Survey Reveals Lack of Diversity in A/E/P and Environmental Consulting Firms

The architecture, engineering, planning (A/E/P) and environmental consulting industry remains mostly white and male-dominated for reasons ranging from archaic hiring practices to fewer minorities seeking careers in the field, ZweigWhite, source of business-management services, reports in the March 21 issue of The Zweig Letter, its weekly journal.

In an online survey of human-resources (HR) professionals in the A/E/P and environmental consulting fields, more than half of the respondents described their firm as “not very diverse,” meaning fewer than one-third of the employees are minorities. Only 8.3 percent of the respondents described their firm as “very diverse,” meaning more than half of the employees are minorities.

“It’s a sore subject that many managers don’t like to talk about because it makes them uncomfortable,” Stephen Hinton, managing director of Hinton Human Capital, an executive search firm focused on finding business-development, engineering, scientific, and technical talent for companies in the green, environmental, and infrastructure fields, told The Zweig Letter. “It’s not a plot. It’s not a situation where there is insidious, systemic racism or exclusion. It’s a situation with more than one force at work.”

Among those forces is a management-by-numbers mentality that does not fit well with the management of people, Hinton said. Moreover, A/E/P and environmental consulting firms suffer from an unhealthy supply of minority candidates seeking degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

According to ZweigWhite, data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics compiled in 2010 indicate bachelor’s-degree completion rates for architecture/engineering-related studies are higher among white and Asian students than students who describe themselves as black, Hispanic, or “other.”

Also, many firms reportedly tend to overlook minority schools.

“Our hiring managers like to hire from the same sources, same schools and are reluctant to seek a more diverse candidate pool,” an anonymous survey respondent wrote. “HR is trying to move us in the right direction, but most of the leadership team doesn’t recognize the need. I think we are missing a great opportunity.”

Fifty percent of the respondents indicated that, despite their best efforts, relatively few minorities apply for jobs with their firm. Eight percent said their area of the country is not very diverse and they hire mostly locally, while 40 percent responded with “other” reasons why their firm employs a low number of minorities.

Stephen Lucy, managing principal for the Dallas office of Jaster-Quintanilla, a minority-owned civil- and structural-engineering firm, said the industry “needs to do better.”

“Without expanded efforts in this area, our industry will continue to have difficulty in attracting the best and brightest to pursue A/E/C careers and be reflective of our changing demographics,” Lucy said.

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