Centering People and DEI in Civil Engineering Research

Youtube Link


Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are essential for a modern workforce and indicators of the development and sustainability of an industry. Construction is yet to be considered a fully diverse, equitable, and inclusive industry sector (Sang and Powell 2012) due to pervasive structural prejudices and unconscious biases.  The construction workforce is dominated by men; in the US, women make up only 1/10 of the overall construction workforce (CPWR 2018) even though 50.8% of the US population are females and 21.9% of civil engineering bachelor’s degrees in the US were earned by females over the last two decades (Hickey and Cui 2020). These statistics demonstrate the lack of gender equality within the construction industry (Navarro-Astor et al. 2017). 

Furthermore, challenges related to masculinity, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, language, age, and other stereotypes have negatively impacted the experience of underrepresented groups working within the construction industry. With the high turnover rate and increased labor shortage across different work classifications, construction organizations must overcome the aforementioned challenges and to achieve and sustain a safe, productive, and inclusive work environment. Inclusion is essential at work and results in everyone having the opportunity to fully apply themselves, contribute to the success of the company, and be valued for their specific skills, experience, and vision. Further, efforts towards inclusion can no longer be relegated to human resources. Overcoming existing barriers and creating equitable work environments can help the construction industry attract and retain skilled members of the workforce and achieve both long- and short-term gains that include serving diverse communities, delivering innovative solutions for customers, and reducing costs.

During the presentation, Dr. Simmons will discuss her funded interdisciplinary construction engineering and management research which centers people across three themes:  DEI, interactions between humans and technology, and competency development via education and training.  She will also describe her motivation for this work from her perspective as an African-American woman with decades of experience in the construction industry.  


Denise R. Simmons, Ph.D., PE, PMP, LEED-AP is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida. She has over ten years of construction and civil engineering experience working for energy companies and as a project management consultant; nearly 15 years of experience in academia; and extensive experience leading and conducting multi-institutional, workforce-related research and outreach. She is a leader in research investigating professional formation of civil engineers, with an increasing focus on project managers and the practical strategies that transform and sustain inclusive and productive organizations. Dr. Simmons is concerned first about the human condition and driven and inspired by what a civil engineering or construction organization can achieve by attending to the needs of its people. While overseeing the Simmons Research Lab, her current research focuses on three areas: diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); interactions between humans and technology; and competency development via education and training. Dr. Simmons’ research has included a major emphasis on the leadership development of civil engineering and construction professionals, and she was the principal investigator of an NSF-funded grant to explore how leadership has been defined, developed, and measured in the fields of engineering and construction.  

Dr. Simmons has garnered more than $4M in federal funding and authored 67 refereed publications. She has delivered 20 platform presentations at international, national, regional, and local conferences and meetings, and has no less than 33 invited/keynote presentations. In 2019, she was inducted into the Thomas Green Clemson Academy and was the recipient of Clemson University’s Glenn Department of Civil Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award.  She enjoys listening to jazz music, traveling, and kayaking. 


CPWR (The Center to Protect Workers’ Rights). 2018. The construction chart book: The US construction industry and its workers. 6th ed. Silver Spring, MD: CPWR.  

Hickey, P. J., and Q. Cui. 2020. “Gender diversity in US construction industry leaders.” J. Manage. Eng. 36 (5): 04020069.  

Navarro-Astor, E., M. Román-Onsalo, and M. Infante-Perea. 2017.“Women’s career development in the construction industry across 15 years: Main barriers.” J. Eng. Des. Technol. 15 (2): 199–221.  

Sang, K., and A. Powell. 2012. “Equality, diversity, inclusion and work-life balance in construction.” In Human resource management in construction: Critical perspectives, edited by A. Dainty and M. Loosemore, 163–196. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.