Construction Culture: Why it Matters & How to Build it

construction culture

What separates a “good” from “great” company? When you look at leading companies – regardless of industry – there’s one characteristic that they share: a strong company culture. According to BambooHR, company culture is defined by, “the summation of how people within an organization interact with each other and work together.” While there is no single recipe for success, there are common themes that emerge in companies with a positive culture.

Culture can manifest itself in several ways, but it’s bidirectional, driven both from the top-down and bottom-up. Research has not only correlated the strength of an organization’s culture to business performance, but today, 46% of job seekers cite culture as “very important” before applying to a company, according to Built In. Considering 80% of contractors have a hard time hiring skilled craft workers, culture could be a key driver to attract and retain talent and overcome the labor shortage.   

March 1-7, 2020 marks Women in Construction Week, an annual event sponsored by The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) that highlights women in the construction industry. The week puts a spotlight on new culture initiatives designed to attract and advance women in the industry. It’s also a time to raise awareness for the growing opportunities available for women in construction, while emphasizing their incredible contributions. Women represent only 10% of the total industry workforce and a minuscule 1.2% of the trade force. Yet, they are one of the largest demographics with the potential to fill an only widening labor gap. Tapping into this massive potential workforce, as well as other diverse talent pools, requires a complete culture shift committed to improving diversity and inclusion. 

As the construction industry looks to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces, here are four areas to help cultivate a strong culture.

4 Ways to Cultivate a Strong Construction Culture

1.   Develop a Culture Committed to All Facets of Safety

Safety is controllable and starts at your company’s core. Toolbox safety talks and wearing hardhats are critical, but that only goes so far. Proper fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) – for all bodies (harnesses, gloves, etc.)  – is a must to create a safe and inclusive environment. One size doesn’t fit all and by taking steps to show your employees that their safety is your top concern, it instills confidence and trust. Skanska, Plaza Construction, and McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. are three leading examples of firms already taking strides to provide proper fitting PPE for women.

In November, Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) announced a partnership to drive this movement forward by funding a grant program to supply select, in-need member contractors with fall protection harnesses sized for women who work at height. On March 2, 2020 AGC and Autodesk announced the 21 recipients of the grants for custom safety harnesses and mandatory training. The applicant pool represented general contractors, specialty contractors, and specialty providers representing approximately 22,000 employees.

But physical safety is only one half of the equation. Psychological safety, when employees feel comfortable to show their authentic selves without fear of repercussion, is equally important. Mental well-being is critical for growth and development. By fostering an environment where your employees feel safe and secure, it empowers them to be courageous – taking risks, speaking openly, and even making mistakes. In addition to creating a supportive culture for your employees, research confirms that teams that facilitate psychological safety perform higher.

Building a comprehensive safety program is at the core of a successful construction culture. But where to start? The first step is to make safety – both physical and psychological – a priority. Focus on training your workers, get them invested in safety programs, and reward good behavior. Make sure you also encourage radical candor, promote respect, and welcome curiosity.

Dejack, Brittney (3)

2.   Create a Diverse and Inclusive Work Environment 

To enhance the construction industry and bring in new talent, we need to welcome change. Talent differs, but it is these differences that drive us forward. There are issues that marginalize inclusivity – from the gender wage gap to racism – but vigilance and voice are key to rise above and create a diverse and inclusive environment.

We’ve all heard the terms diversity and inclusion. But what’s the difference and why do they need to be used together? Let’s break it down:

  • Diversity: Diversity represents what we look like – race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.
  • Inclusion: Inclusion represents that authentic self – where an individual can show up and be themselves, sharing a different perspective and having mechanisms to do so effectively.

By bringing diversity and inclusion (D&I) together, this widens our access to the best talent, leading to enhanced innovation, creativity, productivity, reputation, engagement, and results. It’s a win-win for construction as we continue to compete for talent with other industries. To validate further, 86% of women (as well as 74% of men) seek employers with diversity and inclusion strategies.  

“As an industry, we need to work together to move the needle forward,” says Silvia Siqueira, Diversity and Inclusion Office at Hilti North America on a panel at a recent Autodesk University.

“Construction is not the fastest changing industry, but when like-minded people sit together and ask questions, that’s what drives change. Together we have a voice.”

Organizations such as Diversity and Inclusion in Construction and Engineering, or DICE, are examples of groups that are breaking down barriers between construction firms. DICE, co-founded by Siqueira, is a group made up of construction and engineering firms to identify and bridge the D&I knowledge gap across the industry. The group demonstrates ways to create a diverse and inclusive workplace, giving firms tactics to drive discussions on why D&I matters. “It’s going beyond being competitors in the industry to talk about what type of workers we will have in the future,” says Siqueira.

