Over the last few years, many architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) companies have started to take a serious look at diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. While progress has been made, there’s still a long road ahead.
Building a sense of belonging is one aspect of the DE&I equation that often gets lost. Firms work so hard to attract diverse talent, they often forget it’s essential to foster an environment of real inclusion. And according to research, belonging matters. The need to belong in the workplace comes only second to the need to belong at home.
To learn more about the importance of belonging, we recently had the opportunity to speak to three DE&I industry champions who will be speaking in an upcoming panel session at Autodesk University on September 30, Bridging the Diversity Gap Through Inclusion and Belonging:
- Monique D. Brown, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP, Virtual Design & Construction Manager
- Asia Johns, VDC Specialist, Aptitude: Intelligent Integration, a division of JE Dunn Construction
- Cliff Cole, VDC Director, The PENTA Building Group
Learn more about what belonging means to them, and what you can expect to hear more about in their AU 2022 session.
What does belonging look like and mean to you in the construction industry?
Monique: I believe that belonging looks like people feeling a sense of community with those they work and interact with on a regular basis. It’s finding common ground in some aspect of your work environment, and where you feel seen, heard, and respected. Overall, the construction industry still a very homogenous group; so I think belonging in the AEC industry looks like CREATING spaces for people to feel comfortable and be their authentic selves and encouraging everyone to try to get to know and find common ground with others outside of their regular circle.
Asia: In my opinion, belonging in the construction industry means that people you work with every day should feel included and accepted at work. People at your company should feel comfortable being their authentic self in the workplace and they should feel that their opinions are valued and heard.
People at your company should feel comfortable being their authentic self in the workplace and they should feel that their opinions are valued and heard. ”
– Asia Johns, VDC Specialist, Aptitude: Intelligent Integration, a division of JE Dunn Construction
Cliff: Feeling a sense of belonging is furthered by a shared sense of purpose and connection. If you have people in your organization that share the same values, this will increase their sense of belonging. That feeling will help them find joy and value in their work, ultimately giving them fulfillment.
Tell us about a time where you felt a sense of belonging in the construction industry?
Monique: I once worked for an architecture firm where most of the architects were women – at that time, a rarity in a firm that is not a women-owned business! We came from varying racial, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, but we bonded around being women in the AEC industry who share some of the same challenges and goals. I’m still good friends with many of them even though we are all at different firms in different cities now.
Asia: My company recognized me during Women in Construction week this year on LinkedIn. This gave me a sense of belonging because I was given recognition and it made me feel like a valued member of the team.
Cliff: Numerous times, I felt a sense of belonging; that is why I love this industry and enjoy what I do. But, one particular time sticks out in my mind; I had just moved across the country to a new city where I did not have any family and did not know anybody except my co-workers. I was still young in my career and made a costly mistake that negatively impacted the project, and my supervisor came down on me pretty hard. Typically, I am tough on myself, so I took the criticism pretty hard and questioned whether I belonged in this industry, at this company, and on that team. However, I was fortunate to have a mentor that took the time to sit down with me, provide me with words of encouragement and motivate me to keep pushing. The time he provided positively impacted my career and life; I don’t know if I would be sitting here today if not for him.
What inspired you to become a champion for DE&I within the construction industry?
Monique: I have been in the AEC industry for about 20 years now, and I had grown accustomed to and, honestly, I expected to always be the “only” or one of a few in the office or at industry events. However, after the social unrest in 2020 after George Floyd’s death, something awakened in me. I got angry, and I realized it was time to get my head out of the sand and start trying to make a difference. If I want to see more people like me in the office and at industry events, I need to contribute to making that happen. I need to be the change that I want to see!
Now I am very passionate about making sure that BIPOC and women see the construction industry as a place where they are welcomed; where they can thrive and succeed; and where they will find a sense of belonging.
Asia: When I first started working at JE Dunn in 2019, I was invited to participate in HBCU Campus Recruitment by our Diversity Manager at the time, Cherelle Cortez. Since then, I have been an active campus lead at multiple HBCUs helping us build relationships on campus and attracting diverse talent.
Cliff: Honestly, I don’t consider myself a champion for DE&I. From a young age, I was taught to work hard, know the difference between right and wrong and stand up for what I believe in. I have carried those values and that work ethic throughout my life, so when I had the opportunity to advocate for the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the construction industry, I didn’t think twice about it. I am blessed to have a platform and honored to be considered a champion for DE&I.
As we know, continuing the conversation on DE&I is essential for change. What do you hope attendees will take away from your panel discussion?
Monique: My hope is that attendees of our panel discussion will leave with a passion for diversity and inclusion, whether it’s new-found or stoking a fire that is already burning within them. My goal is to make sure they have the tools and resources to start and/or continue those DE&I conversations in their own organizations.
Asia: I hope attendees will be more encouraged to take more DE&I initiatives at their own workplace. I hope our personal experiences and stories that we share motivates attendees to be an ally in the workplace others. Speak up if you see someone making someone else uncomfortable. Plan team activities that everyone can be apart of and enjoy. Make people on your team feel comfortable to be their unique selves.
Cliff: I want attendees to leave the panel discussion excited, empowered, and inspired. Excited about the advancements our industry has achieved so far, empowered to continue to push for change, and inspired to get involved in improving our industry and support each other. We have come a long way, but we have much more progress to make!