Workforce

Everyone Everywhere All at Once

Winners of ABC’s 2021 National IDE Excellence Awards describe the importance of inclusion, diversity and equity for the construction industry.
By Rachel E. Pelovitz
August 4, 2022
Topics
Workforce

Inclusion, diversity and equity (IDE) have become increasingly important to the construction industry, especially since the advent of the global pandemic, when working from home meant employees’ home lives came to the forefront as they transformed personal spaces into workspaces. With a workforce shortage already straining the industry, implementing an IDE program is an area where construction can’t afford to fall short. Companies need to cater to a new generation of workers—and that means appealing to them as individuals and tailoring benefits to their needs.

Associated Builders and Contractors recognizes organizations demonstrating exemplary IDE leadership with its annual National Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Excellence Awards program. Recently, ABC presented the 2021 National IDE Excellence Awards to Helix Electric in the Subcontractor category; Hensel Phelps in the General Contractor (over $33 million) category; Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo in the Associate category; and United Rentals Inc. in the Supplier category.

CE spoke with representatives from each of the winning companies about how to seamlessly incorporate IDE programs into your culture, why these initiatives are important and what the industry still needs to improve in order to compete in a modern workforce. Their responses are presented below.

KIMBERLY WARD

Human Resource Business Partner, Helix Electric, Manassas, Virginia

“IDE” means the variance of people from different backgrounds, race and ethnicities. It provides employees an equal opportunity for advancement, salary and inclusivity.

IDE is extremely important to this industry, because for so long it has been a “good ol’ boys club.” We need to continue to grow and stretch in many ways. Construction falls short with both equity and inclusion. As an industry, I believe a lot of the focus is geared toward bringing minorities into the trades, but we lack in career development and equal opportunity for advancement. If people don’t have any representation in various positions throughout the company, it lacks the inclusivity that is truly needed.

The biggest challenge when implementing IDE initiatives is time! You don’t want to rush through. It takes time to develop, engage the workforce and follow through on proposed goals. Embracing IDE not only shows the steps our industry has taken, but it also shows where it is heading. My hope is that Helix takes charge and leads the way within the construction industry.

Helix does an amazing job with introducing opportunities to all. Diversity and inclusion at Helix is as important as any other C-level function in the company. Social responsibility and equal opportunities are part of our vision. We believe that talent and results can come from anyone, regardless of their race, sex, gender, religion or background. We nurture equal opportunities.

Our programs include:

  • Quarterly Women in Construction meetings
  • Free, in-person English courses
  • Celebrating cultural awareness months, such as Deaf Awareness, Pride, Black History, Latino Heritage, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, etc.
  • High-school engagement opportunities

As a diverse leader, it is my ambition to develop Helix’s culture for success. I strongly believe that all people should be provided with opportunities, education and recognition to achieve their highest potential. I thrive on ensuring employees’ wellness is achieved, both mentally and physically, by developing advanced career opportunities, engagement events and community outreach programs. My hope is that there will be more minority leaders in the future that can be a source of empowerment to others within this trade.

BRAD D. LEWIS

Corporate Director of Supplier Diversity, Hensel Phelps, Tysons Corner, Virginia

When you look at the world today, it’s clear that diversity, equity and inclusion is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It’s no secret that construction has been a predominantly white, male-dominated industry. The world is changing, and the construction industry needs to change with it. Diversity and inclusion are important to more and more clients. It’s becoming part of contract award criteria for many more opportunities. The construction industry needs to realize that inclusivity doesn’t exclude anyone—there are opportunities for everyone. We need to continue to work together to change, support and grow the entire industry.

There are always going to be people and business owners that are not as receptive to change. What we need to do is keep an open mind and take advantage of any opportunity to educate. We need to help others understand why IDE is positive and not negative, especially in the construction industry. This education needs to be done in a manner that’s not combative. I’d be naive to think that everyone is going to get it, but over time, we will help others understand why IDE will benefit their businesses and keep them from getting stagnant.

Being a diverse and inclusive organization is a huge way we can help to alleviate shortages of employees in the trades. Embracing diversity, equity and inclusion opens more opportunities for all that are qualified. Clients that believe in IDE want to work with partners that demonstrate IDE and understand the importance. That equals market-sector growth and profitability for us.

To me, it feels like this award belongs with Hensel Phelps. We want to be a leader for the industry and demonstrate how to be a diverse, inclusive and equitable organization. We have established DEIc (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and community) forums in each of our business units. The forums allow us to host conversations that are specific to their area and demographics. As a group, the forum can identify their unique challenges and come up with ways to address them.

On a corporate level, we look for commonalities and share ideas which can make a positive impact across our entire organization. New for 2022, our Building Together campaign involves all of our DEIc forum leaders sharing stories of our people from a diversity and inclusion perspective. This campaign helps us come together and grow as an organization.

