Digital Builder Ep 87: The Key Elements of Successful DEIB Programs

What is the most precious resource in construction? Materials? Equipment? Money? While all these are essential, I would argue that people are our industry's most important (and increasingly scarce) resource. 

A well-staffed industry is a strong one, and we need more skilled and talented individuals to join our construction teams. 

That's why diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) programs are becoming foundational in construction firms. When we embrace a workforce as diverse as the communities we build, we put ourselves in the best position to thrive. 

In this latest episode of the Digital Builder podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Randi Lucas, formerly a Project Manager at CNY Group (now a Project Manager with Cord Meyer Development Company) and Reana Maglis, BIM VDC Manager at Hansen Yuncken.

Randi and Reana are deeply involved in DEIB initiatives, and they both have a lot to say about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in construction. 

Watch the episode now

You can also listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and anywhere else you get your podcasts. 

On this episode 

We discuss: 

  • Why DEIB Matters in Construction
  • How Diversity in multiple categories improves creative thinking and problem-solving
  • A closer look at how CNY Group and Hansen Yuncken are approaching DEIB
  • Current “gaps” in DEIB across the industry
  • Where to start when building a DEIB program
  • How to scale your DEIB program

Why are DEIB programs important?

Let's start with the fundamentals. Why should firms invest in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging? 

As it turns out, these initiatives not only enhance team dynamics but also boost profits and innovation.

"The big ‘why’ behind DEIB is that a lot of companies that have it are more profitable, and they're more creative," says Randi. 

Reana agrees and adds that DEIB brings together varied perspectives and paves the way for innovation. 

"As an industry, we value safety, design, engineering, and innovation. All those problem-solving activities come from diversity in a range of different things, whether that's gender, age, or your different stakeholder groups. So, having that diversity will foster creative thinking. That's where you'll get some real value from your project outcomes with diversity."

Beyond creativity and problem-solving, bringing in diverse individuals also helps us solve construction's biggest challenge: the labor shortage. 

Randi points out, "Anyone listening to this right now is probably having a conversation about a trade contractor who does not have enough workforce to get the construction done. And what better way to solve these problems than implementing a DEIB program?"

By prioritizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, we can get more ideas flowing and grow our workforce.

Examples of great DEIB programs in action

While DEIB programs will look different from one organization to the next, firms that want to establish similar initiatives can take inspiration from Hansen Yuncken and CNY Group. 

The former has a program called the Hansen Yuncken's Women in Construction—HYWIC for short—that promotes professional development for its members. 

"It's a national peer group that we established within the business. It started in New South Wales, where it just emerged as a national initiative," explains Reana. "And the intentions there are to bring like-minded women together and give them a sense of belonging. It's to foster open discussions with each other, and it's evolved where we now bring in external stakeholders, do site visits, and create this energy where both men and women are involved."

Over at CNY Group, Randi says they focus on empowering all employees and partners to participate so everyone feels included. 

"CNY is focused on ESG efforts overall. One thing they are big about is giving everyone a voice. They're all about the 'inclusion' part of it," Randi remarks. 

"We also do more for our trade contractors. Externally, we have programs where we partner with diverse trade companies to ensure they're also building exciting items in New York City. So it's more than just making our people feel included; it's about making the industry as a whole feel included."

Getting young people involved

Engaging younger generations is a big part of building a diverse and inclusive workforce. Industry data shows that the median age in construction is 41, and 45% of construction workers are aged 45 and up. Folks in this industry aren't getting younger, so getting the next generation on board is critical to advancing our field. 

Reana strongly believes in encouraging young people to enter the construction industry, which is why she tutors students at the University of Technology in Sydney. 

Engaging people while they're still in school helps cultivate their interest in construction—and this is something that will serve our industry well, particularly as we lean more into digitalization. 

