Designing for diversity and inclusion – a look at Hatch’s “Diverse & Inclusive Design” initiative
By Anthony Capkun
October 24, 2023 – A few years ago, I interviewed then-head of the Canadian Renewable Energy Association, Robert Hornung, and asked him for some clarification: What do we mean when we say energy is “renewable” versus “green”?
(In case you’re wondering, Hornung answered that renewable energy relies on resources that are naturally replenished on a human timescale.)
To my mind, proper definitions lead to clarity; when everyone speaks the same language then, by default, we should be able to better understand one another.
Earlier this year, Hatch’s Beth Buckmaster—director, Client and Stakeholder Relations (Power)—told me about a new initiative at her company called “Diverse & Inclusive Design”. Like the CanREA example above, I wanted to delve into this concept further. What does it mean to design an inclusive space?
Defining the approach
Laura Twigge-Molecey, Hatch’s managing director, Transportation, explains it is an approach to design that, ultimately, speaks directly to the diversity of the client and its workforce, and the communities in which they operate.
“A lot of the research has been done on making things like office spaces, scissors, cars and so on more inclusive, but what about when we design a power plant, or a steel plant or a bridge? There really aren’t any regulations about accommodations that should be made, and so we want our project teams to think about inclusion for those applications, too,” explains Twigge-Molecey.
Designing for inclusion is a focused effort rather than something left to chance. It starts with a lot of questions and fact-finding to help clients prioritize elements of the design.
For example, a client may have a goal of achieving a 40% female workforce over the next 10 years. In the design stages of a new facility, however, that same client may not have considered actually having enough restrooms to account for 40% females.
“And that’s a very cheap modification to make before it’s built,” Twigge-Molecey confirms.
Buckmaster raises another example.
“Think about a jobsite… a tool crib. One element that could make things more inclusive—not just for women, but also for an aging workforce—is to suspend tools from the ceiling,” Buckmaster says. “People wouldn’t have to pick up heavy tools from the floor. Because they’re hanging from the ceiling, it’s easy for workers to just reach up, grab the tool they need, and get the job done.”
Social and cultural practices
What about social or cultural aspects, like religion or traditional practices? That, too, is covered under Hatch’s D&I design.
“We use a guide that helps us think of all the possible considerations,” Twigge-Molecey says. “For example, we carried out a design for a First Nation community that incorporated their need for a specific kitchen where they could cook their traditional meals, accommodating for their hunting practices.”
That guide lists 16 overarching workforce considerations, ranging from age and gender to neurodiversity.
“Let’s say age is an important consideration for the design,” Buckmaster says. “Our engineers can check the list and conclude ‘Okay, we’re designing for age, so here are a number of things that we can design to make it more inclusive and should consider’.”
“The main factor is to identify all the right stakeholders and engage them early,” Twigge-Molecey says.
Facilities all over the world are often designed around a 6-ft man as the default occupant, but should they be?
“While designing a plant in Latin America, the client told us that the workforce is not 6-feet tall—neither male nor female—so why design to a default that doesn’t make sense in that location?” Twigge-Molecey asks.
So Hatch designed the plant based on people’s sizes in that region, rather than some arbitrary default, making sure that ceilings were high enough so no one was going to bang their head, but low enough that they could still reach everything.
The idea is conceived
But when did Hatch’s mindset turn into a stated mission?
“It started a few years ago when a client asked me about how we approach diversity and inclusion in our design,” Twigge-Molecey recounts. “I was on Hatch’s D&I steering committee at that time and, truth be told, the question stumped me.”
“So I started thinking about it. Then I put together some ideas and a task force, and presented it to our board. And they all said, ‘Yes, we’re going to do this’,” she concludes.
It takes time to roll out such a massive initiative across a company of 10,000, but “we’re really getting going”.
One of the directions in which they are going is providing consultation/auditing of an existing facility with inclusion in mind.
“We come and look at your facility and make recommendations on how you can easily make some modifications to create a more inclusive space,” says Twigge-Molecey proudly.
“Right now, we’re really focused on rolling this out throughout the company, and our colleagues are asking important and relevant questions,” she continues. “But it’s a journey. It’s easy to put together a bunch of documents and tell everyone they have to use them, but changing people’s habits… that takes time.”
Twigge-Molecey likens this mindset transformation to that of safety considerations. “Whenever we design anything, we automatically consider ‘Is this safe?’ Similarly, we want to get everyone automatically thinking ‘Is this inclusive?’.”
Subtrades, too, can show leadership in the D&I realm.
“As an electrical contractor, you’re following a set of drawings and specs. But give some thought to the people who will be using that space. Are any among them colour-blind, or perhaps using a wheelchair? If so, and the design doesn’t take them into consideration, bring it up. Ask the question.”
“All the modelling that Laura and her team undertook shows a positive ROI for inclusive design,” Buckmaster says. “So not only are we making spaces more inclusive, it’s just good business.”
Learn more about Hatch’s Diverse and Inclusive Design service.