Employees who feel a sense of belonging in the workplace are statistically more likely to become a competitive advantage for your company. It’s in our DNA. Human beings are genetically wired to belong and feel included.
In the workplace, an essential part of true allyship is to create a welcoming environment, where people of all backgrounds, identities, and sexual orientations feel like they belong and that their contributions matter. Key to becoming better allies in the construction industry is listening, learning, and being open to conversations that may be uncomfortable at first, but are absolutely necessary to break out of old, exclusionary mindsets.
Mistakes will inevitably be made along the way, but every stumble presents an opportunity to learn something new as the industry moves towards greater inclusivity.
“We are committed to diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DIBs) at Procore. We want to create a culture where everyone can find themselves authentically, have a sense of belonging, feel included and have this diverse, amazing workforce around us, but everyone’s on different journeys,” said Pat Wadors, Procore’s Chief Talent Officer (CHRO), who moderated a recent webinar panel discussion to delve into the role we all have to play in becoming true allies.
Joining Wadors on the panel were Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU School of Law; and Jorge Quezada, Vice President of Inclusive Diversity at Granite Construction.
One key to creating more inclusive workplaces is to use the power and privilege we as individuals have on behalf of a group to which we don’t belong. This is what effective allyship is all about. Yoshino points to a well-known study by Hekman and Johnson that shows allies are more effective in speaking up on workplace issues than the people who are most affected themselves.
“For example, if I as a man am speaking up for a colleague who’s a woman, I’m more likely to be heard, to be taken much more seriously, to not have a penalty of being seen as a whiner or a complainer,” explained Yoshino.
“There have been further studies that show even one effective ally is better than many, many either bystanders or average allies,” he added.
The fact of the matter is, no matter what groups you belong to, or your position in your company, sooner or later everybody needs allies in their corner.
“I don’t care if you’re a CEO who’s a cisgender, straight white male who’s head of a large construction firm, you are going to need allies. At some point you are going to lose your status privilege, age privilege, or health privilege, and you’re going to need to have people to vouch for you, to have your back, and support you. Everybody needs allies, this is an ecosystem in which everybody can benefit,” Yoshino said.
Quezada cited three main things that have guided him in his work in creating a better sense of belonging for employees at Granite Construction.
“The first one was we have to give the quietest person in the room a voice. We needed to make sure that people who felt different knew that they belonged. Finally, regardless of tenure, regardless of experience, we needed to make sure that people truly understood that we appreciated their contribution,” he said.
When it comes to allyship in construction, there’s sometimes an extra layer of challenge because often it’s not an environment where people feel free to discuss these issues as openly as some other industries. As a result, many in construction are at a loss for where to start to actively participate in allyship.
“We constantly need to have this awareness where we’re learning. We have to find out what is the first step we need to do in order to participate,” said Quezada.
“People come to this work very indifferent about it. They have their perceptions about what diversity and inclusion means. Sometimes they don’t want to get engaged because they were told that you don’t talk about politics or religion. What you want to do is go from a place of indifference to a place of learning, and in creating awareness to have intent. When you take that intent and create initiative for action, ultimately what you want to do is create an impact so the environment is set up so anyone can step into it and have a conversation where they have that courage to say something,” he said.
In order to effectively usher in a climate of inclusiveness in construction, a shift in mindset is needed. Many people default to a fixed mindset, in which they feel their abilities are unchangeable. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is when someone views their skills to be capable of improvement or change.
“I think the reason we haven’t adopted a growth mindset around diversity and inclusion is because the costs of error are so high. If I make a mistake in diversity and inclusion work, I’m suddenly a bad person or risk being seen as biased, a bigot, or someone who should not be accepted in polite company. It’s less the indifference that I worry about than the fear factor where people are so terrified of saying the wrong thing that they just keep their mouth shut and won’t even engage in allyship,” Yoshino said.
Construction is facing an ongoing talent shortage, so fostering a work environment where everyone feels included, heard, and appreciated is not just the right thing to do, it has a direct impact on a company’s talent pipeline.
“We also have to be very cognizant of the inclusion side of it, and the outcomes we want like belonging, equity, and access. Absent that, you’re going to have a vicious cycle of recruitment and people leaving because the environment is not there for them to stay,” said Quezada.
“At Granite, one thing that came to light for me is we needed to be singing out of the same hymn book, so to speak. We wanted people to be inclusive, we wanted to create a sense of belonging, where people feel respected, and seen for who they are as individuals. The word ‘inclusion’ has ‘us’ right in the middle of it. We have to be mindful of that. Then inclusion is making that mix work,” he said.
Of course, not all allyship is created equal. Construction companies must be aware that their efforts around diversity and inclusion are authentic, and not simply driven by appearances.
“Inauthentic forms of allyship go more towards what we call performative or optical allyship, which is to say, allyship that isn’t real or from the heart and driven by values, but rather is driven by virtue-signaling behavior,” said Yoshino.
To help distinguish between real and phony allyship, Yoshino suggests asking yourself whether you’d be making the same efforts to be inclusive if nobody was looking.
“If you do that gut check and say ‘I would never do this if people weren’t watching and giving me cookies’, you probably need to rethink whether your allyship is being done in good faith.”
Becoming better allies, and fostering a sense of belonging in construction will require change, and some difficult conversations. But all progress starts with disruption of the status quo, and the hurdles we must clear on the road to a more inclusive environment will ultimately pay dividends throughout the industry.
As for concrete actions individuals can do right now to become allies and create a culture of belonging in construction, here are three tips to orient your thinking:
1. Lead with curiosity and listen to build empathy
Individuals are the sum total of their life experiences, personal beliefs, and cultural values. No group is a monolith, and overgeneralizing strips away individual perceptions. Instead of listening to respond, listen to understand.
2. Take action
Addressing injustices and inequality must be tackled head-on. There’s no wrong place to start when it comes to educating yourself on these and other adjacent topics. There are ample resources out there today across a variety of media to take that all-important first step, including Project Implicit, where you can self-assess and uncover your own unconscious biases.
3. If you see injustice or inequality, say something–even if it’s uncomfortable.
Becoming a better ally doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process that requires continuous education and a re-molding of our deeply-ingrained perceptions. If you find conversations about these topics uncomfortable, reflect on why, and seek understanding by talking to others whose perspective is different than yours.
For additional information and tips on becoming a better ally check out A Guide to Allyship for Racial Equality.