Advocating for Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Promoting Diversity and Fostering Inclusivity in Times of Crisis

This roundtable outlines what you can do as a civil engineer to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace and your community during COVID-19.

 Article 

A Question of Ethics?

An ASCE member maintains a personal Facebook page on which he regularly shares humorous graphics, videos and popular memes. As evidenced by his postings, the member’s sense of humor runs the gamut from innocent to salacious, with topics ranging from family and home life to current hot-button social or political issues.

Yet, while some of his previous posts may have reflected polarizing or even unpopular points of view, in the months since COVID-19 rose to international attention, the member’s “humor” has been increasingly targeted at one subject—people of Chinese nationality or descent.

The member has made numerous posts mocking the Chinese language or accent, repeating negative stereotypes about the Chinese diet, or implying that all people of Chinese ethnicity are carriers of disease.

  Blog  

Why I Include My Pronouns in a Professional Setting

Discover how pronouns can help you communicate a culture of inclusion.

  Blog  

I Can’t Breathe and This is Why

Find out how we can move in a positive direction toward creating the change that is needed in today’s culture.

  Podcast  

Engineering a Culture of Inclusion

 Civil engineers share their experiences within and insights about the civil engineering profession, specifically as they relate to race and racism.


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A Conversation on Design and Planning towards Equity in the Built Environment

  • 1.  A Conversation on Design and Planning towards Equity in the Built Environment

    Posted 06-05-2020 11:41 AM

    My heart has been breaking over the past few days over the events surrounding George Floyd's death. As a member of the engineering community and in true engineering fashion, I'm looking for ways I can take some of the philosophical, some of the factual, and some of the physical into account towards building a better nation for my brothers and sisters.

    I know I can do better than virtue signaling on social media, protesting in the streets, awareness in HR and education, or even voting. Those things seem shallow to me – some might say those are just lip service. I know that change is accomplished through micro actions in our everyday practice. Moreover, in my line of work, I know the economics of infrastructure investments impact change in measurable ways.

    In my career, I've had several opportunities to support the funding of inner-city, urban developments that would have measurable impact on the black and brown communities of America. I'm grateful for the ones we were able to push through the system. Often, however, the economics aren't favorable for investment. Sometimes its devalued appraisals, bad loan-to-value ratios, high infrastructure costs, poor utility or transportation feasibility, shoddy construction of existing structures, AHJ's requiring significant offsite improvements from the private investor and many other things that derail the project. Eventually, the private investor decides the costs to be a poor investment and usually aims towards a suburban development opportunity.

    As engineers and planners of the American Society of Civil Engineering, I'd like to start a conversation on design and planning towards enabling equitable opportunities for all peoples in the built environment.

    As a conversation primer and thought exercise, I've attached a few articles from varying perspectives. I'm looking forward to an intellectually thoughtful and respectful conversation. Sometimes, silence is the best way for other voices to be heard. I'm listening.

    https://brooklynrail.org/2002/03/books/the-race-of-architecture

    https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2020/06/george-floyd-protest-urban-design-history-racism-architecture/612622/

    https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2020/06/protests-black-communities-history-highways-george-floyd/612496/



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    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
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  • 2.  RE: A Conversation on Design and Planning towards Equity in the Built Environment

    Posted 06-05-2020 01:13 PM
    Jesse, I was thinking along the same lines and would like to add to this topic.

    The history of many Civil Engineering projects in the US is the history of trampling on the disadvantaged and making things worse for poorer segments of the population. While politicians make the decisions, we are still complicit in working on these projects. Whether the impact is on displacement of the poor with interstate highways or urban renewal projects in the 1960s to modern urban gentrification projects to bad decisions on sources of drinking water as in Flint, engineers have been involved somewhere in the process. I have seen road projects where there is no pedestrian access in areas where there are people that can't afford cars. The following video shows a newly paved street that has no access for pedestrians.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zXC0m_NMDA

     

    There was a thread post last year about how far engineers should go in making things safe. We are generally limited by technology and cost. All of the projects we work on attempt to improve things but is there too much of a trade-off for improving it for one group of people while increasing the hardships for the disadvantaged? Land developers love cheap land but when people barely making ends meet are forced to move where rents aren't as cheap because of a new development, this becomes a hardship that is too much to bear for them. It helps if there is a socio-economic impact assessment done for large scale projects but this isn't done for every project. As we have seen in Flint, the most horrendous problem was created by politicians to save money without an adequate assessment of the total health impacts. Yet, engineers worked on building this new system in 2014.

     

    What projects have engineers seen that has put an uneccessarily large burden on the poor? What responsibility should civil engineers have in the decision making process when there are too many negative impacts to the poor and disadvantaged communities for specific projects?



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    Yance Marti P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer IV
    City of Milwaukee
    Milwaukee WI
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  • 3.  RE: A Conversation on Design and Planning towards Equity in the Built Environment

    Posted 06-06-2020 12:29 PM
    Thanks Jesse, Yance, for your "Out-loud" support for engineers to broaden their knowledge and sphere of influence.

    Now to be clear, my level of CE tech-skills never went much past "Q=CIA!"

    On the other hand, I did learn a great body of knowledge regarding "people, process, and leadership."

    If I understand, generally, where your interests are going, please consider a framework now for structure,
    i.e., consider a "Systems" perspective.

    For starters, study the existing framework for many of the issues you note within the  ISO System of Standards.
    And consider ISO's process for engaging all . . .planet-wide. . . who would, and might be impacted by the ideas you have.

