It has been two years since the latest onset of this country’s reckoning with the unequal treatment of Black and People of Color in our society. While the murder of George Floyd was a turning point for many, since then the division within our country seems only to be growing wider, with each ‘side’ becoming more entrenched and insistent in their perspective.
When Cx Associates wrote our statement of inclusion in June of 2020, our focus was on three areas of action:
- Educating ourselves as individuals and community members on our country’s history with race.
- Learning what went wrong under the Jim Crow era in the built environment and what we, as an engineering firm that designs, builds, and renovates buildings, have the power to improve.
- Assessing our company’s culture and policies to identify opportunities for improvement.
I started writing this blog as an annual update on our activities (for transparency and accountability), but while writing it I realize how much has changed in these two years that cannot be placed in a bulleted list of action items. I have changed. This country has changed. So, in addition to our company’s annual update, please forgive some personal editorial musings that I cannot ignore.
Cx Associates Equity Update
Cx Associates has long sought gender equality when considering candidates for new positions in our male-dominated field; however, in June of 2020 we realized we need to do more with regard to racial justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion inside our firm and within the field of engineering and the built environment. Consequently, we established a working group to determine how we were going to educate ourselves and what actions we could take. My colleague, Lauren Hagen, wrote the first annual update in her blog One Year Later: How CX Associates is Addressing Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Tangibly, in this second year Cx Associates has moved forward on the following:
- Monthly discussion group meetings using podcasts and articles on racial and environmental justice
- Review of hiring, recruiting, and retention practices to foster a sustainable welcoming culture
- Repository of podcasts, books, videos, etc. on equity and environmental justice
- Donations to the National Society of Black Engineers Scholarship Fund, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Peace & Justice Center of Vermont
- Integrated diversity, equity, inclusion, and environmental justice into our annual strategic planning retreat
Alliance for Equity in the Built Environment
Lauren’s blog post introduced the Alliance for Equity in the Built Environment group we started with other Vermont construction, development, architectural, and engineering firms. Since its inception almost two years ago, the Equity Alliance has met monthly to discuss topics of racial and environmental justice in the built environment and within our own organizations. We have shared resources and discussed the sometimes-uncomfortable questions that need to be addressed to facilitate positive change.
Most of our work is resulting in our own education on how we, as a culture and within our industries, got to where we are with respect to racial, environmental, and social inequities. Outwardly, our soul searching has led us to develop a Policies and Practices document and establish a list of podcasts/books/videos for continued learning. We have also developed a website and a LinkedIn profile.
What we have struggled with is how to make an impact beyond our organizations. We worked on a high school curriculum to promote STEM fields but have instead decided to focus first on mentoring students either through presentations at schools or job shadowing. This summer we are reaching out to high school curriculum coordinators, career counselors, and tech-ed teachers to see if we could talk to students about careers in the built environment – architecture, engineering, project management, real estate business, and the trades. Most of these careers are seen as ‘male’ fields, and BIPOC are generally under-represented in them. Planting the idea that young people of all different backgrounds and identities can succeed in them too can open a wide range of opportunities for them.
A Personal Note
It is astounding to realize how pervasive and systemic racial discrimination is throughout every aspect of this country’s fabric. I have learned so much over the past two years and will continue to educate myself, but this work will truly never be complete. I had started this thinking that I, as a female engineer in a management position, could make a difference to my company and my community – maybe even my industry. But there are two fundamental things that I am recognizing and struggling with as to how I may have an impact:
- I realize, in looking back at the declarations the Alliance for Equity made in June of 2020, that the tone of the national conversation has changed from one of outrage on the injustice of racial inequity to one of protecting the feelings of the privileged. My colleagues and I are working from the perspective that there is enough of the pie for everyone to succeed in creating an independent and healthy life. (After all, wasn’t this country the land of opportunity for the “poor huddled masses”?) But today’s social division is evidence that not everyone in this country shares this viewpoint. Although on the face of it, racial and environmental injustice have nothing to do with this sentiment, it is a huge barrier to creating equality within our society. Just changing policies will not be enough. Maybe addressing this perspective is the first place to start for, without this basis from which to work, I’m afraid we have a long road ahead of us.
- An area I personally found very interesting to consider is the difference between ‘inclusion’ and ‘belonging’. I had focused on ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ – opening doors where they may have been shut - and creating a welcoming culture in our company and our communities. What I had not considered is what it takes for someone who identifies as anything other than physically-abled, cisgender, and white to not just feel welcomed when they arrive (something I feel I can do something about), but how they feel like they belong and therefore want to stay in Vermont (one of the whitest states in the nation). Fostering a sense of belonging has been an ongoing focus here at Cx Associates. We’re far from perfect, but we work every day to make our employees feel valued and their accomplishments recognized, feel like they can be themselves at work, and ensure that everyone works on meaningful projects that match their interests. These are relatively small measures in the broader picture, but they’re a start.
Although we have a long way to go (and we will never be done), we are seeing small positive steps that the conversation has some staying power: in mid-May, Vermont held its second annual ‘Inclusion Week’ and Juneteenth Independence Day, a day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, has become a national holiday. Hopefully, the fact that we’re holding these discussions as a nation is a sign that – this time - we can’t sweep it under the rug and carry on as before.
"How wonderful is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." -- Anne Frank