by Alondra De Leon
Bringing one’s authentic self to work is a common phrase used to define the ideal state of employees, but a difficult decision to make for people from marginalized communities. When navigating layers of bias and stereotypes that we feel we have to constantly overcome or overcompensate for, some of us choose to conform or code switch as coping mechanisms.
In my personal experience, having found affinity and role models was crucial to comfortably bring my true self into the workplace. This is how employees resource groups (ERGs) can contribute to creating a culture of inclusion. It is an empowerment tool to have critical mass and drive the culture and structure of the workplace to change. Since my involvement in the ERGs at Gilbane, I have an enhanced purpose as a woman of color in the construction industry. The passion to become a professional in the AEC industry also includes being a champion of change – driving our culture of inclusion and representation at Gilbane.
The efforts to redesign the workplace and influence the culture to challenge the status quo in our organization has led to teams of cross-functional individuals organizing toward this purpose. ERGs, like the ones we have at Gilbane, have formed organically as grassroots organizations with individuals that share common identities. These groups seek to empower the workforce into having places of inclusion, where they can organize to work toward common goals of professional advancement, networking and influencing the culture. ERGs facilitate a safe haven for shared experiences and dismantling barriers. A couple of years ago at Gilbane, new ERGs were created, and existing ones enhanced, as an initiative from senior leadership, responding to existing demographical representation. A company-wide effort was made to organize and empower historically marginalized populations to have a stronger voice at the workplace.
Hispanics Organizing Leaders @ Gilbane (HOL@) is the first employee group that serves as a resource for the Hispanic/Latinx community and its allies. We seek to forge a culture-forward workplace that is inviting to the workforce we look to attract. Our highly motivated leaders work together to voice our collective experiences to have a presence and enhance the opportunities for advancement of our Latinx employees. Borrowed from the widely-known phrase “fashion-forward,” this “culture forward” concept came about thinking of a way to summarize the idea of creating a workplace environment where individuals can find inclusion and belonging even if they are not represented in large numbers.
Our chances to recruit, retain and grow Latinx talent depends on our ability to also bring our genuine selves to a workplace that is ready to embraces us as we are. With a whole lot of work and our shared passion to make a difference, HOL@ Gilbane serves our community and contributes to becoming the best company for Latinx to work in the construction business.
Alondra De Leon is a project manager with Gilbane Building Company and is currently working on the West Haven High School Renovation Project in West Haven, Conn.