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Imagine: You are obligated to attend an event that you are dreading, and will be attending alone. As you walk into the venue, you feel everyone noticing you but there are no smiles, nods or greetings. As you scan the room, there are no familiar faces and it’s filled with small cliques in tight circles. You approach a nearby group, but everyone looks at you then continues their conversation. You start to feel tense and isolated as the evening drags on. There is no way to sneak out. A good time was not had by all.

Most people have experienced exclusion in some form. It can be painful to recall the embarrassment and nervousness, and can result in a loss of confidence and an avoidance of social situations or attempts to fit in. Exclusion happens everywhere—especially in the workplace where people spend a large portion of their time—and it is important that businesses create inclusive environments where employees can thrive.

Inclusion cannot be looked at in a vacuum. It is an important component of the three-tiered approach known as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

  1.  Diversity requires that the make-up of staff reflects the world, with a mix of genders, races, ethnicities, LGBTQ+ and more. 

  2. Inclusion must ensure all of these (very different) employees being hired are working in an environment where they can feel comfortable and in which they feel that they belong. 

  3. Equity means all employees are treated fairly and given equal opportunities for training, professional development, project assignments and leadership roles. 


These three components overlap and must constantly be assessed, adjusted and redefined. To be truly successful, a business must put effort into all three and recognize that the process is more than merely checking a few boxes.


How does a firm create a culture that embraces and supports everyone? First of all, leadership must believe in the DEI cause. For some, embracing DEI because it is the right thing to do is enough, while for others, a business argument may be required. The simple answer has two parts:

  1. By attracting and hiring a diverse workforce, with a variety of points-of-view and life experiences, firms can create stronger teams; and
  2. For employees to be at their best, firms must create inclusive, supportive and equitable environments. If employees do not have to expend energy worrying, adapting or hiding—and they see advancement opportunities for themselves—they will contribute more and stay longer, thus improving a business’s retention and bottom line. So, in addition to DEI being a noble cause, it is also a solid business practice.

Training is critical to moving the needle forward, and training on the subject of unconscious/implicit bias can be especially successful. Sessions can be tough and uncomfortable as personal issues emerge and employees realize these biases have impact; however, the resulting awareness and sensitivity can start to become part of the firm culture. Additionally, this training may make it easier for colleagues to understand how conditions and experiences shape someone, allowing for greater empathy. Implicit bias training can also help reveal deficiencies in a firm’s recruiting efforts. The construction industry can improve diversity through improvements in recruiting and pipeline initiatives, working with nonprofit organizations like Nontraditional Employment for Women and working with local resources—high schools, vocational schools and colleges.

It is important for firms to approach DEI training from several different angles including formal and informal sessions, open discussions and interactive panels. This training is highly recommended because it heightens awareness of DEI and can be leveraged to “wake up” employees and encourage them to think about important issues and report unacceptable behavior. In New York, yearly harassment training is now required for firms of a certain size. Conducted in-person by an expert facilitator, with attendance required for all staff and leadership. This training covers topics such as the types of harassment, the legal risk and liability involved for all, one’s responsibility as a bystander, as well as reporting requirements. Managers receive additional training on how to handle any potential harassment complaints.

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