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Balfour Beatty’s Path to Diversity and Inclusion

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This article is the first in a three-part series that follows the diversity and inclusion (D&I) journeys of three of the country’s largest construction firms. 

Research by the Center for Talent Innovation found that employees with “inclusive managers are 1.3 times more likely to feel their innovative potential is unlocked. Employees who are able to bring their whole selves to work are 42% less likely to say they intend to leave their job within a year. And 69% of women who off-ramp would have stayed at their companies if they’d had flexible work options.”

The companies featured in the series are in various stages of their D&I efforts, but what they do have in common is a commitment to bringing about real change. 

Balfour Beatty   

Two years ago when Leon Blondin took the reigns of Balfour Beatty’s U.S. Buildings operations, he talked about the future and getting back to basics. A large part of that initiative involved creating a company with a ‘people-first culture.’ Since then that sentiment has been reflected in the company’s language.

Without diversity and a culture of inclusion, the goal of having a company-wide culture of ‘people first’ couldn’t truly come to pass. 

Tamara Yang, Balfour’s vice president of organizational development, recalled the impetus behind the idea as one of “thinking about the company we are, and the company we want to become.” But, without diversity and a culture of inclusion, that goal of having a company-wide culture of ‘people first’ couldn’t truly come to pass. 

Yang admits that fostering diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do. However, she also acknowledges a strong business case because “we need to attract the best talent, and the best talent is not always being found in our traditional sources anymore.” 

Many companies are also finding the benefits of D&I. They position them for success in a world where diversity is becoming a measure of a company’s competitiveness.

Balfour Beatty already had its requisite diversity and inclusion initiatives, but it was missing a cohesive or coordinated effort at the national level. Business units weren’t always leveraging each other’s best practices, and a framework for sharing was missing. But before diving in to create a more nuanced diversity and inclusion program, there were many questions that needed answers and many voices that needed to be heard.

Communication Feeds Understanding

Yang began by having very open, honest conversations with company leaders in small groups. People talked about the challenges they faced and shared specifics about their diversity and inclusion climates. They also talked about the difficulties and risks of putting diversity and inclusion practices into action. They even spent time analyzing failures and considering what actions could make future outcomes more favorable. And, they talked about successes.

Yang began by having very open, honest conversations with company leaders in small groups.

One of Balfour Beatty’s offices, with active projects in several traditionally African American universities, is involved with their construction management classes. Another office is making great strides through veterans hiring and outreach events. There is also a division that’s highly successful in bringing women into the industry; it is sharing the knowledge on what works and what doesn’t with the other divisions. At the leadership level, Yang said she sees an increased presence of company leaders at various conferences where they openly discuss diversity and inclusion.

Getting the Right Data

Through all the conversations, there were also many behind-the-scenes activities going on. People started doing deep dives into employee data to find the reality of diversity and inclusion within a national company. Those understandings were important to avoid false starts and dead ends. Similarly, the company couldn’t move in the right direction without acknowledging that improving diversity and inclusion takes more than making it a requirement.   

“I couldn’t just push something out and say everybody needs to go do this,” Yang explained. “Or, everybody needs to have this kind of training, or go recruit these types of people, or go to these types of universities or career fairs. So, what our 2019 goal has been is to really understand where we are across the business.” 

I couldn’t just push something out and say everybody needs to go do this.

The company’s first focus is in three areas: gender, racial/cultural diversity, and veterans. Part of the process included using data collected from onboarding and engagement surveys. However, they found the surveys weren’t giving them meaningful data and required revising. Now, they are more relevant to assessing and tracking the company’s diversity and inclusion climate. The process also didn’t stop with just data and talks among upper management.

Learnings From the Front Lines

Superintendents have been an integral part as well. Since they run all the fieldwork, their perspectives have proven invaluable in understanding the dynamics of diversity and inclusion at the project field level. The company learned from them that some of the best field leaders were women, but they were missing a sufficiently supportive environment when working with subcontractors and other partners. 

When it comes to recruiting from different types of industries and diverse sources, Yang said the retention rate is not as high as it is for those from traditional sources. 

“It’s not just enough to bring them in the door,” she said. “We have to acknowledge that new employees from non-traditional sources (e.g. veterans) are going to need some support, in the beginning, to get up to speed.”

Yang said that the company’s pace has been methodical because recognizing the reality of diversity and inclusion within the company had to be the first step, and that wasn’t going to be fully understood in short order. She also stressed that success was only going to come if the attempts started at the top.  

The Leadership Priority

“What I was very clear on was that I was not going to be the voice box for this,” she said. “I was not going to be the only one speaking on it. It really needs to come from our executive leadership team. And that’s the CEO, the president, and the executive leaders. And there has not been any hesitation on that at all.”

I was not going to be the only one speaking on it. It really needs to come from our executive leadership team.

Yang emphasized that forming partnerships with forward-thinking organizations like Procore, who share Balfour Beatty’s values and have the same inclusion and diversity goals for the industry, are mutually beneficial. They provide even more energy and ideas that everyone can leverage.  

Balfour Beatty’s efforts are still young. While there aren’t clear metrics to measure the degree of success yet, the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives feed into the goal of people first and creating a company where everyone can succeed.  

Interested in learning more about building and fostering diversity and inclusion into your company culture? The Procore Building Inclusion program offers three different courses, each addressing specific features for fostering inclusion. The free courses are open now.   

While at Procore’s Annual Groundbreak Conference, you won’t want to miss Procore’s Global Inclusion and Diversity Director, Valerie Jackson, as she leads the Construction-Specific Case Study: Our Journey Through Inclusion & Diversity session on Oct. 10.

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