As a woman who has worked many decades in male-dominated environments, I’ve had my share of hurtful experiences. In a previous role at a different company, I remember when my male peers gathered around the conference room table to eat, while two female support staff and I sat on the sidelines with no food because we might be needed to get coffee or copies. I remember overhearing the conversations about not wanting to hire women because ‘they might get pregnant.’ Where it was assumed that we couldn’t be in a powerful decision making position because we would be too hormonal and emotional. Opportunities presented to women were limited, traditional and dead end. And to speak up meant being blackballed, alienated or fired.
Fast forward to today. Thank goodness we are in such a different time and place, where such overt displays of intolerance are no longer acceptable. Yet there is much more to be done. While I feel lucky to be with a company where people are judged on the innovation of their ideas, their commitment to the work, and their dedication to each other and our customers, I know our own diversity and inclusion journey is far from over.
Moving to action
This topic is big, and touches deeply at what it means to work alongside others. Brave and honest conversations are needed to change entrenched cultures. We have to question, and seek to understand, what it means to be a diverse and inclusive organization.
McKinstry gets good marks in hiring a diverse array of people as compared to our peers. But we don’t want to just be doing well – we want to be leading the way to change the face of the construction industry. A lot of that starts with hiring people who are underrepresented in the construction industry, such as women, people of different races and ethnicities, ages and sexual orientation. But how do we help all people see that careers in our industry are open to them?
It starts well before an employee walks in our doors. That’s why we’ve invested our money, time and knowledge in moving more youth into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs. We also partner with trade unions to understand the challenges they have in attracting a diverse pool of people and work side-by-side with them to tackle the problem.
We’re also taking a look at how we retain our great people and move them into higher levels of the company. We know that employees who are given opportunities to spread their wings are more likely to stay and grow. This starts with an inclusive work environment, and a commitment to inclusion starts at the top.
Leading by example
Before our leadership up and down the company convened two weeks ago to begin these challenging conversations, I asked each person to send me a few words on why diversity and inclusion was important to them. I was humbled by the deep humanity in those comments, by the unique experience each of us carry.
Dean Allen, our CEO, reminded all of us that while McKinstry was founded as a company that champions inclusion, there have been blind spots, and it is our job to build an inclusive environment for all who walk through our doors. This is the promise that Dean and all leaders at McKinstry make to each of our 2,000 employees.
I often reflect on the obstacles I’ve faced in my career that stood between me and where I am today. As time passed, my quiet hurt and anger turned to curiosity. I was resilient and determined to ease the struggle of others in whatever way I could. Sometimes that meant directly challenging points of view, or sometimes it simply meant lending a compassionate ear. Today, I feel privileged to listen and learn, and help McKinstry lead the way on diversity and inclusion.
Cheryl Di Re is McKinstry’s Chief Administrative Officer.