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.
This week we have been in touch with Jade Cohen, Co-Founder and CPO at Qualis Flow.
Qualis Flow (Qflow) is a ConTech platform used widely across the UK, enabling the construction industry to decarbonise through a simple photograph. The founders, Brittany and Jade (both from the industry), have developed Qflow to collect much needed data on material and waste flows within construction, using this to help decarbonise the sector and transform the way we think about resources in the built environment. The machine learning enabled SaaS product enables time and efficiency savings on-site, whilst supporting improvements in overall compliance, and providing the foundational data needed to drive the circular economy.
What does diversity, equity and inclusion mean to you and why are they important?
Without DEI in our teams, organisations, and connections, we cannot hope to be successful. It is about making sure that we have the flexibility and resilience to make the best decisions possible, by ensuring there is space for alternative perspectives than our own. Beyond the workplace, DEI is about ensuring equitable opportunities for all people. This is important for humanity, not just for organisations.
Can you give me an example of how you make your team feel a sense of inclusion, belonging and equity on a daily basis?
I believe it’s important to always think about wider contexts in any conversation, and to be authentic in the communication you have with others. A simple example might be discussing the Christmas holidays with a group of people, within which some may celebrate the Christmas period, some may not, and the important thing to be aware is that not all people will celebrate this holiday period. It doesn’t mean that I, or someone else, can’t discuss their holiday activities with everybody, but it means being mindful and respectful to ask others about their own holiday or celebratory dates, that will be important to them, even if not celebrated myself. Making space to acknowledge these differences, and share experiences of these, is the important bit. Previously we have also run Diff-abilities Week, where each of us in the team can take the time to share some knowledge or experiences on a topic which others may not know a lot about, e.g. from colour blindness to dyslexia, all with the purpose of sharing knowledge and learning. We try to create a safe space for people to be their authentic selves and to share this with the wider team.
In 2021 it was reported that just 10% of the construction sector in the US was represented by women and most of that was in office operation positions rather than on the field — is this a challenge when it comes to hiring for your business? If so, how do you navigate such an issue?
I think this is a challenge across the whole sector. The reality is that a lot of site-based and office-based environments within construction have traditionally not been hospitable to women and minority groups. I do, however, believe that this has started to improve. Whilst there is a way to go in balancing the representation for the construction sector, we should continue to celebrate those individuals and women who continue to contribute to this sector’s success and gradual improvement. By seeing more underrepresented groups succeed in this space, it should encourage others to look at careers in this sector as well.
What advice do you have for those who want to be D&I advocates and aren’t sure how to start?
The best place to start is by talking about it, and raising the awareness on the importance of D&I in your own teams. Understand the statistics for your own organisation, understand from leadership how it’s being considered, and champion internally whilst engaging with other stakeholders who can help you.
Are you seeing any specific trends around DEI in the Construction space?
There are places you can search for the statistics and see how the Construction space is changing with respect to DEI, however in my professional and personal opinion, there have been both changes for the good, and changes for the bad. The good news, is that we continue to work with a lot of talented and forward-thinking individuals, within our client and partner organisations, who all come from different walks of life. The unfortunate trend is that Construction is still struggling to attract (and most importantly, keep) new, young talent. I believe this can change, but we need to focus attention on how to reverse this in order to ensure that DEI can continue to thrive.
In your opinion, why does resistance towards DEI initiatives becoming the leading priority still exist? Is this justified/unjustified?
I believe most people acknowledge the importance of DEI, although how this becomes a priority and how to act on improving this, can remain difficult for some. I don’t think this resistance is deliberate (in most cases), but a lack of understanding on how to look at and implement DEI initiatives.
How can those of us in a position of privilege better support and advocate for our underrepresented colleagues on an ongoing basis?
I think it’s important to give underrepresented colleagues the time and space to showcase their voice. Often, it’s the underrepresented groups who are often the ones last heard (or worse, not heard at all). This can happen for a variety of reasons, and therefore in order to support and advocate for our colleagues, we need to respect and provide the space for them to be heard above the crowd.
Whether they are small or large, are there Construction/ConTech companies you think have been particularly successful at achieving DEI? And why?
I wish I could give a long list here, but the reality is I think we can all be doing a lot more in this space. I hope that in the future, we can stop thinking about who is particularly successful in achieving DEI, and instead focus on the minority who aren’t.
How do you think the ConTech sector will fare in comparison to other technology-related industries (i.e FinTech) given the current unexpected economic climate?
Construction (and by extension, ConTech) is often one of the most resilient sectors when considering economic downturn events. It is now more important than ever before for technology and innovation to disrupt the 2nd most under-digitalised industry, and the opportunity is there in front of us, with space to make our impact on transformation. I think there will be a priority regarding technologies which focus on data, transparency, and sustainability, which are some of the most important areas to consider for the future success of Construction.
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