ARA Chicago

The Challenge: Hiring in Our Own Image

In the early 1990’s, Dr. Deming’s Continuous Improvement and Total Quality Management strategies that had revolutionized manufacturing were now sweeping through the consultant services industry. At the time, I was Manager of Planning and Environmental Services for a planning, engineering and landscape architecture firm in the Pacific Northwest, helping to lead our company through business transformations. Dr. Deming’s model was a Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to improving business effectiveness in all areas. I recall spending hours mapping out our various processes: from design quality control to project delivery, from marketing our services and building client relationships to hiring the right talent. We weren’t long into this “in the mirror” exercise for our HR and hiring processes when some of us realized we were hiring people who were just like us. We all looked alike, talked alike and thought alike. The engineering industry twenty years ago certainly was a predominantly white male leadership model and our company was no exception. This was not right and we needed to transform that reality.

Fast forward, in a recent Washington Post article, the author Joann Weiner cites many studies that demonstrate when women hold top leadership positions, the companies they lead are more profitable and successful. Weiner also notes that a scientific article written by diverse authors rather than by people of the same ethnicity “leads to greater contributions to science.” In the article she states, “If all the viewpoints we hear come from people who are like us, we assume that we have the same information and the same perspective.” Is it really safe to assume we all hold the same information and perspectives? Or the same ideas and beliefs? The same feelings? Are we really that self-limiting? Of course not.

Weiner reasons that “creativity and innovation are more likely to spring from diverse rather than identical groups.” Even though we are well into the 21st century, it still appears to me that even the most innovative national and global companies are challenged with diversifying their workforces and moving away from hiring in our own image. When you think about it, and register the thought with emotional understanding, doesn’t it make sense for your success, and the success of your business or company, to be as diverse as humanly possible?

As a project manager with over 30-years of experience, I’ve learned how important it is to have diverse, collaborative, multidisciplinary teams. These teams have brought me success on all of the transportation and environmental planning projects I have led for clients. We need to embrace diversity and the value it brings to team collaboration. Collaboration can be viewed as part communication, part creative problem solving and part relationship building. But it is something more. When you experience the diversity of ideas in dialogue, it is then the well deepens and the depth of the well is reached. It is then we can access the more luminous parts of our intellects and emotions.

I am fortunate. I was raised in a hard-working, Midwestern family where it made no difference the color of your skin, your religion, your gender or your cultural heritage. I grew up knowing it was who you are as a person and how you carried yourself (think confidence, experience, leadership) that made a difference. The planning, engineering and architecture firm I work for now has embraced workplace diversity in most respects, which is still hard to do in a field that remains white male dominated.

From Dr. Deming’s ascent in the 1990’s to present day, we have been challenged as human beings to bridge the rift between diversity and sameness. When we rise to this challenge the realizations we experience bring greater value to our company and the workplace, and give us an advantage; an advantage we can celebrate in a moment transformed from hiring in our own image.

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Guest author, Ron Deverman is Associate Vice-President and Principal Environmental Planning Manager for HNTB, a national engineering, architecture and planning firm, managing environmental impact assessment projects for transportation infrastructure improvements such as transit, passenger and freight rail, roadways, and bridges. Ron’s 30 years of experience in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) includes special expertise in community impact assessment, cumulative effects analysis, and federal environmental regulations, such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and Threatened and Endangered Species Act. Ron received his BS in civil/environmental engineering from the University of Illinois in Urbana, and his MA in literature and creative writing from the University of Illinois in Springfield. Ron is also a published poet and has spoken nationally on many subjects, including key competencies for environmental professionals, environmental stewardship, and public health impacts and benefits of our transportation choices.