How Do I Promote Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
Did you know that the United States is diversifying faster than predicted? A recent census project shows that racial minorities will be the primary demographic in the United States by 2045. While racial and gender factors make up the majority of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, there are many more attributes to take into consideration, such as one’s ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability, education background, and religious beliefs.
But what is DEI and why is it important? To put it simply, DEI is a term used to describe programs and policies that encourage representation and participation of diverse groups and people. These three factors are important to the workplace because they not only help businesses to grow and attract top talent, but they also contribute towards financial results. In fact, The Center for American Progress reports that workplace discrimination can cost businesses up to $64 billion a year.
It is no secret that the HVAC industry has been predominantly run by heterosexual Caucasian men. According to the Department of Labor, almost half of the labor workforce in the United States are women, yet less than 1% of HVAC technicians are women, which is a slight increase from 0.6% almost eight years ago. Over the next seven years, the employment of HVAC installers is expected to increase by 15%, which is significantly faster when compared to other occupations. So, what does this mean for the HVAC industry? How can we promote DEI to a large demographic who have misconceptions of the industry? Where exactly do we begin?
Identify Your Own Biases through Proper Training
When it comes to understanding DEI, it’s important that you and your employees acknowledge your own unconscious biases and the benefits of a diverse team. According to Jennifer Pierce, General Manager of Clay’s Climate Control located in Linwood, NJ, DEI training is the key to identifying your unconscious biases.
“Anybody who is going through the recruitment process must go through unconscious bias training,” said Pierce. “It’s important that we are aware of our own unconscious biases that way it does not influence our decision with potential candidates.”
While formal training is just as important and effective, educating your staff through other options such as reading books, watching movies, and listening to podcasts can be just as effective.
“There are some really good videos online that a comedian created about generational stereotypes in construction. We started there,” said Pierce. “With many generations working together, we wanted to help people understand each other and be sensitive to differences.”
In addition to proper training, another way to overcome one’s unconscious biases is to ask questions. By asking the right questions, this will allow staff members to get to know each other and understand that they are individuals who bring their individual expertise and experiences.
“In order to build trust and create an open dialogue within the office, I train my people to be straightforward and honest,” said Craig Elliot, President and Owner of Nice Home Services located in Lorton, VA. “The staff members are encouraged to ask questions in order to understand each other’s thought processes. The awareness makes it easier for everyone to know why they’re wrong and why they’re right.”
Lastly, understanding one’s own biases not only benefits your current team, but also potential staff members during the hiring process. When your human resources team undergoes unconscious bias training, this can prevent your company from missing out on high level talent.
“One thing that we do to eliminate bias from our recruitment process is conduct monthly audits,” said Elliot. “I also conduct one-on-one conversations with HR and leaders where we look for diversity and the quality of the candidates.”
If you are unsure on where to start and how to apply DEI in your workplace, Amanda Zink, president of Air Control Home Services located in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, recommends reading through informational articles.
“I encourage all ACCA members to check the email digest that goes out daily from ACCA,” said Zink. “There have regularly been some really great posts and articles regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion for any companies that are looking for more information on the topic.”
Keep an Open Mind and Educate
Like any other workplace culture, each employee will have grown up with their own set of beliefs and norms. Certainly, there will be those individuals who have not been exposed to new surroundings and different cultures. This lack of education may seem offensive, but it is always important to keep an open mind and educate those who are not aware of their cultural ignorance.
“When we are put in these kinds of situations, let’s try to first zoom out and understand the situation from the other person’s perspective,” said Elliot. “What really matters is that we need to find out what their intent is. A lot of people are genuinely good that don’t actively seek out information, but it doesn’t mean that they are bad because of it.”
Instead of immediately taking offense, try to understand their situation and ask them what their background was like. Try asking questions such as:
- Who are they?
- Where did they grow up?
- What was their upbringing?
- What is important to them?
“Try to be a beacon for education,” said Elliot. “I always tell people to give it a shot and be more patient by understanding their thought process.”
In the event that a staff member was being culturally insensitive, sexist, racist, or homophobic, informing management immediately is crucial in order to create a culture where staff members are aware that such acts are not tolerable.
“If someone says something that is wrong, we want everyone to know that it is not acceptable,” said Pierce. “We want to create a culture where insensitivity is not tolerated, and we want everyone to feel welcomed and accepted.”
However, keep in mind that all encounters are going to be different. It is your responsibility to measure the severity of the situation first before you decide whether mediation with leadership or termination is the best course of action for your business and the team.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for any sort of harassment, racism, etc.,” said Zink. “I actually terminated employment with an on-call technician on a Sunday after he made a racist comment directly to me regarding a customer. I have zero tolerance for something of that magnitude.”
Celebrate the Differences
When we meet people from different backgrounds, we are bound to learn from one another. According to a Harvard Business Review, companies who take a holistic approach to diversity operate with a higher level of inspiration and innovation. To do so, it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the many different cultural backgrounds through unique ways such as creating a multicultural calendar or a culture-focused bulletin board.
By creating a multicultural calendar, this can ease confusion and complications as understanding one’s culture can be complicated and overwhelming. In addition, you may also have staff that are not comfortable providing this type of information, so a calendar is the best option for those who want to share their cultural backgrounds. When they do, take some time to learn about their values and allow them to mark their holidays and accommodate time off that they may need.
For example, a “Culture Day” is created at Clay’s Climate Control where staff members are encouraged to celebrate their differences.
“We’ve always had company events to spend time and get to know one another but moving forward, we hope to expand on that. We want to have a culture day where everyone brings a dish that represents their background,” said Pierce. “We want to make sure we acknowledge every holiday and learn about them during our discussions.”
Similar to a multicultural calendar, creating a culture-focused bulletin board will promote cultural diversity and awareness in the workplace. Through a bulletin board, employees are able to share their culture and lifestyle through pictures of themselves with their families celebrating a religious or cultural holiday.
“It’s really about enabling them to get to know each other,” said Elliot. “We’ve done escape rooms and I’ve also sent them out to grab lunch together in order to break bread and bridge their gap both culturally and interpersonally.”
Lastly, do not be afraid to celebrate and promote your company’s mission, culture, and diversity on social media. By promoting the importance of DEI in your company, this will attract many people from different backgrounds to apply and break the stereotype against the HVAC industry.
“The trades have a shortage of labor and anything we can do to promote more people entering the trades should be encouraged,” said Zink.
As a contractor, it is your responsibility to protect and embrace the differences in your workplace. As you now know, many businesses with diverse backgrounds show higher profits, and as an inclusive company, you will most likely expand and capture new markets. Try it out and see the growth for yourself!
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