How Granite Construction is Planting the Seeds for Inclusivity and Belonging | Phenom

Maggie Blehar

November 24, 2022

Your investments in employee experience technology, talent mobility programs, and learning and development are meaningless if employees don’t feel like they belong at your organization. Creating a culture of growth and mobility for all begins with a strong foundation of inclusivity. 
 

Currently, only 36% of employees report being engaged in their work and workplace, and only 24% of leaders note that employee connection and belonging is something they think about and plan around daily. These numbers must change in order to increase employee growth and retention.
 

Granite Construction’s Jorge Quezada, Vice President of People and Culture, shared ways leaders can plant the seeds of inclusivity and be more intentional with how we engage, hire, develop, and retain talent. 
 

Watch the conversation below, or read on for the highlights!
 


How does Granite Construction approach DEI&B?
 

Quezada has spent the last 25 years of his career in HR focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B). As VP of People and Culture at Granite Construction, his role spans talent acquisition, workplace compliance, and DEI&B.
 

One of the hiring challenges Granite Construction faces is a dwindling pool of workers interested in on-site construction, as growing numbers of people entering the workforce have college degrees and opt for different career paths.  
 

“[In looking at] what was important for us to actually practice, we landed on practicing inclusive diversity,” Quezada shared. That means creating a workplace environment that fosters a sense of inclusion and belonging for all current employees, as well as employees you plan to attract in the future. 
 


How do you clarify the core terms of DEI&B?
 

“’Diversity is the mix, and inclusion is making that mix work.’ That’s how we define it here,” Quezada said, quoting Andrés Tapia, a leading voice in DEI&B. 
 

By now, most HR leaders know that DEI&B isn’t simply about making sure your workforce ticks all the demographic boxes. The actions employers take to make sure individuals feel that they’re treated equitably, feel included in the culture, and feel like they belong at work, are essential.
 

“I’ve grown up with [DEI&B] knowing that if you practice good, diverse and inclusive practices, and if you do that well, the outcome should be equity. The outcome should be an environment where people feel like they belong.”
 

Keep in mind, too, that it’s possible to build an inclusive environment but not have enough diversity to make it sustainable — whether in thought, culture, or experience. In this case, Quezada said it’s best to know what you’re trying to be inclusive for.
 

The key takeaway is that diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging cannot work in isolation.
 

Related reading: DEI&B: How to Build a Lasting Culture of Belonging
 

How can companies set realistic goals for attaining the right “mix”?
 

Creating a diverse workforce — getting the “mix” right — is foundational to DEI&B. It’s important for TA leaders to consider a range of factors when setting hiring goals: geographic location, industry, and the demographic makeup of your available talent market, for example. Only looking at general U.S. population statistics won’t work.
 

TA professionals also need to consider whether employees will feel a sense of belonging in the wider community as well as the workplace. 
 

One scenario Quezada has experienced is companies recruiting heavily from historically black colleges and universities without considering whether the locality offers amenities that will appeal to the community of incoming employees. If not, retention suffers.
 

“[If] the cities, the municipalities, don’t have the infrastructure to support the culture — the hairdressers, the products to support a specific community — all of a sudden, the people you brought in are leaving… So as a company, you want to see where you can make the greatest impact on the short term, but with a long-term strategy.”
 

To recap: 
 

  1. When setting diversity hiring goals, look at demographic statistics specific to your industry’s talent pool and the localities of workplaces.
  2. Consider whether the people you want to hire will feel a sense of belonging not only at work, but within the wider community.
     

How does the idea of safety factor into DEI&B?
 

If you take a look at Granite Construction’s core values, you’ll notice “safety for all” is one of them, which makes sense for a construction company. But Granite isn’t just focused on physical safety at the worksite (although that’s certainly a top priority). 
 

From a DEI&B perspective, safety refers to psychological safety — the idea that employees feel that they can do their jobs and be their authentic selves without any sort of reprisal, such as discrimination or rejection in the workplace.
 

At Granite, physical safety on the job site is dependent on workers feeling psychologically safe. “There has to be a level of trust, collaboration, and understanding,” Quezada said. If not, it’s not an inclusive environment.
 

To make sure employees feel a sense of inclusivity and belonging, organizations can: 
 

  • Evaluate how their company supports psychological safety for all employees. 
  • Ask: do our core values communicate a commitment to inclusivity and belonging?
     


How important is “unlearning” to achieve inclusivity?
 

“If you have a brain, you’re biased. Let’s just put it that way,” Quezada said bluntly. And biologically, it’s true: from birth, humans learn to subconsciously make judgments about their environment.
 

That’s why ingraining inclusive diversity depends on helping people “unlearn” biases they’ve accumulated over their lifetime.  
 

“Everything about inclusive diversity is about helping people unlearn what they’ve learned, relearn, and then help them feel comfortable with [that process]. Because this is always evolving,” Quezada said. 
 

And this practice is an infinite game. Instead of setting end-points, Quezada recommended looking for milestones along the way that indicate progress is happening. For example, at Granite, when Quezada started hearing employees talk about how they’re practicing inclusive diversity, he knew progress was happening.
 

Quezada shared how he and other leaders at Granite help employees retrain their brains:
 

  1. Establish the goal of the interaction: is it generating awareness, participation, or engagement
  2. Take action. Can you notice how someone wants to be treated, can you understand, and can you act with compassion?
     

Helping employees “unlearn” is an important aspect of an inclusive environment because it teaches employees how they can take meaningful, compassionate action to promote inclusivity.
 


How can HR prompt inclusivity conversations? 
 

Historically, external events tend to dictate the rise and fall of DEI&B efforts. 
 

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, for example, many people adamantly expressed their emotions, while others took personal initiative to learn more about racial injustice and inequality in our country. However, after initial reactions to this injustice, people returned to their comfort zones. According to Quezada, this is how the human brain is wired. 
 

Because of this, it’s more important than ever to keep DEI&B dialogues evergreen, regardless of what’s going on externally.  
 

In fact, companies that continue a consistent cadence of DEI&B initiatives are the ones that will stay the most competitive. “That’s how companies are going to be defined in the future, I believe — by the environments that we create and the environments we sustain.” 
 


“We are the vanguards of the policies and procedures of the company, but inherently, people look to us as being not only the culture keepers but the culture makers,” Quezada said. “If DEI&B is part of your department, continue to embrace it. If not, partner with them.” 
 

Get more on DEI&B in the workplace: 
Download our Definitive Guide to the Employee Experience

Maggie Blehar

Maggie is a writer at Phenom, bringing you information on all things talent experience. In addition to writing, she enjoys traveling, painting, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends.