When you think about a construction site, what comes to mind? Most likely, a place full of men, right? Well, Granite Construction is hard at work bringing more women into construction, an industry where there are a lot of amazing opportunities. Here’s how they are doing it!

The Red Shoe Movement talked to Jorge Quezada, Chief Diversity Officer, VP, People and Culture and with Aby Combs, Inclusive Diversity Program Manager who shared their DEI journey to transform the construction business.

Granite hosts a Construction DEI talks podcast
Granite hosts a Construction DEI talks podcast with Jorge Quezada and Aby Combs

RED SHOE MOVEMENT – Could you tell us about Granite’s journey towards a more inclusive and diverse construction workforce and the company’s focus on bringing more women into construction?

JQ – The way Granite has gone about creating an inclusive environment is based on two premises. The first one is what we believe diversity and inclusion are. At Granite, we believe that diversity is “the mix” and inclusion is “making the mix work.”  That’s how Andres Tapia out of Korn Ferry defines it.

The second is that we at Granite practice “inclusive diversity” and aim to be inclusive today, tomorrow, and into the future. These two premises have allowed us to question ourselves, our priorities, our habits, and the systems we need to put in place. When we started educating people to notice, understand, and act towards equity and inclusion as a company, we realized that we may not always be the only contractor or the subcontractor at a job site. Sometimes, in projects that involve thousands, there may only be twenty Granite employees on site. This needed to be bigger than just a Granite pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion. This needed to be an industry approach.

One of the things we realized is that if we as a company only focus on bringing women into Granite, it would be great for Granite, but would we truly be making an impact in the communities where we live and do our work?

RSM – How does Granite work to challenge gender stereotypes and encourage women to consider construction as a viable career option?

JQ –We’re asking people to change the view that they have created when it comes to construction.

We are a hundred-year-old company. A hundred years ago, roles like foreman or superintendent were specifically done by men and over time, those roles have evolved. We’ve had more women come into the industry, more women come into Granite as engineers or project managers. Just like maybe we needed to see women as engineers or project managers, now we also need to see women in construction roles.

We’re asking people to think differently: What would this role look like if a woman had it? And it has allowed us to not only prepare the environment for more women, but also to prepare for other aspects of diversity that we may not have thought about previously.

RSM – What mentorship or leadership development programs does Granite offer to support women’s skill development within the construction industry?

JQ – It’s really cool. If you look at Granite’s inclusive diversity roadmap, you’re going to notice that early in the first three years of our strategy map, we said we wanted to commit to the mix.

One of the things that we wanted to do in that early commit-to-the-mix phase was to create more mentors and sponsors. Our women’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) developed a mentorship program that started out just being for themselves. In less than two years, however, it got expanded to have a broader reach and more partnerships. It was through our Women’s ERG that this mentoring program expanded company-wide and it’s paying dividends.

We don’t just recruit talent; we identify and inspire talent. We develop talent. We uncover talent. That’s what inclusive diversity and these mentorship programs allow us to do.

Granite Construction is bringing women into construction
Granite Construction is bringing women into construction

RSM – Tell us more about your women’s leadership program.

JQ – McKinsey did a study with LeanIn.Org, and one of the things they realized was that the reason women don’t go into leadership at the rate men do is because the first rung of the professional ladder is broken. Access into leadership programs is not something that companies have a strong grip on.

This validated Granite’s view: For us to be better at recruiting, developing, and advancing women’s careers in Granite, one of the things that we needed to do was socialize the idea early on in someone’s career. So, we created the Advancing Women’s Leadership Program.

This program identifies early talent at our lowest pay grades and brings them into an environment where they get to learn about themselves, about the company, and about how to navigate through the company efficiently. By doing it at the early stages in someone’s career, we give tell them that we think they have this potential. We want to put them on a leadership track earlier so that they know that there’s an interest for their development.

We don’t want women to go years without a conversation about their interest in leadership. Or to assume that they’re not interested in leadership because they’re going to start a family. There are a lot of things that we’re trying to eliminate from the systems. We’re trying to de-bias them, and this is one way we can do it.

Jorge Quezada with #WingsOfCourage at the 2022 RSM Signature Event is passionate about bringing women into construction
Jorge Quezada with #WingsOfCourage at the 2022 RSM Signature Event is passionate about bringing women into construction

RSM – Can you tell us about your partnership with Red Shoe Movement and bringing #WingsOfCourage to Granite?

JQ – The first reason we partnered with Red Shoe Movement was that we became big fans of what Mariela Dabbah was doing in the sense of amplifying the need for more women in workspaces. The second was their #WingOfCourage initiative.

We’ve noticed that a certain level of courage is needed to come and work in the construction industry thanks to existing biases. When we saw the #WingOfCourage concept, we thought, wait a minute, is this too good to be true? Are we saying we could not only partner up with Red Shoe Movement and amplify the need of having more women in workspaces (especially in construction), but we could also have these #WingsOfCourage? And then it became a no brainer.

Suddenly, we realized that what we’re saying in this partnership is: Come to Granite and let your career soar. These wings are going to conceptually allow women to soar in our industry and here at Granite. They represent the altitude of our aspirations. You have wings to fly.

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RSM – Tell us more about Granite’s other initiatives and partnership of bringing women into construction.

JQ –Historically we’ve partnered with associations whether it’s the Associated General Contractors of America, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, NSSGA and so on. Those partnerships where we’re also pursuing the workforce development and bringing more women into the workplace. From a talent acquisition perspective, we have partnered up with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, American Indian Science and Engineer Society, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers, and, the Society of Women Engineers. Our job is to show how the dots connect. Collectively we are the mix. We believe by getting young women thinking about construction we will be their first choice because Granite has the most inclusive, most diverse, supportive place in the industry.

Granite is bringing women into construction
Granite is bringing women into construction
Here's a great project that prepares women who build

RSM – How does having a diverse workforce and bringing women into construction contribute to the overall success and innovation of the construction sector?

JQ – There’s, an adage that basically says that when you do diversity, equity, and inclusion, the byproduct of it is that you get innovation and high levels of engagement. If you want to look at what the future looks like or what is necessary, you need different perspectives. With DEI you’re almost guaranteed that by bringing in people with different backgrounds, different lived experiences, different environments where they grew up, they will bring different ideas into the room.

They will bring an energy to innovate in a way that creates a level of engagement that you don’t see in places without it. There’s a level of excitement that takes place when you’re trying new things. That’s what we’ve noticed about diversity, equity, and inclusion.  We’re doing so much today that we didn’t do before, whether it’s 192. 2 Granite Radio, our podcasts, our community calls. You get the engagement.

RSM – Are there any inspiring success stories of women who you have brought into the construction industry?

JQ – As a company, we have done some incredible things. Our head of HR, Tim Gruber put together a committee in California that was doing the very things that we’re doing here at a national level for four years now.

When we think about the percentages of women of color that go through our interns’ program, we now see some of them going through the pipeline in the last three years. In the pipeline we have internal candidates we didn’t have before. We have women in leadership that we didn’t have before. We’re seeing our efforts making an impact.

In 2019, the number of women in leadership was at around 14. 8 or 14. 9 percent. We already have that number at close to 18 percent, shooting for an aspirational goal of 20. That is a big deal, moving those percentage points in such a short time. But I have to tell you, the engine was already there. We just happened to meet it right at the same time and leverage all the great momentum that had been created.

Aby Combs with Granite #WingsOfCourage
Aby Combs with Granite #WingsOfCourage works towards bringing women into construction
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