Designing with diversity and inclusion in mind adds real value

By Laura Twigge-Molecey | August 26, 2020

In the current climate, now more than ever, many companies are looking to incorporate diversity and inclusion as part of their business plan—beyond their human resources departments—and for good reason.

One of the areas that’s gaining momentum is the concept of Diverse and Inclusive (D&I) Design, which incorporates and considers the diversity of a project’s workforce, workplace, and community right from the planning stages. It’s a notion that’s beginning to take hold in some of the industries that we work in, such as mining, but one that has been well under way in other industries as a way to unlock much-needed resources. Take for example Porsche, which modified their production lines to make working easier for Germany’s aging workforce.

We see tremendous potential in D&I Design and we have started by updating many of our internal work procedures and workflows, thus giving our project teams tools to ensure they consider D&I during the design phase.

I recently had an opportunity to host a collaborative D&I Design workshop with our clients where we shared ideas around the potential of D&I Design and the impact on our businesses and workforces. I left inspired to continue this work and wanted to share my key takeaways.

It makes good business sense for a company to demonstrate social responsibility and corporate best practices by incorporating D&I Design measures.

Why D&I Design is increasingly being brought to the forefront

For many large corporations, it’s no longer appropriate to design equipment and facilities the way they used to 20 years ago, because today they don’t meet the requirements of most workers. For example, we see more women working in roles that were previously looked upon as non-traditional jobs.

It’s important to consider diversity and inclusion early in the design phase of a project and consider the various aspects of the project’s diverse workforce—age, race, gender, ability, economic status, and culture. When you consider these factors early in the planning phase, you can save business time and costs, create a safer environment, and possibly avoid retrofitting equipment or facilities later. It also makes good business sense for a company to demonstrate social responsibility and corporate best practices by incorporating D&I Design measures.

How incorporating diversity and inclusion can lead to opportunities

Designing a facility that is inclusive to all could impact the financial viability of the project, so we have developed a model to help stakeholders prioritize and make decisions based on value. Depending on the scenario, a business could realize reduced turnover, increased productivity, improved recruitment and community engagement, and enhanced safety. Various “benefits” are quantified and used as an input to the model. The output is a list of opportunities, prioritized with a return on investment (ROI). Although the model is quite simple, the challenge is determining the potential benefits for the various scenarios.

Our clients recognize the benefits of investing their time and resources in D&I Design measures; at the same time, they’re trying to understand the people, issues, and communities in which their projects are being developed.

One example discussed was a business in Australia who had modified its entire workshop by suspending certain tools from the ceiling because they were too heavy for workers to lift. These changes led to improved safety statistics.

One workshop participant described a recent project where they engaged the community early to provide input on the camp requirements. “It was amazing to see the ownership it brought to the project,” he said. “It’s really pleasing when you can have a positive influence on all levels of the operation, not just the grinding or comminution circuit or the mining phases.”

Building plant designs and control systems that will work for people with different needs, educational backgrounds and skill sets was also discussed. One company redesigned their human machine interface (HMI) screens in greyscale to allow color blind operators to see the alarms and other critical data. These adjustments were made with minimal cost to the project but added maximum value to the ramp up and overall maintenance of the operations.

How you can consider D&I Design

Here are some steps to consider when using D&I Design:

1. Collect and brainstorm ideas early.

2. Actively identify and consult with the right people—those who have experience in a particular region or have knowledge of a specific user group.

3. Remove barriers by ensuring a safe environment for all the team to provide input.

4. Ensure a “design for all” and not just the majority.

5. Create a design that benefits the end user, not the designer.

6. And finally, incorporate lessons learned as you go to continuously improve this process.

The possibilities of D&I Design are vast, but from my discussions with some of our clients, a few opportunities and considerations have been identified:

  • Make decisions at the appropriate time. Engagement with stakeholders for scope decisions requires considerations very early in the project development. Design development opportunities should be made throughout the project (layout optimization, for example)
  • Use technology to our advantage. Leverage digital project delivery for training and communication and technology to improve working conditions (automated underground loaders)
  • Consider future workforce early. What do you want the future workforce to look like (organizational design) and how does the design ensure your vision is met?