The Diversity Transformation Has Begun

NSCA argues that chief diversity officer services will help integrators build inclusive cultures, optimize talent, humanize experiences and do better business.

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The Diversity Transformation Has Begun

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In our industry, all of us align ourselves with one word: AV. But, if you take a closer look between “A” and “V” in the alphabet, there lie three other letters that form an important acronym: DEI. That acronym, which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion, is more than just a buzzword. And these letters are certainly more than just a discussion at a roundtable or panel.

DEI symbolizes the actions necessary to build an inclusive environment for all marginalized communities — not only those in this industry but also those worldwide. It represents opportunities to nurture talent across all levels, as well as to invest in that talent. And that’s precisely what NSCA, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based non-profit association representing the commercial integration industry, is doing through the NSCA DEI Action Council.

In the last few years, several organizations have taken monumental steps to inculcate a culture of belonging for and equality among employees. It would be remiss not to mention the efforts of the AVIXA Women’s Council, the AVIXA Diversity Council and the countless initiatives that the powerful women — especially women of color — in the AV industry have undertaken. NSCA continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with them, forging new paths to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

The NSCA DEI Action Council was born when NSCA launched Ignite 2.0 in 2020. The recent rebranding reflects NSCA’s expanded focus on societal injustices and inequities. What’s more, the council has taken on the objective of providing members with the foresight and knowledge to instill inclusivity and diversity, while also conveying the business benefits of doing so. One of the top initiatives is a partnership with livingHR, an agency that works with companies to build inclusive cultures, optimize talent and humanize experiences.

In this feature, NSCA DEI Action Council member Bruce Kaufmann, along with AVI-SPL’s Heidi LaSalata and Stephanie Angelopulos, discusses with Commercial Integrator the council’s various efforts and also touch on the benefits of bringing on livingHR as a DEI consultant.

The Need for a DEI Consultant

We’ve already observed that companies are getting more involved in different initiatives. However, Kaufmann, president and CEO of design-build engineering firm Human Circuit, spotlights the difficulty that HR departments have when trying to get upper management to act on these matters. He also calls out the lack of HR departments in other companies. “It is not an easy or comfortable conversation,” Kaufmann explains. “So, one of our goals is getting others to participate in these initiatives. But a lot of our members are small organizations that don’t have internal resources.” He adds that the council, in essence, becomes the go-to resource for such companies. “We are not just saying, ‘You need to pay attention to this,’” Kaufman clarifies, “but also saying, ‘If you need help, here’s the help you can get.’”

Stephanie Angelopulos headshot‘We hope that DEI efforts in recruiting will impact and increase the diverse pool of applicants for the industry.’ Stephanie Angelopulos, AVI-SPL

This is where an organization like livingHR has a major role to play. “Small companies that don’t have HR departments are not able to hire [positions like] a chief diversity officer,” Kaufmann continues. “So, NSCA brought in livingHR to work with our members and be available to these companies.”

Angelopulos, director of employee relations and safety with AVI-SPL, echoes Kaufmann’s statements. “One of the reasons we brought in livingHR is because we wanted someone to show us the ropes, build the architecture and be a leader for our industry in this area,” she proclaims. And, in fact, AVI-SPL has now been working with the agency for more than 18 months. According to LaSalata, director of brand strategy with AVI-SPL, it emerged as the “…professional that provided the framework and tools…” for the Tampa, Fla.-based industry leader.

A Guiding Force

Kaufmann adds that livingHR, along with the NSCA DEI Action Council, provides workshops and documentation to help members develop different kinds of engagement which are customizable depending on company size and complexity. “The idea of our workshops is to get people to understand the necessity of those [tough] conversations,” he expounds. Presently, NSCA members can participate in a tiered “livingHR + NSCA Exclusive Partnership Solutions” program that enables them to take quantitative steps toward transforming their company culture.

But, for Angelopulos, livingHR is more than merely a consultant; it is also a guiding force. She reveals that the agency was heavily involved in the first stages of building out the structure. However, as AVI-SPL began to implement the workshops and strategies, livingHR transitioned to working according to the company’s evolving needs. “They do as much or as little as you need,” Angelopulos emphasizes. When asked how the partnership works, she cites an example of when livingHR attended a regional leadership meeting and held workshops on DEI strategies. The organization led deep conversations on what matters most to diverse employees and offered in-depth diversity-recruiting training with the regional leaders.

According to LaSalata, this collaborative partnership also helps the team prioritize day-to-day responsibilities, without minimizing efforts to achieve DEI. “It’s a challenge to make [DEI] a priority when you have ‘day job priorities,’ and perhaps that is why some companies are slow to adopt it,” she notes. LaSalata then adds that, regardless, making DEI a priority is the right thing to do. “It also [positively] impacts our employer brand, recruitment and retention,” she declares.

