Construction is such a competitive business, it’s easy to be swept up in efficiency, in results, in getting the job done with less because of the tight margins. It serves well to remember that a business is made up of its people, and so making sure each member of the team feels safe and welcome can truly benefit an organization, affecting the bottom line positively.
Valerie Jackson, who previously led Global Inclusion and Diversity at Procore, recently led a Groundbreak 2020 breakout discussion entitled “Leading Inclusively: 10 Things You Can Do to Promote Inclusion & Diversity at Your Company”. Panelists Michele Murphy, Director of the Chicago office for Shawmut Design and co-chair of Shawmut’s The Diversity Leadership Council, and Doctor Giovanna Brasfield, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion of Flatiron Construction sat down with Jackson to discuss some strategies that business owners can implement to improve diversity and inclusion within their operations.
Of course, leading inclusively has inherent benefits – building toward a better future by ensuring teammates feel welcome is a reward on its own. But hearing all the voices in the room, however, can also impact the success of a business. Recent research suggests that teams with inclusive leaders consider themselves high performing and better decision-makers. They also work better together. Whether or not inclusivity programs have been built into a company’s framework, individual leaders can work to become more welcoming to different points of view.
How to Become More Inclusive
For some leaders, the concept of inclusivity might be completely foreign. Others may feel as though they’re already doing all they can to encourage open communication between team members and their leaders. Murphy and Brasfield suggest a few solid and definable starting points to help build trust among team members.
Leadership can sometimes be interpreted as authoritative, but inclusivity requires them to consider input from other sources. According to Brasfield, a manager must learn to listen with openness—without thought or judgment—in order to truly take in different points of view. “From there, you’ll get a sense of being empathetic within your thinking and listening.”
Murphy has adjusted her communication style to build psychological safety, which she defines as “a shared belief among a team that everybody feels safe enough to take some interpersonal risks.” She explained it can be achieved by avoiding blame and approaching conflict collaboratively instead of combatively.
“Adapt and flex your behavior to be able to meet others where they are. The more you learn about where they’re coming from, the more empathetic and approachable you can be. Make your employees feel valued,” Murphy said.
Psychological safety gives employees tools to have uncomfortable conversations with the team and air any concerns they might have, Brasfield said. It can also lead to innovation, as each person feels confident to suggest improvements or share new ideas.
“If someone feels comfortable speaking up about how we can do something better, they’ll also feel comfortable speaking up about how we can do something more safely,” Jackson said.
Start by Listening
One of Brasfield’s strategies has been to develop a listening tour, a town hall-style airing session, during which employees can express their thoughts, concerns, and ideas. “The beautiful part about it, it wasn’t just reactionary,” she said. “Now we’re taking that feedback and figuring out how we can really develop more programs.”
Both listening and psychological safety allow for honest and open communication between team members—a central tenet of an inclusive space. Trust builds when leaders take in feedback and concerns from team members and actively try to improve.
Getting started doesn’t have to be overwhelming, either.
“Just start,” Brasfield said. “There are so many different resources. There are so many organizations that are already within the conversation, such as Procore, that are leading the way in talking about diversity and inclusion.”
By keeping an open mind to try out different communication styles and remaining flexible enough to implement suggestions and strategies from the team, leaders can become more open and inclusive immediately and on a daily basis.
“We always have the opportunity to impact and touch someone else through our behaviors, directly or indirectly,” Jackson said.