Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

As a Principal and Global Director of Human Resources at Shen Milsom & Wilke, I am often asked what diversity means to me and how to incorporate it within the workplace. It is commonly known that diversity is the practice of employing a workforce of individuals from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds varying in gender, religion, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education and other attributes. Why is it so important to incorporate diversity in the workplace? For starters, there are countless studies revealing the economic and intellectual advantages of diversity. But why is diversity important to me? My humble answer is because I can personally attest to the impact diversity can have in someone’s career, in the quality of someone’s life, and in the future generations to come.

It is important to note that understanding diversity is not enough. To receive the richer value of diversity, employers should incorporate equality and inclusiveness. What is the difference? Equity and inclusion relate to the quality of the human experience in the workplace, which are two vital components to anyone’s success and happiness. Equity asks us to acknowledge that everyone has different needs, experiences, and faces different challenges. More importantly, equity asks us to alleviate what may hinder one’s equal opportunities for growth, development and advancement. With inclusion, we strive to see that all are respected, encouraged, and supported, providing a safe outlet for everyone to have a voice and be valued.

As an HR professional, I am often tasked with looking at both the financial aspect but also the societal impact of diversity. Being respected for a person’s abilities, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or differences, can have a profound impact for anyone. However, that respect in the workplace carries more significance when barriers are broken. The importance of being involved and included should never be undervalued. How can you make a change in your firm to incorporate principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion? Through my years of experience and passion on this subject, I have put together some recommendations that firms can consider.

Recruiting & Growth Opportunities

Recruiting is a vital component in the development and growth of a company, and serves as an excellent opportunity to enhance and diversity your team. It is an opportunity for organizations to broaden their search and broaden their minds. Hiring the best diverse talent begins with assuring equal opportunities are available, opening channels that extend beyond our normal recruiting platforms.

Often overlooked in recruiting are internships. Internships serve as an opportunity for for firms to cultivate talent from diverse communities at a very early start of someone’s career. Interns act as a temporary employee and allow a firm to help mold the minds of future talent pools. Intern programs prove beneficial to both the intern and the employer. At SM&W, we have enhanced our internship program, providing mentorship and equal employment opportunities. We understand that not everyone has the same educational opportunities, network opportunities, or financial opportunities. To address these inequities, we partner with organizations and programs that support underrepresented communities and students.

We collaborate with Latino U College Access and the National Society of Black Engineers to provide mentorship and internship opportunities to STEM scholars. These are organizations with the mission of increasing college enrollment and successful transition into the corporate world. Partnering with LUCAS and NSBE has successfully expanded SM&W’s talent pool and cultural enrichment. Additionally, we partner with like-minded organizations such as the National Organization of Minority Architects, AVIXA’s Diversity Council, National Association of Women in Construction, BLM, Stop AAPI Hate, to provide opportunities, lend our support, our voice, and collaborate on critical mission platforms.

Education & Awareness

Knowledge and awareness are key to being open and accepting of various traditions, cultures, and mindsets that make us all unique. These distinct characteristics bring strength and diversity enriching the overall bank of knowledge in our organization. At SM&W, we have launched training initiatives to educate and enhance our work culture. In addition, we stay aware and ever-evolving with chat forums, and affinity group programs. We look to create an environment that provides safe forums to share and celebrate cultural individuality. These steps are important to building a foundation of acceptance and respect in the workplace.

Connecting with Communities & Giving Back

Diversity, equity and inclusion extends well outside of company walls. At SM&W, we appreciate the importance of partnering with diverse organizations to help build our communities that mirror our support of diversity. Beyond providing financial donations, we often encourage and support our teams to selflessly give their time and energy for causes that better serve our communities. SM&W has proudly partnered with organizations like the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families (CHCF), Cradles to Crayons, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, WhyHunger, Ronald McDonald House, the Help USA, and more. Involvement in organizations like these are rewarding from a firm-wide standpoint but to those of the individuals that make up our team.

Past, Present, and Future

I joined SM&W 25 years ago and, now, as a Principal, I have personally experienced the progression and advancements of women and minorities in the AEC industry. Our founder, Fred Shen, began our diversity, equity, and inclusion journey over 30 years ago and with Tom Shen’s leadership, we continue to accelerate these programs to strive for an equitable world that we all seek.

Continue the Conversation: Join Mildred Ramos on April 30th at SM&W Unscripted, where she will join hosts Stacey Dahmm and David Goetz to talk with the AEC Industry about diversity, equity and inclusion as part of Celebrate Diversity Month! The event is free, and open to all. Register here.


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