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Diversity in US workplaces growing while construction industry lags

By: Associated Press//January 13, 2023//

Diversity in US workplaces growing while construction industry lags

By: Associated Press//January 13, 2023//

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A crew with JCP Construction sets up forms for a concrete pour in 2018 for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena. The construction industry has made strides in diversity hiring over the past decade but still lags the overall working population. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

By Adia Harvey Wingfield
Washington University in St. Louis

Increased immigration, longer life expectancy and a decline in birth rates are transforming the U.S. workforce in two important ways: The people powering this nation’s economy include far more people of color and workers over 55 than was the case four decades ago.

And this diversity will keep growing in the years ahead, economists predict.

The share of U.S. workers who are nonwhite, Latino or both nearly doubled to about 40% in 2019 from roughly 23% in 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With more older people staying economically active, over 37 million U.S. workers are 55 and up today. They account for nearly 1 in 4 of the 160 million Americans engaged in paid work. In 1979, fewer than 1 in 7 U.S. workers were in that age group.

The government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the ranks of older workers will keep rising in the years ahead – including people who are well into their golden years. The number of Americans 75 and older remaining in the labor force will nearly double between 2020 and 2030, while the number of all workers rises by only 5.5%, according to the bureau.

The share of white workers will have declined to 74.7% by 2031, from 77% in 2021, the bureau predicts. The agency is also tracking the prevalence of workers of Hispanic origin who can identify as white, Black or mixed race. It says that the share of such workers will rise during that decade to 21.5% from 18.3% of the workforce – up sharply from 12.1% in 2001.

Despite those numbers, the construction industry still lags the general U.S. working population in diversity. While diversity hiring across the construction industry has increased over the past decade, it still trails national working averages. In 2021, women made up 47% of the overall workplace in the U.S., while only 11% made up the construction workforce. Black workers are 12% of the national workforce and just 6% in construction. Hispanics and Latinos make up 18% of the overall workforce and comprise 30% of the construction workforce.

How are U.S. employers responding to these changes?

Employers are finding themselves forced to do a better job of attracting and retaining underrepresented and older workers through diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

It’s already common for employers to take diversity, equity and inclusion measures. A 2019 survey of 234 companies found that nearly 2 in 3 employed diversity managers.

Their responsibilities can range widely. Some examples include creating a culture that values and welcomes workers from diverse backgrounds and increasing the numbers of employees from backgrounds that are underrepresented in a particular field.

In finance this might mean bringing in more female, Black and Latino analysts. In nursing this could mean attracting more men of all races into a profession that’s still dominated by white women.

In these fields and others, changing the culture can mean collecting data about which workers are underrepresented, trying to fill any gaps detected, or revising dress and grooming codes that ban hairstyles more commonly worn by Black workers.

Diversity starts with hiring

Employers can respond to today’s and tomorrow’s demographic realities by changing how they handle hiring. They can start by recruiting more workers from historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions.

A promising strategy that aids in the retention of workers of color is the development of mentoring programs that are open to all, rather than by invitation only. That way, implicit biases don’t exclude workers of color.

Companies can also implement what’s known as “upskilling.”

Workers in upskilling programs try out a variety of different roles in the organization. This strategy helps develop underrepresented workers’ skill sets and connects them to managers who might otherwise overlook them.


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