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To Increase Diversity in Hiring, You Must Start with Diverse Management

Many construction companies like Danella are currently facing a talent shortage; qualified and certified workers are retiring and leaving the industry faster than they are being replaced by young workers entering the industry. This shortage could eventually become a crisis if leaders in construction don’t take steps now to increase the talent pipeline and broaden the diversity of the construction workforce. It’s more important than ever to address the underrepresentation of women and ethnically diverse people in the construction industry. To that end, we spoke with Fredie Brady to discuss how representation needs to begin at the top.

A Division Manager’s Challenge with Hiring

Brady has been with Danella for 16 years, working her way up with impressive contributions in project management to become a Division Manager in utility construction. Brady manages five crews, and has served in her current role for seven years. She has witnessed firsthand the tumultuous changes that have occurred in the construction industry, watching her division shrink from 110 to 35 people on crew. According to Brady, “We’re constantly trying to grow, but it’s difficult because people are hard to find. The work is there to grow, but we can’t find the people to do it. In all roles, from laborers, field crews, operators, and project managers, it’s hard to find enough good people. The amount of work is phenomenal; it is booming in Florida. There’s just a shortage of people.”

The answer to this problem may lie in expanding the diversity of hiring and promotion. This doesn’t mean simply being open to hiring the best person for the job regardless of their background—this is already a stated value of many companies, and yet hiring and promotion still tends to skew male and white. As Brady explains, women and racial minorities need to be represented within the leadership. To do that, companies need to actively seek out hiring and promoting excellent people from a variety of backgrounds. Brady explains in three parts how she achieved greater diversity within her own division.

Hiring the Best of All Backgrounds

As an organization it is important to hire a diverse group of individuals, bringing different skillsets and background. Brady explained, “I have a diverse group of individuals working for me–I have female, black, and Hispanic project managers and superintendents. I hired the project managers and promoted the superintendents myself. I think it’s because of the way I think in comparison to others—I’m the only woman division manager at this time.”

The key to hiring the best from a diverse pool of applicants is not to go into the hiring process with a set idea of who you are looking to hire. “I’ve seen people that are hired, no matter the company, and they’re clones of the people who hired them. It’s like they have a model that they’re looking for.”

But, often you also need to seek out diverse applicants: “When I first met my project manager while he was working for a subcontractor, he told me that he had a civil engineering degree. I was impressed by him, so when something opened up, I hired him. When I hired my female project manager, I thought she would work out well, so I offered her a job. It’s not enough to be open to diverse hires, you have to seek them out.”

Unconscious Bias Plays a Role in Homogeneous Hiring

There are excellent people of all backgrounds available to work and lead in construction. If there aren’t enough women and racially diverse people in leadership roles, it’s not because these talented people don’t exist, but because there are barriers between them and the companies that need them. Some of this is due to completely unconscious bias; studies have been done that show that identical resumes with black-sounding names receive callbacks 50% less often. Resumes with female names have similar results. The problem is not with talent, but with the unconscious tendency of those in hiring positions to hire people who look like them. Without direct intervention, the cycle is perpetuated.

What Needs to Happen to Increase Diversity in Leadership?

Having a respectful company culture and work environment is one key factor of diversity in hiring. According to Brady, “There are now women at the table, when for the longest time it was only me. That’s a good thing. I think Danella has the attitude that succeeding in your job is more important than your gender. The makeup of management is starting to change. We need more diversity for our executives, and more women in the business. Some folks that left the company made negative comments when they reviewed us online about the lack of diversity at Danella. Danella has reacted to that and made a positive change. We have some division managers that are willing to speak up about it quite often, who feel that we need to work more on gender diversity in management.”

At the end of the day, if women and ethnically diverse applicants see folks who look like them represented at all levels of management, more will eventually apply. Increasing the diversity in hiring will help alleviate the slow talent pipeline, and bring about a more equitable and stronger industry.

To join the conversation about diversity in leadership, chime in on our Facebook page. This is part of an ongoing series discussing the topic of women in construction.