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Is DE&I non-essential?

  • 1.  Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-18-2023 04:12 PM
    After seeing record gains in diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) roles in recent years, those positions are now drying up.  From June to August 2020, openings for DE&I roles skyrocketed by 55 percent following a widespread demand for broader racial equity and justice after George Floyd's murder. Now, however, DE&I roles are diminishing at a faster rate than non-DE&I positions and this trend continues to accelerate during layoffs in 2023 (Revelio Labs). In some industries, DE&I departments are being eliminated altogether to try to save money.  In fact, most companies are cutting DE&I positions first before cutting other positions.  
     
    While these positions are being cut, studies show that DE&I helps attract and retain employees. A 2022 survey revealed that 92 percent of 3,000 full-time workers said company culture, a key characteristic of DE&I, impacts their intent to stay with their employer. Millennials and Generation Z employees were more likely than Baby Boomers to value DE&I.
     
    Basically, employees are indicating DE&I is essential and c-suites are indicating it is not.
     
    What are your thoughts? Is DE&I essential? Do you believe the increase in DE&I positions in 2020 was simply paying lip service? What are your experiences with DE&I programs and initiatives at your company or in professional organizations?


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    Jennifer Sloan Ziegler Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE
    Ridgeland MS
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  • 2.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-19-2023 10:42 AM

    Jennifer, 

    Thanks for starting this thread. Preface to say I am speculating based on conversations with friends who are DE&I consultants and from witnessing DE&I programs within one professional organization (not ASCE).

    "Do you believe the increase in DE&I positions in 2020 was simply paying lip service?"
     I would venture that with the scale of layoffs and diminishing of the roles, that is a likely scenario. I think there's a strong possibility that many in c-suite roles saw that we were living in a moment and did not want to have their organizations come across as not recognizing it. As the conversation has cooled (for most) over the past 3 years, there's been a cooling within organizations as they look at which positions are driving profit. Also, If I had to guess, there very well could have been an over-hiring of DE&I positions within some organizations, to the point that firms are looking at cutting the positions where they feel they don't need multiple or where they can outsource to a consultant to do it third party. 

    Within one professional organization I'm involved with, we saw some initial resistance to DE&I programs, at least until a third party consultant came in to discuss the broader point of the program: a recognition of the different backgrounds we within the organization may come from, whether that be race, ethnicity, religion, ability, gender, sexual orientation, wealthy class. Follow the initial resistance with some recognition, and then followed by a resistance again from some of the more established people within the organization, who generally felt that since we had done a few seminars and classes everything is fixed now, so why should we continue the program? 




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    Lawrence Simonson P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Engineer
    Bunnell-Lammons Engineering
    Greenville SC
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  • 3.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-19-2023 04:03 PM

    The company where I work has a diverse staff and a great culture, but we don't have a DE&I position. I wonder if the places dropping the position are devaluing the concept or just deciding you don't need one person in charge of it.

    There are a lot of great things that don't have an official position. I have a close relationship with some of our accounting and administrative staff, which probably isn't the industry norm, but we didn't need an "inter-departmental friendship officer" for that culture to be created. 

    I think, though well-intentioned, that sometimes you can overly formalize something and then it feels awkward, forced, and shallow instead of actually being a part of the culture.

    At our firm we have an internal concept called "One Wallace" which helps create consistency across offices both technically and culturally. The committee has members across offices, departments, years of experience, background, etc. We also have a culture committee right now to look at what we like, what we might change, and how to keep it as we grow. I, personally, would rather see those kinds of collaborative groups addressing company culture holistically than an officer that just does that. 



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    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Wallace Design Collective
    Tulsa, OK
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  • 4.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-19-2023 04:03 PM

    I suspect the increase was in response to stakeholder pressure in part and actual beliefs in part. The decrease is a response to political pressure, such as Florida's recent law banning the spending of money on DEI by the state's public colleges and universities. Some pundits are weighing in against it, so politicians use it as yet another dog whistle to alarm and anger their base. We saw much the same reaction during the early days of the civil rights movement when equal employment opportunity was demonized. As a supervisor, I had a few employees who initially refused to sign performance standards that included EEO because of what they had heard on talk radio. Tsk.



