Diversity in the workplace is making progress, but gender equality continues to be an area for improvement, especially within the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry.
Despite the industry being the world’s sixth-largest employer, women are vastly underrepresented within the AEC workforce. If we look at the CIO title as an example, only 20% of the top 500 AEC firms worldwide have females within these positions. If we broaden this to all positions globally in the AEC industry, only 27% are held by women.
For us to address this situation, there needs to be a fundamental acknowledgement and understanding to the value diversity brings to the industry.
Our industry is one that has been driven by technological innovation. From our rapid adoption of 3D modelling to the developing integration of digital twins, the impact of innovation simply cannot be denied. Technology has ultimately enabled firms with vast capabilities, such as the use of artificial intelligence and drones to identify issues and remotely troubleshoot problems, or the use of advanced analytics to spot problems in a design before construction begins. However, the pace of technological innovation does not exist in a vacuum – it is the result of cognitive diversity and the embracing of different worldviews.
This premise is not a ground-breaking one. Many studies have concluded that diverse executive representation has been proven to lead to increased profits, productivity, and innovation. Having a diverse workforce, including not just gender diversity but all forms of diversity, ultimately adds an additional dimension to decision-making and team dynamics, which is critical to any industry’s growth and progression.
To foster the inclusion of women within the AEC industry, there is a need for greater education and community integration. Initiatives like International Girls in ICT Day and Girls in Tech Australia are great examples of education initiatives that look at developing talent from an early stage. It is an issue that needs to be considered holistically, and driving interest early is critical to fostering long-term talent.
Ongoing support beyond formal programs is also vital in supporting young women in what is generally a male-dominated field. While education channels can be quite effective in empowering young women to discover their passions and jumpstart their AEC careers, it is equally important that there is a community that looks to support them outside of the formal workplace.
The continuous push for innovation within the industry predicates that we put ourselves in the best position to acquire as much diverse talent as possible, which means that we need to collectively come together as an industry to support STEM efforts, recruiting, and mentoring. The pandemic has only made the digital skills shortage more evident than ever before, putting the onus on organisations to create an environment that will attract and retain the best talent.
Once the formal structure has been put together, we must ensure that the workplace is as inclusive and welcoming as possible to ensure long-term retention. Flexible working should no longer be considered a perk. There needs to greater advocacy for global women’s groups like IEEE Women in Engineering and Women in Technology International to support a broader network, and companies should institute womens’ networking groups to help women find mentors and a “safe space” to discuss gender issues.
In the same way that diversity and innovation are two sides of the same coin, formal policies and genuine cultural acceptance is required to ensure that the industry is in the best position possible to reap the benefits of a talented workforce in the drive for constant innovation. There is a real business case for organisations to push for greater diversity within their workforce, and I am excited to see this movement continue to grow.