Building the Foundation for Inclusion Where Everyone can Thrive

Phil Puccio

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are topics that come up in many industries. While construction is no exception, it is unique in its needs and opportunities. 

Helping lead DEI efforts in the construction industry is a consortium made up of a half-dozen general contractors. Founded in 2020, the “Time for Change” consortium was created to raise awareness and identify ways to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. One of the group’s largest efforts to date, the first Construction Inclusion Week, kicks off Oct. 18 to Oct. 22. 

Six “Time for Change” consortium members recently came together at Groundbreak 2021, Procore’s annual construction technology conference, to discuss the benefits, challenges, and first steps toward building a workplace where every individual can thrive. 

Groundbreak’s Building the Foundation for Inclusion session was moderated by Clark Construction’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Soledad Almaraz Kim, who kicked it off with an aspiration:

“Together, we have the opportunity to encourage a united construction industry where diversity is celebrated and embraced, inclusion is fostered, and equity is apparent.”

Below are some key takeaways:

Redefining safety

The field of construction, one of the most dangerous to work in, has an added level of importance to its everyday operations since matters of safety are paramount on any job site.

“Think about safety and the innate connection between physical safety and psychological safety,” said DPR Construction’s global DEI leader Stacee Barkley. “Distraction or lack of focus, related to inclusion and belonging, can have irrevocable consequences on a job site. The understanding that psychological safety is interconnected with and as important as physical safety is extremely compelling and incredibly important.”

More than in almost any other industry, a sense of belonging and camaraderie in a construction team can positively affect physical safety. Looking out for one another usually comes naturally to people in this industry, which is why it is so important to recognize the potential issues in not addressing workplace friction — and the potential benefits of making sure everyone feels truly included.

Know where to start, even if it’s from scratch

It can be difficult to know where to begin when having to start addressing DEI in your organization. As Kamecia Mason, Vice President of DEI at McCarthy, explains, that’s totally normal, and your best move is to honestly evaluate where you are right now.

“The best place to start is, absolutely, where you are. Understanding your current state is critical to the work that is ahead of you,” she explained. “Take that pause to assess your program if you have one, but if you’re starting from scratch, start doing that baseline data collecting. Almost all of us do some form of employee engagement survey. Many of those have questions that are related to diversity, equity, inclusion, or belonging. Really understanding what those data points are and how you would like to move the needle is a great place to start.”

It’s equally important not to take on too much at once—and risk not accomplishing any of it. Work it into your existing goals, and it may surprise you how naturally change happens.

“This is a journey—we can take our time to get there,” Mason continued. “Make sure that whatever goals you set from a DEI perspective align with your core values, your mission, and your core business purpose. You don’t want to disconnect those things. The more you link your goals and opportunities to that, the more likely you are to get the engagement of all of your employees, from your leadership all the way to your brand new intern stepping into the workplace for the first time.”

Follow the numbers

Diversity, equity and inclusion may be abstract concepts, but they can be measured indirectly. Since you can measure them, you can measure progress as well.

“It’s important to have metrics in place,” explains Joffrey Wilson, Director of DEI at Mortenson. “Then we can understand what progress you are or aren’t making. Regarding diversity, we tend to look at workforce composition, driven by hiring and turnover of various groups. When it comes to equity, one of the things you need to look at to measure your progress and effectiveness is whether people are paid and whether they advance through the organization, in similar ways, not driven by one’s ethnicity or one’s gender.

“The last thing I’d share is that to understand effectiveness. It’s really important to listen to your employees,” he added. 

Wilson recommends setting up listening sessions where they can sound off on what’s working and not working. There are tools and companies out there that can aid your company in all this, and it’s up to you in your self-assessment to decide if that’s appropriate.

Kavon McAdams, inclusion program manager at Gilbane, had a variety of related suggestions and resources ready to deploy for Construction Inclusion Week.

“We realize that all of us are at different spaces or spots on this diversity, equity and inclusion journey,” she said. “There are discussions, toolbox talks, and table talks that can be facilitated by anyone within your organization, anyone on the project team, whether it’s a superintendent, whether it’s a foreman, whomever. Subject matter experts are not going to be necessary to guide these discussions.”

Among the resources offered on the CIW website are discussion guides for at-home resources and activities that can be done and completed at home to continue these discussions with  family members. McAdams noted that the home environment is as important an influence on biases and learning as one’s work life.

Allyship is active

Being an ally individually is as complex a notion as being inclusive organizationally. Lisa Moving, Vice President of DEI for Turner Construction, explains that confusion is understandable.

“When we look back, the industry has been historically homogenous throughout the years — when people think of construction sites, it tends to be this generalized few of this good old boys’ club — that’s a stereotype we’re definitely looking to shift,” Moving said. “And I can tell you, it’s definitely shifting and changing for the better. We have a different generation coming into the workplace and their expectations and tolerance levels are so different. As an industry, if we want to keep pace with our evolving landscape, we have to change the way we do things.”

Part of that change is being an active ally. That means thinking about privilege, power, and what you do with it.

“You don’t necessarily have to be in a position of power to be an ally. As long as you’re in a position to effect change, you have an opportunity to advocate on someone’s behalf and use your voice,” said Moving.

Getting past the fear of having uncomfortable conversations is important.

“It’s a whole different language now from what we’re accustomed to, or white male leaders may feel discomfort, especially when you hear the word privilege,” added Moving.

It may be undoubtedly uncomfortable in some ways to engage with these ideas. However, remember that the end goal is — especially in this industry — constructive.

Barkley put this tough topic into an inviting metaphor.

“The DEI journey is about all of us participating actively. It’s not about taking a pie and cutting it up into smaller pieces. It really is about baking a bigger pie that all of us can eat,” she said. 

“I’m not diverse from you, I’m diverse like you. We all have things that make up who we are as individuals, and we bring that to our respective organizations. With that in mind, DEI strategy needs to be holistic, taking into consideration the audience, communication mechanisms, accessibility, and the nuances of a particular work environment.”

To learn more about Construction Inclusion Week which kicks off Oct. 18, be sure to visit their website.

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