"Over the years of my tutoring, I've seen that progression where students can navigate a BIM model more fluidly and naturally than it had been five years ago. So that technology piece almost becomes their second nature in this generation," says Reana.

Randi echoes this sentiment: "The younger generations are digital natives, so they're more into technology. People think we're just a bunch of people playing in the dirt with machines, but there's more to construction than just that. And I love that Reana is involved with all that and getting them when they're young. That's where you need to get people interested in the industry."

The role of tech in DEIB

Speaking of technology, digital platforms also play a role in fostering DEIB. The best software connects various people into a single platform, ensuring everyone feels included. 

As Reana puts it, "When you're working on project teams, you're working with various stakeholders who also may be working across different states and nations, and each holds their own skill set when it comes to technology. One may be more accustomed to interpreting plans, for example, and another more accustomed to using a BIM model."

That's why it's important to select tools that make it easy for folks to engage and execute in their roles. 

Reana says, "Leveraging a tool like Autodesk Construction Cloud allows us to have those different tools in place that will cater to that diversity of skill sets."

What about gaps and areas of improvement?

Every initiative has its challenges, and when it comes to DEIB, some hurdles can slow down or hinder your efforts. 

According to Randi, DEIB hurdles often stem from mindsets that are difficult to change. Even with leadership buy-in, support doesn't always trickle down to the managerial level. 

"You're used to doing things a certain way, and it's great at the leadership and the C-suite. But if your managers responsible for the people aren't changing, that's a factor that can hinder your program."

Randi also cautions against focusing too much on the diversity component while not giving enough attention to equity, inclusion, and belonging.

"It's very easy to find diverse candidates, but making sure they're staying, that they feel included, and they feel like they have the same playing field as everyone else—that's the harder part," she remarks.  

How to start a DEIB program

Now that we've covered the "what," "why," and "why not?" behind DEIB initiatives, it's time to consider how to start these programs in your firm. 

According to Randi, the first step is to diversify your recruitment channels. 

"When looking for new employees, do something you won't normally do. We all post on that major social site, but maybe you go to an association that focuses on a different demographic instead. Go to an HBCU; they have career fairs and get individuals there excited about construction and entering it."

Randi also emphasizes that your efforts don't have to start on a big and grand scale. Often, the best programs are the simplest. 

"It's not like this big hundred-page essay about DE&I, and I think that's what people miss. They think it's something crazy, but it's simple at the end of the day. It's not rocket science, but we can make it that way."

How to scale a DEIB program

Already have a program but want to take it to the next level?

Reana recommends collaborating with other industry players. 

"You definitely want to look at partnering with the industry because networking and seeing the experience of others will help you support and strengthen your own business as well."

Reana adds, "At Hansen Yuncken, we've partnered with Autodesk, where they've been able to come in and provide some external presentations for us with persons related to women in BIM organizations."

Randi, for her part, emphasizes the importance of continuous improvement. She says organizations shouldn't just start a program and then "set it and forget it."

"You've got to keep evolving. You have to keep listening to your teams. Maybe you solved ten problems, but there are ten more problems you didn't know about. The key to scaling is to listen. Get input, ask for help, and you can build it into something great."

No step is too small

Reana and Randi both underscore that no matter where you are or the size of your organization, you can always do something to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. 

One example, says Randi, is being an ally. "Speak up for people. Don't just be okay when you know something's not right. You, as a person, have a voice; use it for good. If you see something, say something."

Let's not forget the importance of mentorship. "There are a lot of leaders in high places, and if you see somebody who's new or into the industry and has the potential, mentor them. Tell them how to get to the top. Don't let them sit to their own devices because they might not have the same background or education as you and know how to get to the top," says Randi.

Reana agrees, saying that simply showing up and participating in programs can drive change. 

"You don't want to underestimate how small actions can be so impactful in the industry. Getting involved in mentoring, STEM programs, women in construction initiatives, other external organizations that support DEIB—all those little things are very impactful," she says.

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Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week.

Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.