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.
Hometeam Ventures invests in and scales double bottom line startups that improve the construction life cycle by reducing cost, increasing speed, and improving quality, resulting in more adequate housing globally.
What does diversity, equity & inclusion mean to you and why are they important?
To me, it means “for all” – no matter your gender, culture, religion, ethinicty, race, beliefs, there is representation and quality for all in any given situation. When we are all standing on equal grounds, we have the opportunity to see among the same span, and run on the same elevation.
How has being underrepresented in the industry affected your role? For instance, if you were ever made to feel like you ‘didn’t fit in’, how did you respond to that? (Positive or negative)
Being “underrepresented” as a female Latina has had both its positives and its negatives. On one end, I’ve received recognition through scholarships in university, through speaking engagements at global conferences, etc., because I stand out. However, standing out also means I didn’t fit into certain circles – this was personally difficult for me while being a project manager on construction job sites, or the only female in a room at engineering firms.
Why would you encourage those of an underrepresented background to join the ConTech space? Any key pull factors you’d like to highlight?
There are 3 main reasons I believe we need more representation in two of the most underpresented indsutries: VC and construction.
1- Shaping your world to fit your needs: The built environment is what surrounds us and impacts our daily routine. The ConTech space is shaping the future of what the built environment will look and feel like. We need more representation from the begining to make important decisions on the future.
2- Massive market and opportunity gains: ConTech is one of the fastest growing investable spaces, and the market is currently untapped: the construction industry is worth 22T yet only invests a fraction (0.5% of its value) into innovation. Be part of the first generation to change that.
3- Inspire the next generation: By being part of the current generation of leaders in ConTech, you’ll inspire the next generation of underrepresented individuals to join.
Why is cultural diversity so important to the makeup of Hometeam Ventures and also have there been challenges with this along the way?
Hometeam VC was founded and is led by two minority females. Being culturally diverse is in our DNA, and has made us stand out (literally) in every room we walk into. This has helped us tremendously with inbound startups reaching out to us, and the ability to support the pipeline issue in VC. In terms of challenges, we are the first fund in the construction tech space led by two minority women, so fundraising as operator backgrounds and as diverse individuals, presented its barriers.
We know that the Real Estate sector has waned behind other sectors in terms of diversity, but the construction sector is even further behind, 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. This must be a challenge when it comes to hiring for your business – how do you navigate such an issue?
When I worked as an engineer and project manager, I navigated this issue by pretending it wasn’t one. “Fake it until you make it” became a reality for me, and I just always owned the thought that I belong to be in this room just as much. I was raised by an incredibly strong mother: both my parents are medicinal chemists doing drug discovery for cancer – they are both post-doctorates and my mom has a higher corporate role than my father. I was raised in a matriarch where women can do anything men can. I believe this gave me the confidence I needed to navigate this industry, and I’d love to serve as a lighthouse for any women who face barriers in this environment.
What advice do you have for those who want to be D&I advocates and aren’t sure how to start?
Be vulnerable and share your own story. The moment you use vulnerability as your strength, you’ll realize how many other people feel the same way you do, and you just became the catalyst for them wanting to open up too. It can be the single most important thing you do for D&I. For those who don’t understand you because they’ve never faced the same issue, so it is more difficult for them to be empathetic, make them part of your team. Continue sharing your story, until they can walk in your shoes to a certian degree and create that empathy.
Are you seeing any specific trends in DEI in the construction/ConTech space? And what predictions would you make for the future direction of the work?
Many trends! I’d say the most exciting is that industrialized construction, offsite manufacturing and prefabrication are on the rise, and this type of skilles labor is more inviting to women. With the skilled labor shortage crisis, women will be saught out more than ever!
Whether they are small all large, are there companies you think have been particularly successful at achieving DEI? And why?
Ellevest! They are one of our LPs, and it is the company I admire most in terms of how they practice what they preach when it comes to DEI. I’ve never seen so much female and diverse leadership in corporate, and it is a true testament to a brighter future.
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