Think Like a Millennial: Build a More Mission-Driven, Diverse Culture

“You can’t offer a job from the past. Nobody will come. You have to offer a job of the future.” 

This was the salient advice futurist Nancy Giordano, keynote speaker at Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Diversity & Inclusion Summit, shared with an audience of industry leaders eager to stay ahead of near-desperate workforce shortages. Post session, Giordano participated in a construction-focused Q&A with ABC’s Diversity Committee Chair Larry Lopez, president of Baltimore-based Green JobWorks, diving into the ever-present human resources question: How do we work better with—and soon for—millennials?

Giordano encouraged the audience at the summit, held in June in Washington, D.C., to consider the meaning of diversity from the perspective of technological influences, sustainability, economics and untapped workforce capacity.  

Embrace the New
According to Gallup, nearly 70 percent of people are not engaged with their work. “We could worry about how to hold onto a future of work, but according to statistics, people may not even like their work as it now is,” Giordano said. “Change is scary, and this is why the industry moves very slowly.” 

To speed it up, she says, culture needs to catch up to current technology—and those with the strongest sense of culture and collaboration will benefit from workplace trends such as remote work that draw a new host of candidates. 

“The technology that is in the construction industry offers us an awesome opportunity. It now allows us to democratize talent. For example, now we don’t have to hire a large male to operate a crane; a woman or a remote worker can operate it. Workers can learn project management software, how to fly a drone or perform financial modeling,” she says. 

And for a woman considering a career in construction: “These are technologies and these are skills that I can transfer from this industry to another industry. I’m not just learning something as a trade. I’m learning something that will be part of the whole future of work. That’s an exciting invitation for me.”

The businesses that are innovating across the value chain, and taking big risks, are the ones that win.

“To change your strategy, you have to change how you think about your work. We are so focused on the bottom line and quarterly earnings reports. This holds back innovation, it holds back the ways you take care of people, and it creates a stranglehold on all the things that the future is asking humanity to have. The brands that are still holding their own continue to think about their work in terms of not just what they can extract, but the value that they can create—what they can offer. That’s a shift.”

Diversity Pays
Giordano quoted statistics from Bersin by Deloitte revealing that organizations with inclusive, diverse cultures are six times more likely to be innovative, six times more likely to anticipate change and respond effectively, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets. 

While 71 percent of companies will say they want to do that, only 12 percent of organizations have actually gotten there. 

“It is not easy. When you look at companies built with diverse cultures, built to be inclusive—not just inviting you to the dance but inviting you to dance—they have invested a lot of time and energy to figure out how to do it well. It’s not like you turn it on with a button.”

But by bringing personnel with a mix of perspectives and backgrounds, a company changes its ability to be proactive, nimble and ready to grow. 

To address low interest in the industry, Giordano recommends creating a good story for others—whether that’s through schools or communities. “We need to talk about how cool this industry is and why everyone should jump aboard. The construction training is available to create citizens of the future. The idea is to think critically about the work that we do and how to open it up to more people.” 

What Do Millennials Want?
Frankly speaking, Giordano says that the physical systems of the workplace are highly incongruent with how digital natives (i.e., millennials and post-millennials) think, socialize, learn and navigate environments. 

“Will the office still exist? Yes. But we don’t just do our work between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. anymore. We do our work all of the time. So if you ask a young person to work more hours, you need to give some of that time back. You have to be more flexible. If you give them the responsibility and the respect, I promise they will show up and give you something back that’s really valuable,” she said. 

Millennials get a bad rap, and it’s undeserved. “Part of it is that we had been trying to fit them into a structure that worked in the 1980s and 1990s that isn’t necessarily working now. It’s worth the effort to adapt. They are really creative, they really care, and they collaborate better than anyone. They want to be purpose driven. They want to be mission driven. So, they want your work to be presented that way.”

Providing incentives and respect will pay off almost immediately, she said.  

“The social contract around work has changed. They’ve seen their parents struggle through things and have decided that is not a life they want. They are building much more flexible lives. So how do we build work that allows for that flexibility?”

Giordano advocates for peer-based co-mentorship programs that remove the negativity of working side by side with one another. “We must stop vilifying the other generation,” she said. 

Just Try
It’s important to start somewhere, even if it’s unfamiliar territory.

“Commit to trying things and not worrying if everything fails. There’s this idea that if you screw it up, you let everyone down. And I would argue that those who don’t try something new are letting people down, including shareholders.” 


Lauren Pinch is editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email pinch@abc.org. 


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