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    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, D.NE, F.ASCE
    ENGINEER
    Columbus MS
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  • 5.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-22-2023 06:31 PM

    Hi Jennifer, 
    Thanks for this question. Most DEI programs are performative and many workplaces do not have psychological safety which is a requirement of a successful DEI program. In my experience there is DEI dishonesty, which this article spells out https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/careers/diversity-dishonesty-workplace-psychology/777267. In addition, it takes a unique skillset in an infrastructure organization for the DEI Manager since there are unique issues in civil engineering (the oldest engineering profession that is still a boys club). There is 30 years of data showing why women and minorities leave engineering at extremely high rates (SWE data shows only 30% of women who earn bachelor's degrees in engineering work in engineering 20 years later) from SWE, NSF, and others. I participated in this study, numerous years ago but little has changed. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnDrzvBqRiw). We know that a major reason why women and minorities leave engineering is discrimination and harassment, but few organizations are addressing these issues since they are not supposed to be happening in organizations. I interviewed approximately 100 female civil engineers from CEOs to staff and 100% of them had experienced discrimination and/or harassment. This is the norm, not the exception as a female in civil engineering. One of the most powerful leadership book that details my experience as an Asian female engineer is The First, the Few, and the Only. I suspect most women in engineering will also relate to the experiences. She Engineers is also great. The other phenomena that happens is that women don't help women and tokenism (diverse people are put in management but they don't want to impact change or they don't feel safe to share their experiences authentically). This is also a great TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/rha_goddess_and_deepa_purushothaman_4_ways_to_redefine_power_at_work_to_include_women_of_color?language=en.

    I'm not surprised that DEI managers are being let go because I never felt the effort was real to begin with in 2020. We have discussing women in STEM for over 30 years (I was in the first women in engineering class at Illinois in 1993) and spent billions of dollars but we haven't made significant change. In addition, when I speak out I am often gaslight (my company is the problem and if I go to another place it is better or it is better than it used to be). I was told in college that I would be provided equal opportunities, the profession needed my skillset (hard and soft skills), and we civil engineers need to represent the public that we serve. It was lies and we are telling the next generation the same thing I was told. I did not expect to be a trailblazer. I thought the problems were solved in the 1970-1980s. Until we tell the truth about our experiences, I feel that nothing will change. ASCE President Maria Lehman is passionate about this issue. It is a privilege to serve in ASCE leadership to work on these issues to modernize our profession but it is emotional draining. I believe it will take a partnership of universities, employers, and professional organizations to impact real change since each has a different role to play. 

    Sincerely,
    Preeti



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    Preetindar Ghuman P.E., M.ASCE
    CIVIL ENGINEER
    Huntington Beach CA
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  • 6.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-23-2023 03:36 PM

    To any younger women that may be scared off by this assessment of the industry, please know that this isn't every woman's experience. I know a lot of girls from my graduating class that are thriving and supported in the industry. I know women ahead of me in our firm that are great examples of what it looks like to have a fulfilling career at a company that values our contributions. I have, from the beginning of my career, been respected by fellow engineers, architects, contractors, municipal employees, clients, etc. Sure, I've run into someone here or there that was disrespectful, but any industry has people that way, and they treat more than just women poorly. As someone that has been in industry for nearly a decade now, I have not personally experienced a "boys club" aspect of industry.

    Not all statistics on the percent of women leaving the workforce are an indication of wrongdoing on the part of their companies or industry. One of my friends was given reduced hours, flexibility, etc. but she still decided she would rather be home with her children. There is nothing wrong with that, but she would be counted in a stat of women not staying in industry.

    I'm not saying there aren't any problems to address. I'm not saying there isn't improvement to be made. I'm not saying that my experience speaks for the majority experience. But what I am saying is to please not take a bleak outlook from some as a reason to not consider this profession. There are many of us that are thriving and supported, and we'd love for you to join us. 



