With many programs aimed at creating welcoming workplaces for women in A/E/C, you would be forgiven for assuming we have come further than the reality amongst us. Recent feedback highlights how far away we are from truly achieving gender parity; however, the pathway forward to achieving these goals is counterintuitive.

Women working within A/E/C report an indictment on our industry. DesignIntelligence recently conducted research to understand the Australian context of gender parity in the A/E/C industry. Women overwhelmingly feel that industry initiatives have not achieved the desired outcomes. With the moral and business case strongly supporting gender diversity, we must ask the hard questions as to what is happening and how we can turn this around.

Yet looking at the hard questions isn’t easy. This is a very complex issue, and responses to a survey need to be unpacked in the same nature that they were provided. There is, however, a lot that can be learnt from headline results.

Survey respondents were asked to report on their top three issues.

1) 70 percent felt they are assumed to be lacking skills
2) 46 percent do not feel included within the workplace
3) 46 percent feel negatively impacted by a gender-based pay gap

The first issue has a domino effect, which is evident within the remaining results. If women feel that their boss or colleagues assume they are lacking skills, rather than being judged on their output, we are creating workplaces where women may intentionally or subconsciously be excluded and unfairly remunerated.

Previous studies regarding gender parity have given notable commentary regarding a hesitance from women to put themselves forward for promotions, highlight their achievements and negotiate tougher on salaries; suggesting that when presented with the same opportunities, men will raise their hand and confidently represent themselves.

Of course, these are generalisations that do not strictly apply to all; however, generally speaking, if this is true, there is nothing shocking about the avoidance of a seemingly uphill battle.

• 54 percent enjoy and seek further initiatives for women in the A/E/C industry
• 42 percent feel that KPIs are required for change, while 32 percent are unsure of their impact

While there is an adverse effect on productivity and cohesive working for teams that lack a sense of belonging, the answer will not be found within more initiatives for women in construction. Attaining a workplace where the real talent of high-achieving women can be acknowledged is counterintuitive. We need to do more than just focus on women. Paradoxically, this approach will always position women as “the other,” feeding the existing unconscious bias in all of us. We need to create a truly diverse workforce to cut through that bias.

Irrespective of the impact to the plight of women, it is unconscionable to ignore the other segments of exclusion in the workplace. For example, Australian leaders are up to 68 percent less likely to interview applicants with non-Anglo Saxon names. There other segments of exclusion in the workplace deserving of our attention.

Strangely, in our high tech, hyper-connected world, we continue to select leaders based on survival on the savannah, such as height. Yes, height is a predictor of gaining leadership roles. While there’s no silver bullet to solving all of this, there is a better pathway to success.

Inviting people with a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, people with disabilities, LGBTI people and others into our organisations is key. We then may find that for women, getting that next promotion in a mix such as this is not so radical. It can be a win/win, also increasing the feeling of belonging within the workplace for all.

• Organisations in the top quartile for cultural diversity were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above the industry mean. (2015 McKinsey)

• With diversity and inclusion, individuals report 57 percent increased performance against goals, 24 percent greater retention, 21 percent more emotional commitment to colleagues, 11 percent lift in discretionary effort. (CEB, Global Labor Market Survey, 2012)

We are living in a VUCA (which means volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world, with discontinuous disruption affecting entire industries. The urgency around this issue is greater than the direct impact to our workplaces, but because diverse workplaces will also provide the agility and innovation to solve the complex challenges of today, tomorrow and the future.

Tips for organisations progressing on diversity:
• Broaden the inspiration behind diversity programs—look for model programs outside of A/E/C.
• Don’t focus on women—bring other groups into these strategies; strive toward equality for all.
• Empower all of your staff to meaningfully contribute to the diversity aspirations of the company.
• Ask yourself what markets are you moving into, what supply chain and distribution channels could you engage with better, what consumer base are you seeking to represent, and more. This can create a meaningful link to the lowhanging fruit of your business strategy and your diversity goals. Make it meaningful. 

***

Alexia Lidas is director of DesignIntelligence Australia.