Close this search box.

Is Increased Automation the Answer to Gender Diversity in BMS?

Exploring how a rise in connected and autonomous buildings might help drive diversity in the sector.

When considering the contributions of smart buildings to society, we often think of the positive environmental impact, or the “E” pillar of ESG. While this is certainly true and a meaningful and exciting frontier for our sector, there is a surprising social (or “S”) benefit to buildings becoming more autonomous: gender diversity.

At a time where women still only represent less than 3% of HVAC-R technicians in the United States, this might not seem like an obvious correlation. In fact, when I recently learned of this low statistic at an industry tradeshow, I was honestly stunned. Determined to dig in further, I began to ponder: what can we do to help increase gender diversity in our industry? At a time where we continue to experience significant labor shortages, it is abundantly clear that we would all benefit from a broader potential talent pool.

A few weeks later, in speaking with a former lawyer at a leading railway provider, the topic of connectivity and automation came up. She was explaining that, as much of what used to be done on trains/tracks could now be done remotely, the percentage of women in the industry was seeing a steady increase. This got me thinking: could the same concept be applied to the built space? Could buildings becoming increasingly autonomous have a positive effect on gender diversity in our industry?

The idea of equipment advances and automation increasing diversity is nothing new. The industrial revolution meant that women could increasingly participate in what had traditionally been viewed as heavy, male-dominated labor, with steady progress since then. So how does this translate into our industry? As controllers are now increasingly connected and manufacturers are making systems physically easier to install, careers in the sector are increasingly accessible from a physical perspective. Controllers marketed as “plug and play” mean easier commissioning, troubleshooting and beyond. Not only does this potentially allow for greater diversity from a gender perspective, but it can also help to decrease age-related limitations. A trade that may have otherwise deterred professionals from staying in the field into their later years may now be extended.

The connected nature of deployed BMS might also play a key role in increasing gender diversity. Gone are the days when every system issue required an on-site visit for troubleshooting. This flexibility to access buildings remotely not only reduces truck roll, but it also provides professionals with greater schedule flexibility. As women continue to be the primary caregivers in families across the Unites States, this means that the flexibility to work remotely may be an important factor in attracting and retaining more women to the field. Studies done regarding the impact of remote/hybrid work during the pandemic largely supports this hypothesis. Again, this increased diversity can extend beyond gender in that it can also allow those who have limited physical ability to support building performance in a way that does not require them to be on site for all support calls.

Finally, as our buildings become increasingly connected, our OT and IT worlds will deepen their intersection. As a result, a plurality of educational paths leading to our industry are now possible. We can continue to encourage women to join the classic HVAC route, and we can also proactively go and recruit recent STEM graduates, where we see a slow but steady increase in gender diversity across North American universities.

In returning to the concept of ESG, the direct link between smart buildings and the “E” is absolutely something to be celebrated. Our role in extending our mastery of energy management to that of emissions reductions will be key over the coming years. But how exciting is it that, by making our buildings more intelligent, we have a real opportunity to extend our ESG impact to include both tremendous environmental and social progress. The development and deployment of better technology can help us increase gender (as well as age and physical) diversity, as we simultaneously help our customers and communities.