    Their system-foundation considers:

    "One of the most prevalent ISO standards is ISO 9001. This standard sets the criteria for quality management systems. It can be used by any organization, regardless of the organization's size or industry. In 2019, there are over one million organizations in over 170 countries certified for ISO 9001. Its role is to ensure customers get high-quality products and services. ISO 9001 is based on seven quality management principles:

    1. Customer focus
    2. Leadership
    3. Engagement of people
    4. Process approach
    5. Improvement
    6. Evidence-based decision-making
    7. Relationship management"
    The attached doc provides more details.

    Stay Healthy!

    Cheers,
    Bill

    ------------------------------
    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
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  • 4.  RE: A Conversation on Design and Planning towards Equity in the Built Environment

    Posted 06-06-2020 06:00 PM
    Thanks for bringing up this topic and for the reading list. I'll make a few replies, then sit back and see where the thread goes.

    I serve on SEI's Engineering Philosophy Committee, which looks at how philosophy helps us understand our work and our profession. One topic that has been discussed in this field is the "social captivity of engineering." My colleague Jon Schmidt has written on it in Structure Magazine (link). Social captivity means that engineers are limited in the problems they're allowed to address and the solutions that are considered acceptable. Related to this, several years ago, I studied structural engineering attitudes towards sustainability. I found, not surprisingly, that their ability to take action in the interest of sustainability was lower professionally than in their professional lives (link).

    I'm also reminded of E.F. Schumacher's work, "Small is Beautiful". He argues, "Anything that is found to be an impediment to economic growth is a shameful thing, and if people cling to it, they are thought of as either saboteurs or fools. Call a thing immoral or ugly, soul-destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the well-being of future generations: as long as you have not shown it to be 'uneconomic' you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow, and prosper."

    I don't want to go so far as saying that there is no space in civil engineering practice to address issues of social justice - I've seen some good examples involving extensive community engagement in large, public works projects. However, I'm still leaning towards the conclusion that working within the profession has limited benefits. We need to consider in what ways we're complicit in and perpetuate racism. We then need to work to change the social and economic structure that perpetuates those outcomes. Anti-racism will always play second fiddle to sound business, and sound business will benefit some and harm others. To the extent that we benefit (as successful business owners or only as engineers drawing a comfortable salary and able to work from home during a pandemic), we're complicit in perpetuating racist outcomes. The task before us is first to recognize this and then to take an active role in battling that privilege, likely incurring a financial cost to ourselves.

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    Tonatiuh Rodriguez-Nikl Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE
    Cal State LA, Department of Civil Engineering
    Los Angeles CA
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  • 5.  RE: A Conversation on Design and Planning towards Equity in the Built Environment

    Posted 06-08-2020 05:36 PM
    Hi all,

    Just thought I'd drop a link to an interesting project underway in DC called the 11th Street Bridge Park: https://bbardc.org/project/11th-street-bridge-park/

    The project has incorporated human-centered approaches and systems thinking to help current residents in Anacostia make the most of the urban development which will be coming their way over the next few decades. The project has initiated things like home-buyers clubs and community land trusts to maintain affordable housing. It will be interesting to see what impact this has in the long term.

    Derryn.


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    Derryn Bracey Aff.M.ASCE
    Washington DC
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  • 6.  RE: A Conversation on Design and Planning towards Equity in the Built Environment

    Posted 06-14-2020 10:44 PM
    Thank you for raising this issue.
    There is something i think ASCE can do given the expertise of the membership.
    A mapping of the US showing each incident where someone has felt that they have been racially profiled or injured by the police could be very useful to policy makers and the public at large. An ad campaign soliciting input will be required and it should state clearly that this is just a map of the attitude of the population towards the police, not a map of culpability. Further, the project may map data in closely contested Congressional districts, but should not publish them.
    Aside from the policy benefits of such a map, it can be a tool for recruiting minorities by indicating the ability of our profession to contribute to society beyond linking people with roads and bridges, providing safe housing and work places, and providing clean water and air.
    Dan Manheim M. ASCE

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    Daniel Manheim P.E., M.ASCE
    Principal
    Ms.
    Berkeley CA
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  • 7.  RE: A Conversation on Design and Planning towards Equity in the Built Environment

    Posted 06-15-2020 09:29 AM
    I'm also following this thread with interest and have taken note of the articles and ideas posted here.

    Along these lines, I've been collecting articles about civil engineers' roles in social justice. The one attached, with "architectural" in the title, uses architecture broadly to represent civil engineering, city planning, urban design, and transit routing. There are also several non-engineering peer-reviewed journal articles related to brownfields development and the lead in drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. In the case of Flint, many engineers knew that the water was not good but were not in a position to make the ultimate decisions.

    I'm an engineering educator, and I take very seriously my role in bringing up ethics. And I think I need to take it farther given that society right now is more open to discussing racial inequality and general social justice issues. I'm attaching a Word file of several peer-reviewed paper abstracts related to the environmental justice and water (I'm an environmental/water resources engineer). If anyone wants to see a specific article, send me a message.

    On the more practical side, the Envision infrastructure sustainability rating system (https://sustainableinfrastructure.org/), which ASCE has championed since before its roll-out around 2012, specifically has two categories, Quality of Life and Leadership, that are part of the sustainability rating. Those categories address social sustainability, with credits given to the infrastructure project for, for example, developing local skills and capability, stimulating sustainable growth and development, and providing for stakeholder involvement. So this tool, if used effectively, can address many social justice issues.

    I look forward to reading more on this thread.

    Cris

    ------------------------------
    Cristiane Surbeck
    Past President, ASCE-EWRI
    Ph.D., Ph.D., P.E., ENV SP, F.EWRI, M.ASCE
    Associate Dean and Associate Professor
    University of Mississippi
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