Setting up an IDEA Committee to Encourage Progress

By Margaret McCarthy and Kara Keleher

idea logo

Weston & Sampson, a 700+ employee environmental and engineering consulting firm based in Reading, Mass., has recognized that we have an opportunity to make substantive and meaningful progress when it comes to societal justice and equity. It was in that light that, in 2020, we created a dedicated Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team that we termed internally the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Council.

We engaged an outside consultant to help us complete a gap analysis on our DEI efforts and develop a strategic plan to help us move forward. Our resulting action plan is a blueprint to further foster a sense of belonging, expand our diverse business development opportunities, enhance our existing relationships with diverse project partners and subconsultants, and seek out projects that will benefit underrepresented populations.

Corporate Commitment

Our leadership team has made a significant commitment to DEI and encourages all staff to join the IDEA Action Committee or any of several subcommittees to move our action plan forward. Attendees are given the time needed, using a dedicated timesheet code, to learn from these events and celebrate our IDEA program through both formal and informal get togethers, social interactions, and outside events and training.

Developing an Action Plan

At the onset, several employees gathered with our consultant to discuss developing an action plan. The action items from that session were separated into three phases. Phase I included designing, developing, and updating the committee’s mission and vision statements. Phase II included drafting the action plan, and Phase III included developing external facing messaging.

Specific Instances or Opportunities

Under IDEA, we set up several committees for individuals to contribute to, celebrate, and broaden awareness around DEI, specifically:

  1. Action Committee
  2. Trainings, Activities, and Programming (TAP) Subcommittee
  3. Communications Subcommittee
  4. Steering Subcommittee
  5. Talent Retention & Recruiting Subcommittee
  6. Culture Subcommittee
  7. Finance Subcommittee
  8. Employee Recruitment and Retention Efforts

Our employee recruitment efforts include:

  • Developing a strategic plan for recruiting and obtaining diverse talent
  • Conducting interviews with relatable interviewers
  • Recruiting diverse members for our board of directors

Our employee retention plans include ensuring fully transparent, clearly communicated expectations around promotion policies and practices and conducting exit interviews to identify themes around reasons for departure.

External Efforts

Weston & Sampson empowers our employees to direct project-related spending through disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs) and other diverse vendors and partners. We also engage with residents and project stakeholders, including local small businesses, minority populations, and environmental justice communities and gateway cities. We also embrace our expanding network of certified diverse vendors (e.g., MBE, WBE, SDVOBE, LGBTBE firms, etc.).

Accomplishments Thus Far

In 2021, Weston & Sampson published our IDEA Mission and Executive Summary and adopted our IDEA Action Plan. We also conducted four company-wide IDEA training sessions, created a dedicated internal SharePoint page and a monthly IDEA newsletter, started a book club and a movie club, and held several social events, in addition to many employees participating in external DEI conferences on their own.

2022 Goals and Beyond

Our 2022 goals include conducting quarterly training, developing a self-guided curriculum, and continuing to build IDEA awareness throughout the firm. We are also developing a Talent Management Plan and project delivery standard operating procedures (SOPs), establishing DEI-centric financial metrics, and then benchmarking those metrics.

In 2023 and beyond, we have set goals to keep us moving forward. We believe that working toward and achieving our goals of metrics, vendor diversity, internal and external transparency, and incorporating IDEA into the project lifecycle will make us a better employer and member of the communities where we live and work.

Margaret McCarthy, PE is a vice president and principal at Weston & Sampson in the Portsmouth, N.H. office.
Kara Keleher, PE, ENV SP is senior team leader in the firm’s Reading, Mass. office.

This article was originally published in High Profile, September 2022.

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