Representation can make any community stronger. In fact, organizations that focus on diversity, equality, and inclusion tend to be more profitable, have higher retention rates, and be more innovative.
Despite all the benefits of representation, though, many organizations still find some conversations around the topic difficult. Leaders may want to make changes, but they may not be sure how to achieve those changes and positively impact their workplaces.
That’s where global diversity, equality, and inclusion, or DEI, comes into play. In the construction industry, a DEI practitioner can not only help an organization improve representation within its workplace – but through integrating and embedding the practice and principles of DEI into an organization, improve overall outcomes.
To dig deeper into this exciting and pertinent topic, we recently sat down with Stacee Barkley, Global Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Leader at DPR Construction. She shared her perspective on how DEI can be addressed in the workplace, how it affects the employers that do the hard work, her passion for people, and her role in encouraging more people from underrepresented communities to work in the construction industry.
Tell me a little bit about DPR Construction and what you specialize in.
DPR is a privately-held, employee-owned commercial general contractor and construction management company. It was founded in 1990 and focuses on the core markets of healthcare, education, commercial office projects, advanced tech, and life sciences. We also specialize in technically complex and sustainable projects.
One of the unique things about DPR is that there have always been guiding principles that included DEI from an early stage, particularly in leadership roles. For 32 years, there has been DEI within this company. At its inception, DPR sought to have more women and people of color represented in all roles and responsibilities. In 2019, DPR focused more intentionally on DEI, by aligning DEI within the value proposition of the company and positioning DEI in their global social responsibility group (GSR). GSR is made up of four pillars: People (diversity, equity, and inclusion), Partners, the supplier diversity pillar, the Planet (which is built around sustainable living and building), and Philanthropy (which includes our foundation and community initiatives).
With DPR, I am the Global Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion Leader. I lead the “people” pillar of the global social responsibility group. I joined the organization to focus on what DEI means for us outside of what is happening organically. I look at how we can be intentional in how we move forward and make a meaningful difference.
Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming Global DEI Leader.
I believe that my career path was more like a lattice than a ladder. I’ve always had a passion for people and helping connect under-resourced, underrepresented, and marginalized communities with opportunities.
This has been reflected in my career; I was an administrator for outpatient mental health services, managed philanthropic relationships, and managed clinical teams for a medical device company.
My career path was more like a lattice than a ladder.
At my last company, they offered me an opportunity to work in the DEI space full time. I used to say that DEI was my side hustle. DEI was always adjacent to my roles but that move is what led into a career as a practitioner.
Representation is critical to building a more inclusive industry. When was the first time you saw yourself represented in the construction industry, and what impact did that have on you?
One of the things that compelled me to the industry was a lack of representation. There was an opportunity for me to help to create and represent the value proposition for a career in this industry for someone who looks like me.
When I came into the industry, there were not a lot of “me’s.” That is both from a gender perspective as a woman but also race as a Black woman. That said, one of the compelling things about working with DPR was the number of women in leadership throughout the organization.
To specifically point to a time when I could say, “Oh, that person looks more like me than someone else,” that hasn’t happened holistically across the industry. If you look at the numbers, they are what they are (in other words there are many underrepresented groups). Because of that, the opportunity to participate in (intentionally) bringing the practice of DEI to the organization and industry was very compelling. When you do this work, you want to link arms with as many people as you can and bring them along on the journey.
I’ve had more than a number of friends and colleagues in the DEI space ask if I could have chosen a more difficult industry in which to advance this work, but I say that is why the work has to be done here.
What have been the most encouraging steps and changes you’ve seen for DEI in the construction industry over the last few years?
There have been a few changes over the last few years; namely, acknowledgment and activation. First, people were talking about the proverbial elephant in the room. Today, those conversations are happening. Not only that, but then people are taking steps to create a positive change.
There are more pledges, about cultivating job sites that are more inclusive and that foster a sense of belonging and psychological safety. There are more “me’s,” in terms of the DEI leaders found across the industry.
Also, last year was the first year of Construction Inclusion Week. That was created after a large group of six major general contractors came together and said, “We can do more.” This year, it is the week of October 17- 21, and it acknowledges that more can be done to address DEI in the industry. The week itself is building the foundation for more inclusion.
Each day of Construction Inclusion Week has a theme around leadership, accountability, supplier diversity, belonging, jobsite/worksite culture, belonging, and community engagement.
Where are the biggest opportunities for growth right now for DEI in construction?
The biggest opportunities are in the integration of the principles and practices of DEI throughout the employee lifecycle. There has to be an intersection of psychological and physical safety. There also has to be an acknowledgment that change will require commitment and accountability. You can’t just talk about doing something, you have to do something.
What are the most important, actionable steps that firms and business leaders can take to improve diversity and inclusion holistically at their companies?
First, there has to be a recognition that DEI is about and for everyone. It benefits the entire organization. The data shows that organizations that have an emphasis on DEI while taking intentional actions around DEI are more innovative, have higher retention rates, and are more profitable. Employees who work there are happier and less likely to move on.
So, first, recognize the importance of DEI for the entire organization. On one hand, you can just be a better human by focusing on DEI, and on the other, it does benefit the entire organization.
Then, being intentional about your commitment matters. Think of DEI as a practice and set of principles, not just a function.
It takes time, energy, and resources for companies to focus on how they hire, inspire, develop, and grow. During those stages of the employee lifecycle, they should be thinking about DEI to improve their financial and human capital in a positive and meaningful manner.
Leaders also need to be willing to have challenging, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations. It’s okay to say, “I might say the wrong thing, but I want to make a positive change. What do we need to do?”
Think of DEI as a practice and set of principles, not just a function.
Not letting the past impede what you need to do is vital. It is easy to defer to “this is the way we have always done something” or there may be the perception of, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” but being willing to open the aperture and look through the lens of possibilities is key. Ask yourself, if time, money, and traditional conditioning were not limiting factors, what could we do? Then, value-engineer according to capacity.
Don’t try and have a solution for everything at one time. There are a thousand great ideas, a hundred things that are important but only a few things that will make a meaningful difference. Focus on the few.
Most importantly DEI is about and for everyone. It is not exclusively about representation, but also about equity and inclusion. DEI and the intersection of psychological safety with physical safety, can contribute to incident free environments. Inclusion begins with “I” and includes “us” – we each can contribute to cultivating cultures of inclusion and belonging throughout our respective companies and the industry. Everyone wants to know who they are and what they do matters.