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The AIA Corporate Architects and Facility Management (CAFM) Knowledge Community consist of architects working within and for businesses and corporations. Our mission is to share expertise in the strategic, tactical, and operational activities of real property and facilities management in order to deliver value to the owners we represent. 

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4 Ways to Create an Inclusive Workplace in 2020

  • 1.  4 Ways to Create an Inclusive Workplace in 2020

    Posted 07-17-2020 12:48 PM
    Edited by Tony Miller 09-02-2020 09:18 AM

    Workplace diversity is important, but when people of different backgrounds, age groups, religions and cultures come together, how do you create an inclusive workplace?

    What is the point of investing a lot of time, energy, and money in building an organization full of diversity if the people you've recruited find they are unhappy with the environment? 

    Let's look at four steps that are necessary for creating an inclusive workplace.

    1. Inform The Management Team

    It goes without saying that organizational efforts must always begin at the executive and managerial levels before trickling down to the rest of the team. In particular, an organization's managers will play instrumental roles in spreading the culture of inclusiveness among the rest of its employees. Instead of treating employees as the frontline of your operation, it's best for executives and managers to take up that position so they can lead by example. What leaders show their subordinates will usually wind up becoming the culture. 

    One company that holds leaders accountable for building diverse teams and fostering an inclusive environment for its employees is Bank of America. On their website under Supporting Inclusion, Bank of America states:

    "We continue to focus on maintaining an inclusive environment that supports everything that makes our colleagues unique and provides resources to help them grow professionally and personally. As part of our ongoing commitment to being a great place to work, we encourage our employees to have courageous conversations as a way to promote inclusion, understanding and positive action by creating awareness of different experiences and perspectives. The topics of these conversations explore our differences in background, experience or viewpoints, such as class, age, gender, gender identification and expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disability. We also organize courageous conversations in response to events that challenge our communities on issues related to diversity and inclusion, social justice, and race and equality."

    2. Form an Inclusion Council

    Your organization may need a group of individuals devoted to holding the whole organization responsible for inclusivity. This council should be made up of leaders with a dedication to inclusivity, as well as passion and kindness towards others. They should also show excitement about being responsible for creating and maintaining a pleasant work environment for everyone. Furthermore, it might be best for the employees to vote for those whom they feel are best qualified for such a position (if the organization is large enough to facilitate it, of course).

    An inclusion council can have as few or as many people as an organization feels necessary, as long as members institute clear hiring goals, solid talent retention methods, and problem-solving tactics. An inclusion council should meet routinely, whether that be monthly or quarterly, and be ready and willing to offer feedback for any other leaders within the organization.

    Of course, this council should be as diverse as possible. It should also be composed of different ethnicities, genders, cultural backgrounds, and levels of leadership-not merely executive-level employees. According to some research, around 60 percent of employees want more diversity from their employers. An increase in diversity benefits the organization by gaining new experiences and perspectives on the team, which ultimately keeps the organization fresh and nimble.

    3. Encourage the Differences in People

    It's easy to think that differences lead to more conflict. Leaders often worry that people's various backgrounds, educations, and views may not agree with their organizations' culture or day-to-day duties. This also leads to the belief that conflicts will hinder productivity. This reasoning holds executives and managers back from promoting diversity in the workplace, and this is an archaic way of seeing things in today's highly diverse world. 

    Diverse teams have been proven to perform at higher levels. In a 2018 McKinsey study, they found that teams with ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed their peers by 33 percent. They also found that teams that were gender-diverse outperformed teams that were not by 27 percent. When people with varying backgrounds and life experiences come together, they are able to look at situations in a different light, and the solutions they can come up with together are truly impressive and have a profound impact on productivity and innovation.

    4. Incorporate a Workplace Design That Promotes Inclusion

    When you think about ways to make your workplace more inclusive, do you consider its architectural design? How many of your employees live with some sort of physical disability? What about learning disabilities? Believe it or not, around one in three employees have special needs requiring accommodation. Sadly, a significant number of employers aren't even aware they have employees with disabilities. In fact, one study found that only 39% of employees with disabilities disclosed their disabilities to their manager. The most often cited reason being that even though laws exist to protect them, they still fear they will be discriminated against. This is why it is crucial to meet or exceed the requirements laid out by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) whether or not you knowingly have employees with disabilities.

    The awareness of and observance of ADA standards is a good beginning, but inclusive practices only begin here. Some 15-20% of people are diagnostically neurodivergent: those on the autism, attention deficit, dyslexic and dyspraxic spectrums to name a few. The accommodation of people with a broad spectrum of mental "wiring" is key to building acceptance within the workplace. 

    Add to that cultural differences and learning styles and you have a tremendous opportunity to cultivate awareness, respect and understanding within a company culture.

    Creating An Inclusive Workplace By Design

    When an organization builds a workspace with inclusion at the heart of the design, they're able to avoid retroactive accommodations in the future. With an inclusive workspace design, employees with special needs will not be isolated or stigmatized. Rather, they will be empowered to concentrate on their job without having to ask for an accommodation which draws unwanted attention to their particular needs.

    A major aspect of futureproofing is designing and building adaptive workspaces that can evolve. The right environment makes creating an inclusive workplace an output of good design. A raised floor system allow enterprises and institutions to build adaptive workspaces starting from the ground up.

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    Tony Miller
    Status Engineering
    San Diego CA
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    AIA Conference on Architecture June 22-25 Chicago