Indeed, DEI helps boost businesses whose prospective clients and employees seek companies that value them and champion their values. “Our customers want to see it, and they’re asking us to include it in our proposals and bids,” LaSalata acknowledges, “[DEI] is a business necessity, an ethical necessity and an employee-engagement necessity.” Angelopulos agrees, referring to a recent sales team meeting during which the client inquired about AVI-SPL’s DEI program. “It’s important to us, and it’s important to our clients now more than ever,” she states.

livingHR: A DEI-Focused NSCA Partner Organization

According to Cara Hunter, senior vice president of strategy, livingHR is a woman-owned business whose mission is to make the workplace better for all humans. Hunter underlines that the company doesn’t see DEI as just an “initiative” or a “checkbox”; instead, DEI lives in the culture for all clients, across the talent lifecycle, and is part of the business strategy. “We recognize that it is a different journey for everyone, so we try to really get to know organizations and their current culture,” she emphasizes. “Then, we focus on reasonable, achievable solutions that feel genuine and try to infuse [them] throughout the lifecycle of the organizations.”

Likewise, Daniel Duckworth, vice president of people and culture, spotlights that it is essentially about creating an environment that people want to be part of. He brings attention to livingHR’s approach of inculcating DEI in organizations, describing the process as one that is “compassionate, but also delivering a reality check.” As Duckworth explains it, “We really do our best to understand where they want to be and then show them the gaps. We help build solutions and actions that become meaningful to the organization.”

Both Hunter and Duckworth stress that livingHR does not have a cookie-cutter approach. After all, each organization’s culture and values are different. Thus, the agency bears the onus of providing solutions that make sense to the company’s culture and its work environment. This purpose aligns with that of the NSCA DEI Action Council. According to Hunter, the partnership with the NSCA DEI Action Council is relatively new, but it’s one that the whole agency of livingHR is excited about. “I think our role is to really listen to the integration industry and help integrators strategize their efforts,” she opines. “And since we work with other industries, as well, we can provide that outside, well-rounded perspective.”

Duckworth chimes in, adding, “It’s a great collaboration and a ‘force multiplier,’ where we can multiply all our efforts in this space. It is important for not only the integration industry but [also] the world as a whole.” He concludes, “We need people willing to work together to make a [more inclusive] space. To have that truly harmonized workspace, it’s more than just having people who are different — it’s helping them come together as a community and really building that community so everyone can be their authentic selves.”

Overcoming Challenges

The NSCA DEI Action Council and livingHR, along with rank-and-file NSCA members, have made tremendous strides. But all three interviewees recognize that certain challenges remain, and they create roadblocks on the path toward progress. Kaufmann alludes to the lack of diversity in the talent pool as one such challenge. This state of the workforce is not a new one for the AV industry, which has long been known for being a bubble-like environment. Generally speaking, nearly everyone in this vast industry has discovered it by accident. To add to this, white men over the age of 30 encompass a substantial majority of the AV workforce.

“It has always been a historic problem,” Kaufmann remarks. “That’s why a lot of people are asking us to address it at the grade-school level.” According to him, although there are certainly several programs to help companies be inclusive internally, the toughest aspect centers on the efforts to recruit talent with intentionality. “That sums up our issues,” Angelopulos offers.

Heidi LaSalata headshot‘[DEI] is a business necessity, an ethical necessity and an employee-engagement necessity.’ Heidi LaSalata, AVI-SPL

Angelopulos and LaSalata spotlight the need for continuing education, while also articulating the imperative to reach out to the right sources in order to make a difference. (Unsurprisingly, female industry leaders whom CI previously interviewed also highlighted these strategies.) LaSalata acknowledges that working for AVI-SPL gives the team an advantage in recruiting, saying, “Being part of a larger company such as AVI-SPL puts us in a better position to hire more diverse talent because we have more job openings in more places at any time.”

Kaufmann seconds that point, adding, “Companies that have only 18 or 20 people find it harder to bring in the talent and develop it. Oftentimes, they hit the ground running and don’t have the dedicated resources.”

Nevertheless, all three hope that, with the NSCA DEI Action Council aligned with livingHR, association members can start to break down the barriers that prevail in our industry. “It’s OK to start even now,” Kaufmann remarks optimistically. He continues, “Our job as the Action Council is to get to the level of engagement that has been unseen so far.”

Looking Onwards

Turning to the question of future expectations, Angelopulos propounds that the way forward is through education. “In the last few years, we’ve educated employees on microaggressions and other aspects of inclusion in the workplace,” she states. Angelopulos then expresses her enthusiasm on the impact these education resources have on the demographics along with the increased diversity of the workforce. LaSalata agrees, adding, “While we have all these tactics, the long-term goal is to make [DEI] a natural part of the culture, where it’s intuitive and ingrained.”

Although the NSCA DEI Action Council is still in its nascent stages, Kaufmann hopes it can achieve meaningful goals in the long run. Already, he says, the council has 30 to 40 companies invested in the conversation. “We plan to continue to build the resources [with livingHR] and take the time to get people’s attention on these matters,” Kaufmann promises. He describes this as the process of enrichment, which it most definitely is. DEI enriches our work culture and experiences and our business ethics; even more importantly, it enriches our lives.

Bruce Kaufmann headshot‘Our job as the Action Council is to get to the level of engagement that has been unseen so far.’Bruce Kaufmann, NSCA DEI Action Council member

Going back to the alphabet motif, it is time we center our attention on those three letters — DEI — and bring them to the forefront of commercial AV. Certainly, there’s momentum building…a powerful snowball effect. It gives us reason to hope for change not just in pockets but also across the world. But only by making it part of regular conversations and spotlighting the need can we bring about the change that we seek.

As LaSalata puts it eloquently, we need to reach the stage where DEI is not an afterthought but, rather, is embedded in our culture.