Welcome to ‘The DEI Digest’ with Romey Oulton, a Q&A focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Built Environment.
This Q&A series is an opportunity for our North American Consultant Romey Oulton to discuss Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Built Environment with lead changemakers in the space who are championing DEI. Each week we will ask burning questions, providing a platform to share career advice, discuss innovative strategies to overcome challenges, and how to lead by example.
Hilti stands for quality, innovation and direct customer relationships. Some 30,000 employees around the world, in more than 120 countries, contribute to making work on construction sites simpler, faster and safer while inspiring customers every single day. With products, system solutions, software and services that provide clear added value. In 2021 they have been recognized as one of the world’s best workplaces by the Great Place to Work® Institute. In 2020 they ranked among the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® and honored as Best Place to Work by Glassdoor in 2019. These awards are a testament to their investment in their team and culture. Their commitment to innovation and customer excellence is matched only by their passion for growing and nurturing high-performing people — from the brightest graduates to the most experienced industry professionals.
What does diversity, equity & inclusion mean to you and why are they important?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is about making sure that everyone can thrive on the job. Diversity initiatives in the workplace recognize that a team drawing insight from a variety of perspectives will outperform a team with a narrow set of worldviews. Equity acknowledges that many voices have been marginalized and action needs to be taken to make space for them to be heard. Inclusion is the practice of diversity and equity, the “how” if you will.
What strategies would you share with founders looking to have a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce?
Build a diverse team from the beginning whenever possible. Doing so offers the ideal foundation for the long term. We all attract people who are similar to us and companies need diverse people involved during the hiring process if they want to hire diverse workers. Having different perspectives assessing job candidates, as well as diverse leadership at all levels, is crucial to building an organization where everybody can thrive.
With a diverse team in place, companies need to regularly ask their employees what changes are needed to help them succeed. Encouraging that feedback ensures that people feel respected, supported, and able to offer their best. This is true both broadly and for DEI initiatives specifically.
Together with Julieta Moradei, you have launched the community of Women in Construction Tech. Is there anything founders can do to attract more women to the industry? The number of women in construction nearly peaked at 1 million this year, which is a great success, but we still have a long way to go. Especially in the ConTech space.
I see two parts here: talent attraction and talent retention. I already said a lot about hiring but here’s one more crucial point: it’s going to be hard to hire and retain women if they don’t see women thriving at your company. We all want to be in a position to succeed and a company without successful women suggests that it will either be hard or impossible to advance in that company.
Regarding retention, I would like to add a sentence from a good friend: A workplace that works for women is a workplace that works for all. In other words, is your workplace one where women have to work hard to navigate a space that isn’t particularly open to them or is your workplace one that welcomes women and is truly excited about what they bring to the table? Ditto for other minority demographics or backgrounds. It is human nature to want to be celebrated by our community. When we can all bring our own selves to work, we deliver better results, and, guess what, we all enjoy working together a whole lot more, too.
Why would you encourage those of an underrepresented background to join the ConTech space? Any key pull factors you’d like to highlight?
Construction is big, dynamic, and in desperate need of workers. While construction is the 2nd largest industry with $11 Trillion, it is facing big challenges from labor shortages to its impact on the environment. There is lots of space for ambitious people who want to develop smart solutions to these urgent problems. Sea change innovations such as offsite construction, robotics for the jobsite, automation, new materials, and so much more are revolutionizing our industry. This offers a reset that levels the playing field. If you learn a lot about prefabrication, you will be well positioned because we are all learning these new skills on the fly and the old skills, where it’s harder for you to compete, are becoming less important. There are a lot of new roles being created, and a lot of venture capital going into construction tech. Many new opportunities will emerge and I would encourage everyone to be prepared to take on those challenges and be the ones leading and defining these new frameworks.
To what extent do you think founders should be interested in a VCs ability to help them attract talent? Or is this something that clouds the main focus of a VC firm?
I will start by saying that ventures firms are generally not experts in hiring and that counting on a partner like LMRE will deliver a better experience. However, I think that VCs can also help in this process. Some founders might be recruiting for the first time and I think that having advice from someone who can help them to think strategically about the team composition, the skills needed for a specific role, etc. is highly beneficial. Furthermore, after a certain time, we all develop a strong network in this industry and can leverage our network to help the startups find and develop talent. Investors can and should add value to startups in many aspects beyond the capital invested, and this is one such area.
What advice do you have for those who want to be D&I advocates and aren’t sure how to start?
The first thing to understand is that HR cannot do DEl on their own. Whatever role you have, you can contribute by increasing awareness of DEI concerns and opportunities, taking everyday actions, and otherwise making DEI an ongoing element of your work. You can also participate or even start a group or community that is working on these initiatives. Before founding Women in Construction Tech, I had participated in Hilti’s ERGs (Employee Resource Groups), served on the board of Dallas Lean In, contributed as a Steering Committee member for SMACNA Women in Construction group, and more. These communities all have real impact and you get to have fun with and learn from amazing people, too.
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