Tools of Engagement September 2021

Make the Commitment: Be Proactive in Improving Workplace Culture

By Stephanie Staub

Over the past year a much-needed effort has become prominent in society. Businesses have made management statements, new positions have been created to ensure the initiative is carried out within organizations, and many individuals have been outspoken. The issue at stake: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). At its core is the need to create a culture where everyone is accepted and supported despite a full range of human characteristics. Those characteristics can be anything from race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, physical abilities, religion and more.

Creating a diverse workforce requires processes and programs that are impartial and provide equal potential outcomes for everyone despite all these differences.

Equitable Propositions

The structure and value system of building trades unions align with the basic proposition of equity. All apprentices submit to the same requirements of mentored, on-the-job and classroom training, members are paid according to the same wage scale, and everyone is treated equally with work opportunities. In Philadelphia, the Finishing Trades Institute of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s (FTI-MAR) recruitment efforts, for example, include actively partnering with the Philadelphia School District, community organizations and industry associations to expose a wide range of residents to careers in the finishing trades.

In addition, the Vocational Intern Partnership (VIP) program educates and provides necessary experience to current high school students about the skills and demands of apprenticeship programs. Those who complete the program receive a certificate which serves as recognized experience when applying to FTI’s apprenticeship programs. Additionally, students earn industry-wide recognized health and safety certifications. This program equalizes the application process for inner-city students who otherwise would be at a disadvantage for lack of experience.

Additionally, this past summer FTI-MAR partnered with Philadelphia Works and CareerLink to take a lead role with Women in Nontraditional Careers’ (WINC) Summer Program. This is a six-week pre-apprentice program for women looking to begin a career in construction. Also, they were introduced to female trade professionals who serve as mentors. Mastering the trades is important, but talking about the challenges specific to women and how to successfully integrate with work crews is what sets them up for success.

What Can You Do?

Talk about it. It all starts with a conversation. Recognize a transformation is happening and begin with broad conversations. Acknowledge barriers exist and seek to understand which processes can be modified or put in place to remove barriers.

Before you can build a plan, you must determine why you are committing to make a change. Does it reflect your true values? Is it the right thing to do because society is telling you so? Is it because you recognize it can spur growth of your organization? Or is it from need because of the changing demographics of an available workforce? Maybe it is a combination of many things, but understanding your motivation will support your commitment to culture change.

Ask tough questions. This goes back to talking about it and having tough conversations and being open to looking at issues through someone else’s lens. This means putting your own perspective to the side and listening to others. It is not a single conversation, but a continued open dialog.

Stephanie Staub is the director of marketing for the Architectural Glass Institute in Philadelphia. She can be reached at stephanie@theagi.org

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