The Business Case for Gender Equity

by Ann Truair

Look around architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) firms - how many do you know that are going through leadership transition or sale? How many leaders are planning to retire within the next 5 years? How many people are leaving? Transition planning is one of the hottest topics in the AEC industry today. Whether meant in terms of firm leadership shift or growing the next generation of leaders, many businesses are facing drastic changes in the near future. This change is fueled by baby boomers exiting the workplace, as well as the fact that the generations following are much smaller in size and much more entrepreneurial in spirit. We are entering a war for talent the size of which we have never seen before. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates a shortage of 40 million highly skilled workers by 2030 (World at Work, 2013). Hiring and retaining good talent will only continue to grow in significance for businesses worldwide.

 

This shift in AEC is exposing another challenge that we have all been aware of but largely ignored because there was no burning platform yet. According to the 2015 labor force statistics from the Department of Labor, the construction industry is 9.3% female (actual construction workers closer to 2%) and architecture/engineering is comprised of only 24.8% females. Considering that women make up 46.7% of the working population, our industry is excluding a large portion of the overall workforce, making our possible talent pool even smaller.

 

If we want to survive and thrive in this economy, it's time for a change, and women are a large part of the solution. Here is why:

Better business decisions

For many years, we have all been taught that gender diversity is the right thing to do. We've focused on the morality and ethics of the issue which helped pave the way. But there is another side to gender diversity in the workplace—one that is not often highlighted. Having women and men in leadership leads to better business results. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics 2016 study, “for profitable firms, a move from no female leaders to 30 percent representation is associated with a 15 percent increase in the net revenue margin.” Research also demonstrates that having women in senior roles is important for younger high potentials because it helps them see themselves as future leaders.

 

Could your company use a 15% increase in net revenue margin? If so, look around and seek out emerging women leaders - challenge them, support them, and help them grow.

 

Women don't want it has been debunked

If your company is still using the excuse of "women just don't want to be leaders" or "women don't want to work in our industry," it's time to stop. These have been debunked by numerous studies. A recent Journey to 2030 report published by KRC Research and Weber Shandwick proves that "76% of the non-C-level female executives report interest in pursuing C-Suite positions compared with 56% of non-C-level men. Importantly, interest in reaching the C-level does not diminish when female executives are parents."

 

Understanding that emerging leader women want to advance and grow, how can you help them? Can you provide them opportunities, mentorship and support? Do not assume and make decisions for women in their best interest - ask them what they want and where they want to grow and advance.

 

Millennials will not tolerate inequality of any kind

Millennials are significantly more likely than older generations to look more favorably at potential employers who support women’s advancement. Millennials are not afraid to leave companies that do not treat employees fairly. They are not afraid to leave the corporate world behind and strike out on their own.

 

As Millennials rise through corporate ranks, they will carry their values with them and the corporate culture will have to evolve with them or be left behind. Social media savvy allows Millennials to easily find out which companies share their gender equality values and seek them out or dismiss them.

 

The glass ceiling still exists

Don't be fooled, the glass ceiling still exists. "Global executives agree that women in senior management have difficulty advancing to higher-level positions (55%), with far fewer reporting similar difficulties for senior men (40%)." (Journey to 2030 report). The most common excuse for that is there are not enough women in the pipeline.

 

Is it because they don't want to be in the industry or because they have given up and left? Think about Millennials. They will not work 20 years for a company they don't believe in. What does your culture show them every day? Your hiring and advancement practices speak much louder than any policy you may have posted on your website. In fact, your employees and ex-employees' actions are the loudest voice your company can have. Make sure they deliver and live the message you support.

 

Conclusion

Until we remove the barriers still existing on the road to gender equity, our industry will continue to struggle with finding qualified talent and creating resilient companies. It's time to engage the forgotten gender and ignite their passion for design, problem solving, leadership, and critical thinking. Together, we can grow our companies, advance the talent within them, and create genuine best places to work.

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