How to Make Your DEI Initiatives Work

Designing and building a more diverse AEC industry is more than a lofty social goal. It’s vital for the AEC industry’s future. As our industry continues to face worker shortages and challenges in recruiting young and diverse talent, implementing effective DEI programs can help address these workforce challenges. But what makes a successful DEI program?

The Global Parity Alliance is a cross-industry group that launched the DEI Lighthouse Program to identify initiatives with proven DEI results. Its 2023 report shows, “companies and institutions have demonstrated positive intent and increased discussion and activity, but data shows that progress is slow…as just one example, at the current rate, it will take another 151 years to close the global economic gender gap at all levels.”

Finding a Solutions Driven Approach

Researchers found that DEI efforts vary by company, industry, and geography. Diana Ellsworth is a partner in McKinsey & Company’s Atlanta office. She writes that while there is much research on the inequity challenges industries face, there’s very little on the solution side. Unfortunately, that has left many organizations with little guidance on building effective DEI initiatives. “Often, companies don’t approach DEI the same way they approach other aspects of business strategy. They often underinvest time and effort to deeply understand the problem they’re trying to solve…The initiatives that are most successful are ones in which the companies spent the time upfront to really understand, ‘What is the problem we’re trying to solve?’ and ‘What are the root causes for why the needle is stuck?’”

Five Keys to Success

 According to McKinsey & Company and its partners in the Global Parity Alliance, there are five critical ingredients for creating successful DEI initiatives. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses 2023 Report identified those success factors that yielded the most “significant, scalable, quantifiable, and sustained impact.” McKinsey & Company highlighted them here.

  1. Nuanced understanding of root causes

Identifying your company-specific DEI opportunity areas can help to inform the prioritization of efforts and investment, goal setting, and solution design. This process begins by analyzing relevant data and sources of insight to deeply understand the challenges and root causes from the perspective of those most affected. This fact base likely includes employee feedback surveys and input from the target population obtained through focus groups and interviews.

  1. Meaningful definition of success

After prioritizing an opportunity area, defining success by setting clear, measurable, near- and long-term goals can help guide the effort and assess effectiveness. Then, articulating a case for change—the rationale for why the organization is focusing on the effort and how it connects to the company’s values, mission, and business outcomes—can help move employees to action.

  1. Accountable and invested business leaders

Deep commitment from executive management can help set initiatives up for success by signaling the importance of DEI and making sure initiatives have the right resources. The CEO and senior business leaders can support by: setting the effort as a core business priority, being held accountable for outcomes and not just inputs or activities, role modeling and leading desired change, and allocating sufficient resources to the initiative—budget, expertise, and timeline.

  1. Solutions designed for context

Designing solutions to address the root causes of the problem, including by making any needed changes to key processes and ways of working, can support effectiveness and sustainability. Setting the solution up for success also includes equipping employees with the knowledge and skills to support the desired change and encouraging their contributions.

  1. Rigorous tracking and course correction

Measuring progress against the aspiration can help leaders monitor the solution’s effectiveness, adjust the approach to increase impact, as needed, and more accurately direct the use of company resources.

 Source: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses 2023, McKinsey & Company


DBIA’s MWDBE Campaign

DBIA continues its work to help our members and the entire design-build community build successful DEI initiatives and recruit more MWDBE firms onto our teams. DBIA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Committee makes diversity and inclusion an essential element of DBIA’s Workforce Development initiatives.

And did you know that DBIA offers 50% membership discounts for MWDBE firms? We’re committed to helping America’s design-build teams find and hire MWDBE firms, and the first step is to build those networks vital for successful collaboration.