The construction industry is very good at adapting. It has recognized the need for IDE and is finding ways to be more inclusive, equitable and diverse. Do your research. Join the community. Get to know other individuals in the IDE space in your market. Join organizations such as ABC to see what they’re doing. Learn how you can support the growth of diversity programs in our industry and learn best practices that you can implement within your organizations. Set goals that are in line with what leadership wants and how they want to grow.

At the end of the day, we all have our responsibilities and a job we need to do. Allowing people to be their true selves at work helps them be more effective and engaged. Building and supporting our people is important to Hensel Phelps. In return, our people give us their best selves every day. Our project teams, our employees and our executives have all rallied around the commitment to have a diverse and inclusive organization. I can see the impact my team and I are having on our organization and the industry. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my career.

THOMAS LENZ, Partner, Pasadena Office

ELIZABETH ZAMORA-MEJIA, Partner, Cerritos Office

Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, Cerritos, California

Diversity, equity and inclusion are concepts embedded in who we are. As our firm has grown to over 200 attorneys across California, we are proud to have a wide range of people and skill sets serving our clients in innumerable ways. Looking through the IDE lens helps to reflect who we are and enhances awareness of the many skills and perspectives we bring to the table for our clients.

IDE is important to the construction industry, and to the legal industry, because the variety of skills, perspectives and points of view make an organization more well-rounded, stronger and relevant to the customers it serves.

Construction in the United States has historically been dominated by males and is an industry where cultural and other diversity may be overlooked. The construction workforce has a wide range of cultures, languages and talents. By raising awareness of IDE, in tandem with pursuing empowerment and inclusion, employers in the construction industry may be better able to acknowledge those in the workforce, to consider and empower future leaders and to build an inclusive environment that strengthens and enlivens an organization without ever compromising on quality and merit.

Sometimes, people perceive IDE as compromising quality and skill or imposing quotas. There are roadblocks in thinking that emphasis on culture, color or otherwise limits or stops consideration of merit. It is important to stick to qualifications and skills that make you productive and successful. At the same time, being open-minded and inclusive so that opportunities and success are available to all who want to pursue them is critical.

Our firm puts on a number of IDE-focused events and initiatives that benefit our employees and community. For example, we raise awareness of our employees’ cultures and backgrounds by sharing educational resources and hosting outside speakers and panels in recognition of Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Pride Month. In addition, for several years now, we have hosted a unique “Lawyer for a Day” event, which brings students from a local school to hear from lawyers and others about the work that goes on in a law firm and to help students understand the opportunities available to them on their career path regardless of who they are or what may be in their backgrounds. The women’s committee has also hosted panels where successful women in law share their insights, challenges and obstacles overcome in their professional journey. All of these initiatives are aimed at recognizing that each of our employees brings skill and perspective to the table, which makes us a better, stronger law firm and helps us serve our clients more effectively.

Construction has proven time and again to be an industry in which people from all walks of life can succeed, building careers, companies, livelihoods and, in many instances, rebuilding lives. Construction has enabled people who are not college-bound to develop skills and an identity linked to success and merit-based achievement. Considering that many of those who have succeeded in the industry are increasingly minorities, people of color, women and others, construction is providing an example for other industries.

KACIE PELTIER

Director of Inclusion and Diversity, United Rentals Inc., Stamford, Connecticut

IDE means having an environment that allows individuals from a wide range of cultures, backgrounds, experiences and perspectives to thrive. This includes celebrating and leveraging a variety of skill sets, treating everyone fairly and respectfully in addition to giving everyone access to opportunities and resources that allow them to contribute fully to the organization’s success.

With almost 21,000 employees and more than 1,200 locations throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, diversity and inclusion practices vary by location for United Rentals. We touch so many cultures and communities. The norm for people in Texas is very different than the norm in Quebec. We address microcultures within our company culture because it’s all about the communities that we are part of. We’re constantly growing, and the world is changing rapidly. We are a global company, and we need to mirror the communities in which we work and live.

I help lead our four Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) at United Rentals: Women United, for women in the workplace; Veterans United, which includes military veterans in each country United Rentals holds a location; Planet United, which supports our environmental and sustainability efforts; and Together United, which serves as an inclusion council. Our ERGs engage members of our team, because you cannot have diversity without inclusion. If we attract a lot of diverse backgrounds and perspectives to our organization but they aren’t feeling included, what are we even doing?
We must always strive to keep our inclusive learning as fresh as possible, and our diversity programs are self-fulfilling, with a goal of attracting, supporting and developing talent.

I attended a Women United event when I first started at United Rentals. There were women who felt they did not have the same opportunities because they were female. I didn’t realize a passionate spark was igniting at the time, but here I am today, all because of that event.

Diversity is a catalyst for change and promotes progress. Developing a company strategy is not just about working toward an initiative. It’s all about positively influencing the company’s culture that your team works so hard to build, which is what will support your organization’s growth and future.
Sharing best practices should be a collaborative effort. It’s important to look at different organizations and industries to see what has worked and what hasn’t so that you can build what’s best for your organization. Everyone has to do it differently; everyone is at a different point in their IDE journey, but to progress forward together, everyone should be active in the conversation.

by Rachel E. Pelovitz

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