Seeds: The changes we hope to see in the future

Once the difficult conversations are held, safe spaces are created, and the value of diversity is understood, it's up to senior leadership to decide whether they are up to the challenge of changing company culture. In Carrie Moore's case at SOM, the Year One Program and the Talent Equity Diversity and Development (TEDD) Committee were created from this understanding to embrace diversity, mentorship, and reinforce the benefits of an inclusive environment. The Year One Program allows young professionals to interact with program modules developed to encourage mentorship, achieve licensure, research and thought leadership. Meanwhile, the TEDD Committee works for accelerating and cultivating equity and inclusion, strengthening diversity, and nurturing the talent within [our] teams. Taking the example of Moore's actions and the efforts of other leading individuals, we see how important it is to develop the groundwork for future seeds to not only survive but thrive in their environments.

In a different firm, a geotechnical engineering consulting company based in Boston, Massachusetts a group of employees have taken strategic steps towards creating pipelines for underrepresented students and the next "wave" in diversity practices. This firm is Haley & Aldrich (H&A), and their initiative began when professionals looking to recruit a more diverse application pool realized that the disparities were already manifesting in higher education. Especially in communities where young students may lack exposure to the field, reaching out during early education levels is essential to spark interest and expand the breadth of their opportunities.

Several professionals at H&A had epiphanies when these educational disparities became apparent to them. Program Manager Cole Worthy remembered how at a young age he lacked a Black mentor to look up to, who could have helped him better navigate his personal, academic, and professional journey. Although that doesn't take away from the great mentors he did have, Worthy knew he wanted to provide that role model figure for current students moving forward. Senior Project Manager Kelvin Wong recalled how his father, a mechanical engineer, helped influence his decision to eventually pursue geotechnical engineering, but that he still had limited resources to prepare for the AEC industry. His drive to help underserved students stems from his own limited experience throughout the high school to college transition. Meanwhile Jesse Siegel, another Senior Project Manager, also came to the conclusion that his firm was simply not diverse enough, that they didn't look like the communities that [they] practice in, which for a firm looking to build trust and structures for the community, could be a problem. Through a collection of professional and personal experiences, H&A realized that they needed to introduce students to AEC and STEM even before they started applying to colleges, and show them that this could be a viable career path.

While speaking to two of H&A's Human Potential (or Human Resources) officers, Jennifer Ludwig and Andrea Donahue, we learned about the firm's new push to begin educational outreach at various grade levels. Donahue noted that especially within the last year, H&A has been thinking about how [they] can better influence the pipeline of donor students who are going into study engineering. That means starting at the high school level and continuing the support into undergraduate or community college programs, because the early stage of influencing and giving people exposure to what we do is where they believe they can make the most difference.

Once they acknowledged the problem, understood why it was such an urgent issue, and gained the backing of senior leadership, a motivated team of H&A employees assembled to promote these educational opportunities. Among these leaders are Wong, Siegel, and Worthy, as well as Program Manager Brendan Cioto and Senior Engineer Allyson Wheelwright. As a key step of this initiative, Ludwig told us that partnering with organizations like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Black Student Union at Holy Cross and institutions such as Charlestown High School and Bunker Hill Community College have been key to fostering interest in future candidates.

In pre-pandemic times, this team was responsible for cultivating partnerships with various organizations throughout Massachusetts, taking students on field trips to construction sites, managing tours of H&A, and most importantly, face to face mentorship with students. Now that everything has shifted to a virtual format, they have been finding different ways to create the same impact. The team is trying to spread the net even wider, whether that be with conducting virtual job fairs, talking to students via Zoom, or just sharing their academic and work experiences with the next generation. Alongside these activities, H&A hopes that they can reach a level of collaboration with local institutions to include more geo-technical curriculum materials for students looking to strategically shape their education.

Throughout the process of bringing in and supporting minorities, it's important to recognize that true diversity is not a numbers game. Having a woman on a board doesn't mean much if she isn't listened to or allowed to speak her mind, and meeting a percentage requirement for Black, Latinx, or Asian people won't help if they are still marginalized within the organization. At Wellesley College, Dean Nez realized that often even when you have a diversity of opinion in a room, you don't hear it because those people don't feel that they can speak up. Through a series of faculty trainings and talking to her colleagues, she found that many hardworking non-tenure track faculty felt that their voices had been disregarded, in some cases for decades. Directly as a result of these sometimes painful conversations, Nez grew to understand that a big part is not just representation, but genuinely putting people in positions where they feel comfortable and empowered... to share their experiences and [know] that those experiences can be heard.

After all these years of working and pushing forward in an environment that is diversifying, but slowly, the moments of breakthrough are euphoric. Carrie Moore vividly recalls her experience at the Milstein Center project interview for Barnard College, a historically women's college. I looked out into the audience of their board of directors and their selection committees which included students. It was almost all women, and I was practically brought to tears. She remembers walking up to the podium and not being able to let the moment pass without acknowledgement. I said something to the effect of, I cannot even tell you how exciting it is to see you all... I feel like I know you already! In projects like this one where clients require female leadership, the values on both sides for diversity are made clear. Moore also believes that SOM's work with Barnard helped them to qualify for the Wellesley College Science Center renovation project, which is where she got to know Michelle Maheu as a strong and collaborative player on Wellesley's side.

Both Moore and Maheu recognized and admired the leadership of the other, and talked about willingness to learn and openness to different opinions. As a key component of putting this mindset into action, Maheu has built a diverse team for herself at Wellesley College, which she believes has helped them to deliver successful projects on time and on budget. One particular project that stands out to her is the 2016 renovation of Acorns House, an intercultural center for students of Asian and Latinx descent. She recalls that with the goal of creating a space with 'personal voice', we took extra care to make sure our team members could provide the most conducive atmosphere for student engagement. After the renovation, Acorns has been used by multiple Asian and Latinx campus organizations, and provides a warm and inviting space for these students to relax, gather, and converse.

Looking back through the scope of our conversations, a common thread between a wide range of stories is that diversity and inclusion efforts are strengthened because of the challenges and "roots" that industry pioneers went through. Moore explained that from her own experience and what she has seen from others, what resulted are women who became leaders because they didn't walk away from the challenges ahead of them. I believe this has made us resilient and empathetic and see our role in leadership as one where we can help others because we went through it ourselves. While the experiences of underrepresented groups may have been difficult, it is precisely because of those obstacles that they want to push the field further. Moore's growth through sixteen years at SOM has developed the strength she uses to advocate for others and support groups like Year One and the TEDD Committee. After her rise through the company, Wexler's firm Elaine Construction, has won multiple awards for workplace environment and as a top women-led business. Worthy didn't find many mentors who looked like him as a student, so he decided to become one, and the same can be said of Kaur, Maheu, Nez, or any of the incredible people who are actively, enthusiastically, and concretely working for a more diverse and equitable future.

If the seeds are being planted now, we will begin to see the changes happening within a few years out. It will take time before the next generation of flowers take root and grow. But if we don't plant them now, if we continue to stall and hope for change to come on it's own, we'll be waiting much, much longer. These initiatives take dedication and sustained effort. It takes time and attention to water those seeds, to nurture them and to watch them grow. What ultimately results is a stronger, more resilient flower and an abundant environment that draws from the past, learns from the present and innovates for the future. So when they do spread their petals to the sky... it will have been worth the wait.