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 Jessica Herrala, Chief Revenue Officer at Constru.
Constru is building the future of efficiency with an AI-powered construction solution that turns captured imagery into insights for better data-driven decision making. They drive efficiency on projects by providing teams the ability to get first-hand, image-based data, process it for insight, and see it in context mapped to project plans. Enabling owners, developers, and general contractors to consistently finish projects ahead of schedule and under budget, their customers report average reduction in overall project costs of 2-4%.
What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you and why are they important?
To be committed to DEI in a company means having to do the really hard work of helping people to learn to see how their own biases have led to systemic inequity that has harmed whole groups of people based on sex, race, age, ethnicity, etc, by diminishing their role and potential contributions to the dominant culture. By their nature, people don’t want to look at those parts of themselves that show their biases.
Leaders have to serve as the role models for doing this hard work and leading other people to do it without having their sense of self-esteem threatened. Nobody wants to be shown their biases or told that they have participated in an unjust system in any way. So being a leader in these times is particularly difficult as it means leading people out of their comfort zones, a place humans naturally want to inhabit, and into a new way of valuing others’ perspectives and contributions. It’s a hard thing to do!
What strategies has Constru implemented to ensure there’s a sense of belonging, equity, and inclusion? What tangible results have you seen come from these efforts?
Constru is always looking to hire the best and brightest and in our case, they have been mainly women! We have an entire group of female engineers and our leadership team is 50% female as well. Being a global team, we strive to have open communication and equal voices throughout the company. Titles are always left at the door and good ideas are brought to the forefront by all levels.
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?
The construction industry will always face challenges retaining women simply because of the lifestyle that’s often required – multiple relocations, long work hours and unpredictable schedules. Hence, the trend of more women in office positions vs. the field. It just fits into our lifestyles better as the primary caregivers of the household (in most cases – for better or worse). But construction tech massively opens up the industry for women who are able to work from home and be highly active on the construction sites without ever being physically onsite. It’s such a great place for women to lean in to!
Why is it that the construction industry is deemed ‘slow’ or ‘resistant’ to adopting technology? Is this justified? If so, what are some of the barriers you’re seeing?
The industry is deemed slow due to several factors, including its traditional nature, fragmented structure, and complex workflows. Additionally, the industry is project-based, and the diverse set of stakeholders involved in projects – architects, engineers, contractors, and subcontractors – can create challenges in implementing new technology across the project lifecycle.
It’s not a totally fair perception though as there are several companies who have been actively investing in and implementing technology to streamline processes, improve safety, and increase efficiency. It took a while for BIM to take hold, but it’s (nearly) common practice on most complex projects.
I think the biggest challenge to adoption right now is that the tech world has decided to descend onto construction simply because it’s one of the last industries to be touched by major technology and the industry is ripe for change. I call it analysis paralysis. There’s just too much coming at the industry at once and it’s impossible to choose. Plus, there’s only so much new “stuff” companies can put on already stressed project teams and tell them to spend additional time to test it out.
Cost will also always be a challenge as the industry works on such insanely small margins and the concept of investing in (what feels like) overly expensive technology that is currently viewed as a luxury and not a necessity feels like a bridge too far.
And, of course, we pride ourselves on our knowledge of all things construction and how is it possible that anybody could tell us to do it better, much less a computer.
But all is not lost. We’re getting there. I’m seeing great progress with mid-size firms who are excited to jump in and surpass the big guys that are working through massive internal bureaucracy before they can enter the space.
The industry will get there. The question is…how many start-ups can survive while the industry is deciding to jump into the deep end?
Are you seeing any specific trends around DEI in the Construction space?
I am starting to see more women and people of color in leadership in construction…finally! Like I mentioned before, this is a tough industry for women to move up in simply because of the relocation lifestyle. But I’ve been impressed with the industry getting creative on how to solve those challenges by allowing work-from-home and flexible schedules. We can thank Covid for that – we never thought before that we could be a work-from-home business, but it turns out we are…thanks to technology!
Do you feel resistance towards DEI initiatives becoming the leading priority still exists? Is this justified/unjustified?
As the most dangerous and least profitable industry out there, I think you’ll always see safety and profitability being the top priorities in the construction space. To me the more substantial way to make a real impact in the DEI space in construction is through the subcontractor market. By not only giving opportunities for revenue growth to minority subcontractors, but also providing them training and financial backing to grow sustainably, the industry as a whole will make a far deeper long-term contribution to the larger initiative.
How can those of us in a position of privilege better support and advocate for our underrepresented colleagues on an ongoing basis?
Without question, what we can do as leaders is provide access. At my last two posts in commercial construction companies, I had a line of women out the door my first week on the job. They all wanted advice on how I got there, what they could do to move up and how I could help. We need to be open to listening to new ideas from new voices and make the space to allow those ideas to grow.
‘Performative allyship’ has become a recurring theme, as company leaders lend rhetorical support to DEI, yet lack any attempt to foster genuinely inclusive workplace environments. What impact do you think the movement of allyship presents?
International Women’s Day or Black History Month are both times where we see massive performative allyship take place with companies and leaders. It can be insanely frustrating, but it’s encouraging that they are now being called on the carpet more often than ever before.
However, allyship is still insanely important as leaders. You just have to be genuine in doing it. And it doesn’t require you to go out of your comfort zone, but it does require you to take action. The best kind of ally is not one that makes performative statements; it’s the one who actually does something and expects nothing in return.
I recently posted about this on International Women’s Day about the steps leaders can take to start actually being allies and to make real change.
Whether they are small or large, are there ConTech companies you think have been particularly successful at achieving DEI? And why?
Selfishly, I would say Constru is at the top of that list. We have an entire engineering department made up of all women!
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?
This is all dependent on the industry. The sooner they jump in, the more the ConTech AND construction industries will soar together. It’s far time we stop being the inefficient, low profit margin, knuckle dragging neanderthals the world sees us as and finally step into the light of utilizing technology for higher profits, happier employees and smarter business!
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