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    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK
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  • 7.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-23-2023 05:44 PM

    Thanks Heidi for your perspective. Let's connect on Linked In. 



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    Preetindar Ghuman P.E., M.ASCE
    CIVIL ENGINEER
    Huntington Beach CA
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  • 8.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-24-2023 04:44 PM

    I agree with your viewpoint, Heidi. My experience as a supervisor and mentor (in the USA, only) showed that the resistance women faced in the 1950s and 60s engineering workplace diminished and became rare by the 1980s. Jennifer's post and my earlier comment had to do with corporate commitments to DEI, which are important in recruiting and retaining the best talent and best combinations of talents in an organization.
    A sub-issue is sexual harassment. I've had to act to protect both male and female staff from excessive attention at times. It wasn't a common problem in the organizations I worked in, but it persisted through the years.

    Bill



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    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, D.NE, F.ASCE
    ENGINEER
    Columbus MS
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  • 9.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-30-2023 10:46 AM

    Dear All:  Interesting discussion on DE&I.  I consider DE&I unethical and in violation of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent related acts which prohibit discrimination.  A few quotes from an article (https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/civil-rights-act) about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are below.

    "This act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. It was the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction."

    "[The associated laws] prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or age in hiring, promoting, firing, setting wages, testing, training, apprenticeship, and all other terms and conditions of employment."

    I am a proponent of qualifications-based, competitive hiring and related personnel practices that include clear definitions of the qualification requirements and thorough documentation of the candidate evaluations using a fixed process by the selection committee comprising at least three appropriate persons.

    Craig Goodall, PE
    Civil Engineer
    Amelia Island, Florida



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    Craig Goodall P.E., M.ASCE
    VICE PRESIDENT
    Fernandina Beach FL
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  • 10.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-30-2023 12:04 PM

    Craig, 

    This is a perspective that I have not heard before. I am fairly certain that a properly implemented DE&I program would not violate any of the Civil Rights Act. The quotes you are referencing are not circumvented or sidestepped by DE&I programs I am familiar with. 

    Do you have examples of a program you witnessed that would have violated the Civil Rights Act? 

    Thanks, 



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    Lawrence Simonson P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Engineer
    Bunnell-Lammons Engineering
    Greenville SC
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  • 11.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-30-2023 12:05 PM

    It appears we are operating with different definitions of DEI, Mr. Goodall. The DEI that I am familiar with is the epitome of, "qualifications-based, competitive hiring and related personnel practices." It is the anthesis of the old-boy network recruiting and promotion practices that fed friends, relatives, and "people who look like me" into organizations and upper management. DEI means casting as wide a net as possible and encouraging everyone to apply. Once that is done, hiring and promotion are then truly based on qualifications and ability, not just the best qualifications of those who look like me. It is not quotas or mandatory diversity hires.

    Given that, there is no idea so pure that it cannot be corrupted. There are examples of managers who don't know how, or can't be troubled, to recruit widely, so they take a short cut that doesn't work. That's not DEI. That's poor management blaming its failures on something else.



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    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., D.CE, D.NE, F.ASCE
    ENGINEER
    Columbus MS
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  • 12.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 05-31-2023 07:59 AM

    It isn't that DEI does or doesn't involve discriminatory practices, it's a tool to make certain skills are accessible to people willing to put in the effort. Cool. It's when HR tries to put themselves above critique and even exact penalties on staff or managers that voice opposition to their policies and activities, as executed, that their scope can get labeled as abusive.

    In general, engineering firms need to be run by engineers, not HR managers, and be devoid of agendas or politics. HR VPs and managers are not licensed by anybody nor have to answer to stockholders or any non executive body in most corporate organizations and sometimes it shows. DEI is just a tool and when used properly is a very essential one, and a great way to help good people. HR, however, can become a paper kingdom if allowed to and needs to be checked and balanced in the greater scheme of things.



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    William Bala P.E., S.E., M.ASCE
    Owner
    Hawkins TX
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  • 13.  RE: Is DE&I non-essential?

    Posted 06-01-2023 02:53 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 06-01-2023 02:53 PM