3.   Cultivate an Environment of Learning

The future of how we work is changing. The construction labor shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry today. With the advent of new innovation and many firms racing to adopt cloud-based technologies, it’s essential to adopt more formalized methods of continued education to advance a firm’s most valuable asset: people.

BAM Construction, part of the Royal BAM Group invests in reverse mentoring to achieve its strategy for “building the present, creating the future.” To them, reverse mentoring is a way to easily upskill workers by taking advantage of skills already present within the team. With team members working side-by-side, it transfers new skills, and enhances team dynamics through deeper collaboration.

BAM Ireland at work on the construction site of the New Children's Hospital (NCH) in Dublin, Ireland.

Continuous learning propels you and opens the door to new opportunities. If you don’t learn, you don’t become better. It’s important to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. From taking a webinar to attending a conference to networking – learning takes many forms. It’s important to find the method that works best for you and your team.

From an organizational standpoint, it’s important for firms to identify and provide employees with opportunities to branch outside of their day-to-day to develop their skills. There is a huge gap that needs to be filled and by investing in your people, they will invest in you. According to research from Built In, 94% of employees would stay in their current role longer if they felt the organization invested in their professional development. It may sound cliché, but employee training ROI impacts employee retention and engagement, even the recruitment of top talent.

4.   Launch a Formalized Sponsorship and Mentorship Program

A major part of the culture shift driving greater inclusion and safety comes down to fostering people-to-people interactions. And a way to do this is by creating a sponsorship and mentorship program to identify internal champions.

According to Catalyst – a global nonprofit working to build workplaces that work for women – “Sponsors are advocates in a position of authority who uses their influence intentionally to help others advance, while mentors provide advice, feedback, and coaching. Both are important to advancement as employees navigate the workplace and earn opportunities for growth.”

By identifying a champion, it will open the door to opportunities and position you for success. It’s all about getting a seat at the table and acquiring skills that will support your future success.

“When I came to Hilti from the retail industry, I did not have a background in construction,” says Gina Brown, Senior Marketing Manager at Hilti North America. “I was assigned a mentor, which helped me grow as an individual and business professional.” Through mentorship, Gina was able to identify and develop certain skillsets to move forward in her career.

“Having a program and recognizing the value of mentorship and sponsorship is crucial,” says Lisa Mingoia, Corporate Counsel for Skanska USA Building.

“Mentorship can come in many forms – informal or formal – but it’s all about helping you grow individually and as a professional.”

Women tend to believe that if you work hard you get results, but you also need influence to get that exposure. And that is where sponsorship comes in. Having someone who will advocate on your behalf if you’re not in the room.

“We need mechanisms to make sure organizations make executive teams responsible for that. Give people opportunity,” says Mingoia.

A Stronger Construction Culture for a Better Industry

American activist Marian Wright Edelman was the first to say, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

When women are 10% of the industry, it’s hard for individuals to self-advocate. But by starting a conversation, and having a collective voice, that’s the key to change and a way to get more women into the industry.

As firms continue to build a stronger culture, one that prioritizes diversity and inclusion, it’s important to remember to align that strategy and include it as part of your company’s mission. The hardest part may be starting the discussion, but as the industry continues to standardize these practices, investing in strong pillars of excellence to create a safe, inclusive, and healthy workplace will advance the industry for all.

Allison Scott

Allison Scott is Director, Customer Experience & Industry at Autodesk. Leveraging over a decade in the architecture and construction industries, Alli is a “technology translator” who supports customer experience and industry advocacy within the Customer Success team at Autodesk. She oversees the strategy and execution of customer-centric programs that complement the customer journey to help construction teams gain the most value out of their technology investments, and foster loyalty and trust. Alli has been a key contributor for Autodesk’s leading-edge approach to customer experience, including formalizing customer listening programs for construction, a highly rated global executive council program, a growing online community, and industry impact programs that help drive change for issues like safety, upskilling/labor shortage and DE&I. Prior to Autodesk, she supported the national innovation group of Skanska USA's construction division helping to investigate and integrate game-changing tech like BIM/VDC, wearables, IoT/sensors, and drones onto the jobsite, and built business strategy for new products and services inspired by innovation endeavors. Alli holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Arts Management from Emerson College and an MBA in Innovation and Design Management from Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School. When not exploring the next great emerging tech, Alli can be found tending to her herb garden or spending time along the rocky shores of Massachusetts or lakeside in Maine with her architect-husband and young son.