Diversity: Doing the right thing

Peggy M. Pound
President
The Picus Group
Las Vegas, Nevada
Member, APWA Diversity Committee

"If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity." - John F. Kennedy

The world was created and God decided to make both men and women, and diversity has since been a part of our daily lives. This is not a new concept!

Race, creed, culture, religion—these are all parts of diversity in our workplace. With the recent growth in immigration we are faced with new rules of workplace acceptability.

Remember:

"Until you can learn to see with your heart, you will be blind to the beauty and unity that surrounds you." - Peggy Pound

From tattoos to piercing to symbols of religion, employers are faced with our new, diverse workforce. Veterans and Baby Boomers are struggling to make this a part of their "acceptable" workplace, and yes, you can do this!

Which employee can wear a veil? Can you accept a nose piercing? A tattoo? What decisions will you have to make? What falls under religious freedom and which under personal freedoms? What are cultural "needs"? Which can you rule against, for? The questions I am asked are numerous and simple answers are not always available to us.

Questions I would ask you are: Do you have published employee manuals/rules? Have you asked your legal representative what is acceptable language? A clear-cut policy which addresses dress, appearance and work hours is critical to diversity success. Do you encourage the hiring of women and minorities? Take a look at your job postings, but more importantly, look around at your workplace. Are women/minorities represented on the management level? Are you seen as fair and equitable? Do you conduct exit interviews? If so, is there evidence that employees are leaving for "better opportunities"? And if they are, why? Answers to these questions can point you in the right direction. If you can honestly answer yes to the above questions, then build on that strength and use it to your advantage in future hires.

"How can I form teams that get along?"
Generational mixes as well as cultural mixes can be successful. Form teams based on educational/technical expertise, rather than trying to "mix it up" culturally. Place Boomers with Nexers, Veterans with GenX'ers for a higher degree of success. Cultural issues will be addressed amongst the team members and the work will be completed, professionally and ably.

Mixed teams will be quicker and more creative in successfully dealing with workplace issues, which in turn will have a financial impact on your bottom line/budgets.

Success will come from the sharing of different ideas and understanding of the issues presented in the day-to-day operations. These teams are able to work better and faster in our rapidly changing internal and external world.

These teams will give your organization a much more diverse range of opinions and viewpoints, give you the best talent in a highly competitive environment and help you to do the right thing in your employees' eyes. We are faced with addressing not only internal issues but external challenges. Your workplace can be an example where your clients ask you to help them to achieve your success! Use it to your advantage.

An example of this customer challenge was given to me at a recent APWA Spring Conference. A public works director stated that he was at the front counter and a woman wearing a veil came in. He greeted her and she immediately moved to the side of the room and faced away from him. Her husband entered the room a few minutes later and spoke to him. The woman was a member of the Muslim faith and could not speak to a man who was not related to her.

Are your employees aware of this and other cultural issues? The development of your Diversity Tool Box will overcome many of these challenges. Included in this would be:

  • Mentoring programs
  • Cross-mentoring programs with other companies/entities
  • Sharing of your strategic-action-skills requirements
  • Leadership training for female/minority managers

An important element in your Tool Box should be the appointment of a Diversity Manager to ensure:

  • Ongoing discussion of diversity to both management and staff
  • Challenges minorities face
  • Creation of ways managers can deal with diversity and develop organizational responses that give diversity value in the workplace

Can your employees say this?

  • Impossible?

No:

  • I.M. Possible!

If they can, then you are "doing the right thing."

APWA National has a variety of excellent tools to assist; just a few of those are listed on the APWA website www.apwa.net:

  • "Top Ten Ways to Increase Diversity"
  • Women in Public Works Essays
  • Women's Breakfast at Congress
  • Women's Panel at Congress

Peggy Pound is a member of the Diversity Committee, a former member of the Membership Committee and Water Resources Management Committee, the current Alternate Delegate for the Nevada Chapter, and a Past President of the chapter. She was recently asked by the Missouri Chapter to present an educational session at their Spring Conference on diversity in the workplace. This article was adapted from her presentation. She can be reached at (702) 336-1205 or picusgrouplv@aol.com.


LETTER TO THE EDITOR

May 14, 2007
Dear APWA Reporter editor,

After reading "Public Works Engineering: Diversity a cure for shortage?" in your May issue, as a retired civil engineer, I felt I could add some ideas to the discussion. I agree with the author about the factual lack of recent entrants into the C.E. field from minority races (except Asians) and the feminine gender. However, it is informative to find that the same lack of minority entrants cannot be said among physicians and particularly lawyers. In fact it has been reported that women make up the majority of law degree recipients currently.

It should be pointed out that both the medical and legal fields have been glamorized for some time in many television programs and also motion pictures. I believe I can count on two fingers the prime-time TV programs that have glamorized any engineering fields during the duration of my 44-year career. Students are thus attracted to the fields of medicine and law instead of engineering.

Following World War II, I believe many GIs, having seen the works of our military construction battalions, came home and went to college under the G.I. bill, pursuing engineering in the 1950s. The following two decades, numerous satellite launches and manned moon landings occurred, greatly interesting students in engineering. However, during at least the last two decades, there has been no "gee whiz" nationwide engineering glamour promoted in this country. In fact, environmental activism and "Not in my back yard" protests have gotten more of the media's attention, making the TV evening news and newspaper front page. Consequently, the "soft sciences" have gotten the public's attention and many students' interest rather than the "hard sciences" including engineering. It has recently been reported that the median age of aerospace engineers is 57.5 years. That industry is going to be in a bind in this next decade!

In addition to career glitz, students can also be attracted by money. When we look at earnings, medicine and law also are considerably above civil engineering. According to the latest comprehensive data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://stats.bls.gov) for year 2000 published in February 2002, of the 427 different occupation categories, physicians had the highest average annual earnings at $133,100. Lawyers came in number seven at $79,900. (Pilots and professors of various fields filled the intervening slots, with engineering professors at #6 at $81,100.) Practicing engineers of various fields were found between #11 and #54. Petroleum engineers were #11 at $76,500, while chemical engineers were #13 at $75,900. Aerospace engineers were #21 at $69,500. However, civil engineers were #52 at $57,300 and mechanical engineers were #54 at $57,300. Civil engineers' pay was well below that of the doctors and lawyers.

There are many civil engineers working in both the public sector (at all levels of government) and for consultants in the private sector. Therefore consultants that are short of engineers can readily lure away "the best and the brightest" by offering higher pay and more generous and flexible benefits than government can due to its straight-jacketed civil service controls. The field of civil engineering is going to have to excite young students with "gee whiz" glamour, higher pay or both in order to attract them away from medicine, law, etc. What else is there to offer? Our expanding population, more demanding pollution controls and replacement of aging/deteriorating infrastructure require the services of many new engineers. When governments relearn that the laws of supply and demand are not avoidable, they will be able to solve both the engineering diversity and the engineering shortage problems.

I retired two years ago after enjoying a 44-year career in civil engineering, with 18 years at all levels of government and 26 years in private practice. Quite a number of engineers I have known have retired by age 55, which contributes to the engineer shortage. Since I enjoy engineering design so much, I continued practicing until age 65, at times changing jobs in order to enjoy interest and challenge.

Sincerely,

Roger A. Baumann, P.E.
Tucson, AZ