Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has become one of the most urgent challenges for employers to tackle. It is particularly important in the construction and manufacturing industries, where safety is paramount, but stress levels are elevated because of diversity.
Glassdoor, a global technology platform that allows millions of employees to review employers freely and anonymously, has been researching the D&I for years. Their research papers and surveys tell it like it is. Gender pay gaps, occupation opportunities, and a general lack of transparency in the workplace are just a few of the issues they highlight.
Their research shows that at least three in five U.S. employees have experienced some form of discrimination in the workplace. Close to half of Black American (47%) and Hispanic employees (49%) have quit jobs after experiencing or even just witnessing workplace discrimination. The percentage for white employees, at 38%, is considerably lower. And about a third of job seekers say they wouldn’t apply for a job at a company that has disparities in employee satisfaction ratings in different ethnic or racial groups.
When employees feel they are being discriminated against, this can impact all sorts of processes and procedures. For instance, tracking employee hours is an invaluable tool for many companies, but might appear as a threat to some people. Because they already feel undervalued and inferior, they may feel they are being spied on.
Research findings help to provide us with a balanced perspective of this and other situations. But what we need are solutions.
We are going to discuss how increased internal communication and diversity, equity and inclusion training can help to bridge demographic gaps and other differences to make every workplace a safer place.
What the Research Shows
According to state of the industry research, most organizations lack well-developed, effective DEI programs that align with ethical and societal expectations. This often has a direct impact on an organization's ability to thrive in a changing and competitive business landscape.
A recent hr.research Institute study, The Future of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 2022, found that 22% of organizations have developed DEI initiatives to an advanced level. Even less (9%) rate their initiatives as “highly effective.” Many companies are committing to change, but the report states there is much room for improvement in overall workforce diversity. There are also signs that DEI initiatives are getting less attention and funding than they did a few years ago.
Encouraging diversity and inclusion (D&I) in any workplace is difficult. When safety is a primary issue, the challenges multiply. Diversity training in the workplace is an excellent solution for D&I demands. But when the primary purpose of training is safety, the challenge is to show employees how diverse, inclusive values improve safety outcomes.
What is Diversity in Safety?
Diversity in safety refers to the concept of promoting and ensuring DEI to help maximize physical safety in the workplace. It is particularly important in industries like manufacturing and construction where safety is a critical concern.
Diversity and safety in the workplace involves recognizing, accepting, and valuing demographic differences. After all, everyone in the workplace is involved in safety-related activities regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, religious beliefs, or political allegiance.
It is also important to ensure that employees feel psychologically safe in the workplace. The Center for Creative Leadership points out that it doesn’t mean everyone is always nice to one another all the time. It is more about enabling employees to voice their thoughts and work through disagreements. When people don’t agree, they can say so without feeling embarrassed, rejected, or fearing punishment.
When psychological safety is low, people aren’t likely to raise concerns, which can be a threat in any situation where physical safety is a factor. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Research: To Excel, Diverse Teams Need Psychological Safety, describes how team members from different backgrounds often clash. But in situations where there is psychological safety, diversity is often associated with performance.
Case Study: Challenge to Promote Inclusion in Construction Safety Training
This “case study” is based on typical challenges employees face. It’s a representative experience for many people, not only in the construction industry, but in just about any marketplace.
Maria Rodriguez, a young Hispanic woman, joined a well-established construction company as a safety officer. As part of her onboarding process, she had to attend safety training sessions. However, shortly after joining the company, Maria began to feel out of place, isolated, and uncomfortable during these training sessions.
She noticed that she was often the only woman and one of the few people of color in training sessions. She felt like she was frequently ignored by her colleagues and found it difficult to concentrate on training content. Instead, she was preoccupied with thoughts of how to avoid future training sessions altogether.
Maria decided to address the issue directly. She reached out to her supervisor and expressed her feelings of isolation and discomfort during training sessions. This open dialogue gave her supervisor considerable insight into her experience.
Actions Taken to Address the Problem
The outcome was extremely positive, and illustrates just how important internal communication is for business leaders and employees.
- The company recognized the need for diversity, equity and inclusion training, not only in the context of safety but throughout the organization. They scheduled mandatory D&I training for all employees, emphasizing the importance of creating an inclusive workplace. This training was accompanied by clear and consistent internal communication highlighting the company's commitment to D&I.
- The company assigned Maria a mentor who had experience in both safety and diversity and inclusion efforts. This mentorship relationship was facilitated through regular internal communication channels and helped Maria navigate the challenges she faced.
- The company took steps to diversify its safety committees, ensuring they included individuals from various backgrounds and demographics. This allowed for a broader range of perspectives and created a more inclusive decision-making process. The selection process for these committees was communicated transparently to all employees. It also encouraged employees to contribute ideas about diversity and inclusion training topics.
