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How DEI Programs in the Construction Industry Are Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing

Alberici's Patricia Coleman details how the company's new DEIB program has improved the company's overall mental health and wellbeing.
By Grace Calengor
September 14, 2023
Topics
Workforce

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and the study and practice of mental health in many workplaces is changing. Mental health and wellbeing programs implemented today include more work-life balance, like remote and hybrid work, but also—in many companies—the implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. CE spoke with Patricia Coleman, newly appointed vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Alberici, about how DEIB (read on to learn about the B) is affecting mental health in the construction industry.

How did you enter the mental health sector?

I had an HR consulting business, and Behavioral Health Response was one of my clients. Its mission to save lives inspired me to come on board full time, and I fell in love with the organization, remaining with it for 26 years.

How can mental health in construction be improved? How have you seen it improve throughout your career?

Mental health in all industries can be improved by acknowledging and giving comfort to those who are suffering in silence. For the construction industry especially, mental wellbeing is an integral part of safety. It cannot be separated. We need to end the stigma around mental health and start talking about it openly.

How does advocating for DEI coincide with advocating for mental health? How have you witnessed the two affect each other—either personally or with your clients/employees?

It is more than just diversity, equity, inclusion. It should ultimately foster a sense of “belonging,” and there is a true intersection between DEIB and mental health. It affects people from all backgrounds and identities. It plays a significant role in the overall wellbeing and success in our life and in the workplace. Everyone should advocate for mental wellbeing—everyone!

When it comes to DEIB, I have witnessed as a Black female in a leadership role at work or in the community the microaggressions and sense of not belonging at some tables, and it has impacted my wellbeing. When I decided to take all that off my sleeves, I became the leader who would make room at the table, create a table if needed and make sure my voice and contribution is heard and respected. I am a true advocate of mental wellbeing, as we all can be.

How do you see mental health and wellbeing vary based on demographics?

The suffering in silence is huge and can consume anyone from the field worker to the C-suite. Too often, being upfront with a personal mental health issue is perceived as a weakness, so it is not shared. It’s my experience that this hidden pain can be driven by many factors such as dealing with children who may be struggling with their own issues or someone in the family having a mental health challenge. Many times, it is not addressed until it is in crisis.

As a DEIB and mental health leader, I see mental wellbeing as a topic that should be freely discussed at all tables throughout the organization. Embracing worker mental health and talking about it is an act of strength. It needs to be recognized and understood, because there is no health without mental health.

How has the pandemic changed your mindset surrounding mental health and DEI and how they go together?

The pandemic was definitely an eye-opener. It helped expose the hidden pain in many. So many people began to own up and realize the importance of their mental health, whether it was anxiety, depression or something more serious. Many sensed a looming crisis or were in crisis. In the workplace, I had to become more aware of the people I work with, family members and others that I was around, and try to direct them to the support they may need in a time of crisis.

Also, the disparities in the health-care system for people of color were jarring. Although I know the system wasn’t set up to serve the underserved, I became more aware and involved in educating and advocating for those who need our help the most, and sometimes that is people who are stigmatized and discriminated against.

How has it changed the accommodations AND ACCESSIBILITY FOR BOTH MENTAL HEALTH AND DEI PROGRAMS?

Organizations have started to recognize the need to promote accommodations around employees’ mental health. They have made resources accessible whether through an employee assistance program or being able to discuss issues openly with your supervisor and the accommodations you may need to be successful in your job. Across the industry, there is a focus on the peer-to-peer interactions and training around the signs of a mental health crisis and how best to support it. In addition, organizations are embracing the concept that if you come to work for us, you can bring your whole self and we will support you.

How would you describe your overall outlook on mental health and DEI practices in the construction industry?

One of the things that drew me to Alberici was that my mental health background would become an integral part of its overall DEIB strategy. We are committed to focusing on the overall wellbeing of all our employees. One of our tenets is “valuing diversity by creating an inclusive culture where all belong and succeed.” That is truly a difference-making commitment in the construction industry.

by Grace Calengor
Grace Calengor is associate editor of Construction Executive.

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