Developing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategies and policies are among the challenges many companies in the construction and design world face today.
At a recent webinar exchange presented by the Toronto Society of Architects, a builder, architect and trade union representative looked at some in-house issues, hurdles and solutions.
Employee-owned Chandos Construction incorporates shared leadership at different levels to ensure co-accountability and “a team spirit,” said panellist Nicole Monaco, director of marketing and communications.
Having less than 40 per cent of the company’s ownership in executive positions is an important element in its move to implant a culture of inclusion in its offices across Canada, Monaco said.
Chandos is Canada’s largest Certified B builder, a high standard achieved for social and environmental performance and company accountability. The EDI culture is embedded not only at a hiring and operational level, she told the webinar, but also through Chandos’ social procurement strategies, which, for example, use purchasing dollars to support businesses owned by equity-seeking groups.
“We have committed five per cent of our spend (budget) by 2023 to those types of vendors and partners.”
Along with other EDI initiatives at Chandos, Monaco said the company shares information through podcasts on the industry’s progress and challenges.
“We really want to see change throughout the construction industry, among our peers, our trades.”
After an explosive year of racial incidents, including the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous incidents of nooses found hanging at construction sites in Toronto, members of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO) passed a motion for a charter of inclusivity in the workplace, said Chris Campbell of the council, which sponsored the event.
Investigations found that two union members were involved in racial incidents with nooses. One member was immediately removed from the union and the second was charged under the union’s constitution and is in the process of judgment for removal, Campbell told the webinar.
The year also saw Campbell shifting positions from a business representative to the council’s equity and diversity representative and the union established an equity and diversity committee. Further, the CDCO is strengthening relationships with various Black organizations such as the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Black Business and Professional Association and the Jamaican Canadian Association, he said.
CDCO also started anti-Black racism training for its staff, membership and job stewards “because we saw the need to go further to explain the hurt that folks feel onsite, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally.”
To resolve discriminatory issues, a union member is advised to talk to their shop steward and follow-up with their foreperson or the local’s business representative for answers. While any member can charge another with discrimination, if the case is found to be substantial, CDCO’s legal counsel will forward the matter to the Ontario Labour Relations Board or another tribunal for review, he told the webinar.
After being employed for four summers as the only female electrical worker on the jobsite, Laura Alexim made it a personal goal to focus on inclusion. Now employed as the director of people and culture for architectural firm Turner Fleischer, she said the death of Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement spurred the firm to reflect on its EDI strategies.
As the result of a comprehensive employee experience survey on inclusion, the firm set about developing short- and long-term objectives. Adding gender pronouns to all of its employee email templates to reflect the diversity of sexual orientation, gender expression and identity within the company was a small but important step towards inclusion, Alexim told the webinar.
As part of an effort to support “a pipeline of diverse talent,” she said the firm joined and is a sponsor of the Black Architects and Interior Designers Association (BAIDA).
Outreach efforts at Turner Fleischer include mentorship with the hope that it will attract more “diverse talent” in the future to the industry, she said, adding the company realizes it is “only scraping the surface of what can be done in this space.”