How to Increase Diversity and Inclusion in BIM

Diversity, equity and inclusion aren’t buzzwords;  they’re good business.

“Research shows that companies with diverse teams perform better financially and are more innovative  than those with homogenous teams,” notes Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., senior manager of research for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in Chicago. “So not only is ensuring greater gender equity the right thing to do, but there is an ROI benefit to organizations, as well.” 

Yet, many architecture, engineering and construction firms struggle to recruit and retain women and people of color. This is especially true when it comes to the technology side of the firm, including building information modeling (BIM).

“Research shows that companies with diverse teams perform better financially and are more innovative  than those with  homogenous teams.” – Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., Senior manager of research for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in Chicago

IMPROVING DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION IN BIM IS VITAL TO:

Reduce turnover and improve retention.

Attracting and retaining women and people of color can help companies combat labor shortages and create a more stable workforce. “One of the biggest reasons we should be so concerned about the inequity in the profession is that we are losing roughly 32% of our talent when we are all desperately seeking talent for our organizations,” says Andrea Love, AIA, principal and director of building science at Boston-based Payette. The industry graduates 50% women, but 15 years later they represent roughly 18% of licensed professionals, adds Robyn Niss, P.E., a project manager with Kimley-Horn in Virginia Beach. “When an employee leaves a company, a tremendous amount of training and investment goes with them, so it’s important that companies work to make all staff feel valued, connected and included,” Niss says.

Meet societal needs.

As the U.S. population grows more diverse, companies will need to hire employees with different  backgrounds and experiences. “Dr. Londa Shiebinger, John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science at Stanford University and an expert at gendered innovations, has noted that when teams engage in developing innovative solutions to societal problems, the team should reflect the diversity of the population they seek to serve,” SWE’s Rincon says.

Fuel innovation and growth.

“I’ve found that teams that are too comfortable, and too cohesive can often fall victim to doing things in the same way time and time again, without considering if it’s the best way,” notes Niss, who’s involved in 3D modeling for site grading. “For companies to grow, you have to make room for new ideas and evolution. 

Different voices mean more people asking questions, challenging assumptions and working together 

to develop the best solutions.”

Reflect your clients.

Having women and people of color participate in the process ensures that spaces are inclusive and take  into account various needs and perspectives, says Payette’s Love. Women make up 13% of the engineering workforce, according to SWE. “We also aren’t reflective of our clients who are starting to demand we evolve as a profession, and we aren’t reflective of the larger society who occupy and use our buildings,” Love says. 

Flexibility supports diversity

“When an employee leaves a company, a tremendous amount of training and investment goes with them, so it’s important that companies work to make all staff feel valued, connected and included”

– Robyn Niss, P.E.  Project manager with Kimley-Horn in Virginia Beach

Increasing flexibility makes a difference to women, in particular. Payette redesigned its parental leave policy to give more paid time off to both women and men as well as flexibility on how and when  they use it. They also created “core working hours” for internal meetings to avoid early morning and late afternoon team meetings that can interfere with family obligations. They’ve also enabled remote work.

When Caitlin Cashner, AIA, learned her husband was being transferred, she thought she’d have  to leave Payette. “But because of the skills and talent that she could bring, we were able to work out  a remote working arrangement to keep her as part of our practice,” Love says. “While remote working  is not new to the industry, this is a new way for Payette to work.”

The arrangement “allowed me to continue to learn and grow in a firm that I was not ready to leave,” Cashner says. “I believe that adaptability of that work environment certainly helps retain a diverse workforce whose needs are ever-changing.”