20 October 2020
CM Industrial By CM Industrial

"I Was the Only Black Man at the Conference."

Black History Month is a time to celebrate black culture, educate one another about black history and challenge prejudice (both our own and other people’s).

While it’s important to look back during Black History Month, I also think it’s good to observe what’s happening now. To look at ourselves and the world we live in and ask: Are we all equal? Is diversity understood and celebrated?

Recruiting in the construction and agricultural machinery space, I’ve noticed a lack of black professionals. This is especially true in leadership roles. The higher in seniority you go, the fewer black professionals you’ll find.

I’m a black man that talks to people in this space every day and I’ve never experienced racism or conscious discrimination. So, I’ve often wondered why this imbalance exists in these markets?

In the UK, just 3.4% of all construction managers are from ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, in the US, only 7% of professionals in the agricultural implement manufacturing industry are Black African or American.

To find out what’s going on, I decided to reach out and speak to black professionals working in construction and agricultural machinery. I wanted to hear about their experiences.

It was a challenge to find anyone to speak to, which says a lot about how few black professionals are out there. It wasn’t until Edward Gonzalez, Account Manager at Mellott Company, put me in touch with his colleague and friend, Michael Miller, that I had my first discussion with a black professional this month.

This CM Conversation is also available as a podcast. Listen now.

Michael Miller, President at Sustainable Soilutions

Michael has over 19 year’s experience in construction as an environmental engineer and is now President at Sustainable Soilutions, which is a soil company based in Orlando, Florida.

He told me that he attended Compost 2020 sponsored by the USCC’s COMPOST 2020 this January, which is a major composting conference that attracts hundreds of people from the industry. It was there and then that he and Edward became aware of the severe lack of black people and ethnic minorities within the industry.

We made a made a joke to each other, saying that we should try and find another person that wasn’t white – we were the only ones.

I asked Michael why he thought this imbalance exists. He suggested that stereotyping played a role, with this creating an unconscious bias among hiring managers.

Certain industries in the US fall under specific, preconceived demographics. For example, the image you associate with agriculture is a white male. This influences the hiring decisions made in the industry.

Michael was keen to point out that he’s not experienced direct discrimination or racism within his industry. Many people he and I have spoken to are progressive and striving for change. For example, Michael was approached to accept his current position by the owner because, firstly, Michael was right for the job, but also because the owner was making a conscious effort to diversify their workforce.

I’ve noticed a desire to diversify too, which is understandable because diverse teams are proven to be more productive, more creative and have higher retention rates. However, there’s lots more to be done for these industries to become truly diverse and equal.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We need to educate the people around us about the challenges that black people face in society and the construction and agricultural machinery industries. Michael explained how it’s important for our industries to evolve and inspire future generations by championing their successful, black role models.

Diversity in businesses shows children from a young age that everyone has the accessibility to go into any business and at any level.

In 2020, I feel that we are starting to turn a corner. People are listening and learning. Companies are pioneering fantastic diversity and inclusion initiatives. And as a recruiter serving these industries, I’ll continue to speak out and share my network’s stories.

If you are a HR leader in this space or a black professional, please share your experiences with me and let me know what you’re seeing being done to help the construction and agricultural machinery space become more diverse. Email me at Abbel.Kisanji@industrial-cm.com.

You can find more of my content on the construction and agricultural machinery space via my consultant page.

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