- The company established a system for ongoing internal communications related to diversity and inclusion efforts. This included regular updates, emails, and company-wide meetings to share progress, best practices, and success stories relating to creating an inclusive workplace.
Training and Communication are the Key for D&I Safety
It might seem strange to think that training officers in any company can incorporate diverse equity and inclusion training with safety training. But as Maria’s experience illustrates, it’s not strange at all. While occupational health and safety training is focused on staying safe and healthy, the best way to do this is with the support of management and fellow workers.
Ultimately, there is no doubt that both ongoing communication and diversity training in the workplace can play a positive role in alleviating stress.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) highlights the deadly results of workplace stress. For example, every year, workplace stress reportedly causes 120,000 deaths. Additionally, 83% of U.S. workers are said to suffer from work-related stress, and more than half say this affects their home life. Stress factors are particularly high in the construction industry. According to the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), those employed in construction have the highest rate of suicides across occupational groups.
Recognizing the impact of DEI, in 2022 the ASSP formed a task force of volunteers to develop an educational summit on diversity, equity and inclusion for the occupational safety and health community.
What the Task Force Members Say
One of the volunteers, Christopher Hicks, an independent OSH consultant says, “DEI is pivotal to occupational safety and health for many reasons.” It helps ensure improved teamwork and enhances the work environment. It also “contributes to safety culture and performance, compliance, return on investment, and return on equity, while also reducing complacency.” He goes on to say that “safety is not a core value within our organization if we ignore DEI. This will have a negative impact on performance, employee engagement, morale and workforce turnover. It will also diminish teamwork, lead to less innovation and cause limited interest.”
Kimberly Gamble, director of the Anderson Construction Co’s inclusion Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership (I.D.E.A.L.) Program gives examples.”I recall two serious incidents from my 26 years working in construction safety. Had I known then what I know now about inclusion and belonging, I would have embedded civility and psychological safety evaluations into the incident investigation processes because uncivil behavior was a contributing cause.”
Bill Geddings of Zoox says: “Through our actions of being inclusive — whether in our writings, emails, training programs or similar communications — we can make a difference. Use inclusive language in your business writings, evaluations, assessments, and learning and development materials.”
“It is simple, and I have been saying this for years: If our employees don’t feel safe at work, then we can’t expect them to be safe at work.”
Topics for Diversity and Safety in the Workplace
There are many organizations that assist with training for diversity and safety on all levels. Training topics vary depending on the industry and focus of work.
Safety Training Topics
ASSP are specialists in occupational safety and health (OSH) training and education. Subject matter their courses cover provide insight into important topics to maximize safety in the workplace, with focus on construction. They include:
Risk assessment, which focuses on identifying potential hazards.
Total Worker Health (TWH), which covers the policies, programs, and practices that promote safety.
Construction fall protection, which is aimed primarily at the building industry.
Construction safety management systems.
The U.S. Department of Labor recommends OSHA’s Outreach Training Program as the primary way to train workers in basic OSH issues. This program includes training for different industries, construction, general, maritime, and disaster site workers.
Ultimately, it depends on the work environment. Some general but important workplace topics include fire safety, food handling and preparation, safe lifting techniques, ladder safety, and prevention of workplace violence. Emergency evacuation procedures, and first aid and CPR training are also important.
Diversity and Inclusion Training Topics
D&I training typically covers a wide range of topics aimed at promoting awareness, understanding, and action on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion within organizations. Some of those that can be harnessed to help within a safety training program include:
Training for leaders and managers on how to create inclusive teams and work environments.
Developing skills and awareness to work effectively with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Understanding and addressing unconscious bias that can influence decisions and behaviors in the workplace.
Recognizing and addressing microaggressions, which are subtle, often unintentional, discriminatory actions or comments.
Promoting the use of inclusive and respectful language in the workplace.
Fostering an environment where employees feel safe to speak up about issues related to diversity and inclusion.
Developing strategies for resolving conflicts related to diversity and inclusion in a constructive manner.
Recognizing the complex interplay of various aspects of identity, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability, and how they impact individuals' experiences.
Evaluating and updating organizational policies and practices to be more inclusive and equitable.
Ensuring communication and information are accessible to all, including individuals with disabilities.
D&I and Safety Are All About Communication
In essence, D&I (or DEI) starts with effective communication. By communicating company priorities clearly you can:
Gain alignment and garner opinion on the company's DEI initiatives and safety training.
Prioritize communication channels so that the right people get the information they need.
Personalize comms to increase engagement with those you rely on for training and those who need the training.
Reach employees wherever they are, whether they are working in the same office as you or remotely. You don’t want anyone to miss important communications.
Design painless onboarding processes that impact much of the training companies offer.