by Jessica Montagna and Julianne Busa, PhD
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not just a trending topic. DEI issues are the lived reality for historically disadvantaged people in any workplace. In the AEC industry, according to the Society of Women Engineers and the National Science Foundation, respectively, only 13% of engineers are women and only 11% of engineers are African American. These low percentages are the reality, not because women and people of color are not interested in engineering or not capable enough for the field, but because structural inequalities continue to persist for historically disadvantaged groups. These inequalities make it more challenging for women and people of color to consider STEM as a career, to be successful in the STEM field, and for companies to maintain retention of disadvantaged employees.
Successful DEI efforts start with an investment and commitment of the senior leadership. That’s why in 2018, Kathy Nanowski, Vice President and Director of Marketing and Business Development, put out a call to Fuss & O’Neill employees to form a Gender Equity and Leadership Committee. While the Committee is largely woman-led, strong investment from senior leadership also requires having leaders who are willing to step up and act as allies for women and people of color. At Fuss and O’Neill, our CEO, Kevin Grigg, and Senior Vice President, Ted DeSantos, have been actively invested in the process of DEI efforts, particularly around the advancement of women leadership in the company. Both have been strong advocates and active participants in our Gender Equity and Leadership Committee. You can hear more details about Kevin and Ted’s journey in supporting DEI efforts as allies on the HerSTEMStory podcast:
While the Gender Equity and Leadership Committee at Fuss & O’Neill is in its early stages, the Committee has made big strides over the past year, including the creation of a Working Caregivers Task Force to examine our company policies around the needs of employees who assume primary caregiving responsibilities for children and/or aging parents. We will be recommending company changes that would better support working caregivers to be successful at Fuss & O’Neill. And any policy change would be a change that is available to all employees. At Fuss & O’Neill, we believe that employees’ lives outside of work are important, and making policies that create a more flexible work environment shifts our company culture to be more inclusive, understanding, and compassionate for everyone.
DEI efforts create space within our company in which to actively engage difficult conversations about inclusion, and to ensure that historically underrepresented demographics have an equitable voice and a platform from which to be heard. Employees who feel valued can bring their whole selves and a sense of belonging to the team. They are more mentally and emotionally invested in the process and can contribute at the highest levels. Furthermore, companies that incorporate diversity and inclusion efforts in their strategic plans, leadership development, and company culture have proven to be more economically nimble, more profitable, and to have higher retention rates for employees. In the end, everyone should thrive in the workplace and be equipped to solve complex problems. Fuss & O’Neill’s corporate commitment to exploring DEI issues in the workplace is fostering an environment where all employees can bring their whole, authentic selves to work.
About the Authors
Jessica Montagna is a Marketing Coordinator at Fuss & O’Neill who supports marketing initiatives and coordinates competitive proposals. She also serves as the Chair of the Gender Equity and Leadership Committee. Jessica holds an M.Ed in Social Justice Education and a Graduate Certificate of Gender Studies and Advanced Feminist Theory. She has taught DEI and Gender Studies courses and workshops at the undergraduate and graduate level at both the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Western New England University in Springfield, MA.
Julianne Busa, PhD is a Senior Environmental Scientist in the Water and Natural Resources business line at Fuss & O’Neill who specializes in climate resiliency and watershed work. She is also an active member of our Gender Equity and Leadership Committee. Before transitioning to full-time consulting, Julianne was a professor in the very DEI-focused world of New England’s women’s colleges. She has published on social movements and still dabbles in sociological theory from time to time.