In the past two years, the world has gone through unprecedented change, and it is clearly evident in the complete transformation so many of us have experienced in our day-to-day work lives. For those of us who work in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), it has been a time to shift the way we think about DEI strategies and their importance in the workplace. As someone who has been a DEI practitioner since the early 2000s, this is very welcome news since I believe that with more people and companies truly invested in this work, we will see much needed changes sooner.
Two Events Highlighting DEI Needs
We need to seize the moment. We have a real opportunity to make a shift now to affect real and systemic change. Two major events have forced corporate DEI initiatives to move beyond surface-level, "tick the box" programs that have typically aimed to help underrepresented groups navigate their careers in systems that weren't designed for them. The first event is the way in which the COVID-19 pandemic completely shifted employee's workplace realities in a matter of days, forcing corporations to rethink their model and put the unique needs of their employees front and center.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing employees. Individuals in the workplace have always had unique requirements that need to be addressed, meaning that DEI initiatives must always focus on fixing the environment and not fixing the person. Take a manager's unique leadership style. Should there be a special program to help her fit into the corporate mold, or should there be a corporate mold to fit into in the first place? Expanding our definition of what constitutes "high potential" and "success" and focusing on outcomes is a good way to show an appreciation that goals can be achieved in different ways by different people.
The second major incident that impacted the way we approach DEI in the past two years was the death of George Floyd in May 2020. Certainly, Floyd was not the first Black person to die at the hands of law enforcement in the U.S. But the groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and outrage around anti-Black racism found its way into every corner of our culture—and the workplace was no exception. Corporations and leaders suddenly found themselves being expected to make statements and commitments on how they planned to address the issue of racism, not just within their workplace, but in society at large. Just like the lines of work and life were blurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the lines have also blurred when it comes to what's deemed acceptable in the issues being discussed at work. Suddenly, external socio-political events have become part of the fiber of corporate identity and culture, far beyond simply fodder for the proverbial watercooler.
What Works at GHD
At GHD we have held several what we refer to as "courageous conversations" during this time. They have ranged from topics like anti-Black racism, the disproportionate health impacts of COVID-19 on the Black community, Islamophobia, to the impact of the residential school atrocities on Canada's Indigenous communities.
We have found that holding space for employees to share how external events and societal shifts are impacting them allow our employees to feel valued and heard. It has also given us a rare opportunity to better understand the nuances behind creating a more inclusive environment.
Companies also need to determine how their DEI strategy impacts the world around them. DEI is not only an HR initiative, and no longer just about internal policies or programs. Instead, it needs to become a key component of overall business strategy, and central to a company's ESG (environmental, social and governance) framework. This will strengthen a company's brand and employee value proposition as we deal with the impact of the so-called Great Resignation and heightened social consciousness from consumers.
Beyond the bottom-line imperatives, there is also a moral imperative that corporations must undertake for the issues that are impacting our climate and communities. Architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) firms like GHD are uniquely positioned to address social justice, climate justice and structural inequities in our communities. For example, they can improve engagement with local Indigenous communities in the design and construction of projects that may impact Indigenous land. The same applies to accessibility as part and parcel of any architectural undertaking or social procurement programs to support businesses owned by people from underrepresented populations.
Scaling DEI Globally
The complexity of DEI in a global organization like GHD is even greater. While trying to scale global DEI initiatives it's imperative to account for very different local and cultural norms. This requires deep cultural competence, engaging with local leadership and listening to and understanding perspectives from all levels of employees. It's also just as important to have strong participation from employee resource groups and representation from all levels and geographies on DEI councils to making inclusive decisions across entire organizations.
At GHD, we are taking proactive steps to make change a reality. We are committed to hiring 10 Indigenous interns over the next year in Canada, and have partnered with InRoads to source Black, Hispanic, Indigenous and Asian students for internships to help grow the pipeline of graduates in the long run. Recently, we also completed our first global pay equity review by gender and ethnicity. While continuing to monitor pay equity on an ongoing basis, we have introduced salary pay bands and parameters to prevent future gaps from happening.
As a result of our graduate recruitment campaign across North America, we are also aiming to hire at least 350 graduates including people from various underrepresented communities, giving them tools and opportunities to showcase their skills at the highest levels. In a field like STEM, where competition for talent is fierce, we need to ensure that the entire ecosystem—recruitment, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, benefits, policies and culture—is equitable and fair and lives up to our commitment of building a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
At GHD, which boasts more than 10,000 employees in 200 offices around the world, we have made a commitment to be accountable not only to the bottom line, but also to become the kind of company our employees are proud to be associated with.
Sadaf Parvaiz is Global Enterprise Inclusion & Diversity Leader at GHD, a global professional services company operating in the global markets of water, energy and resources, environment, property and buildings, and transportation.