to the team as a whole to understand these differences and how to utilize them to provide the best product. Business is a team sport and all of us have our strengths. The more diverse the group, the better we are at delivering a variety of talents.
By Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson