Want to Build a Truly Successful Team? Find Candidates Who Make You Think.
Bart Ricketts, Lease Crutcher Lewis
November 10, 2020
It won’t be news to anybody when I tell you that the construction industry is largely male and Caucasian. Traditionally, the leading sources of talent for firms like ours have been engineering and construction management programs that predominantly produce graduates who fit this profile. Given that landscape, it can be an uphill battle to develop a diverse team. But our Evergreen® construction company, Lease Crutcher Lewis, is committed to that fight because we know the benefit to our culture and the competitive advantage that diversity brings.
To be clear, when we talk about diversity, our priority is diversity of thought. We are not aiming to fulfill quotas, check boxes, or reach specific percentages of ethnic or gender representation. Instead, our primary objective in recruiting and retaining team members is to create a team comprised of different points of view, educational backgrounds, and personal and professional experiences.
We prioritize diversity of thought because research—and our experience—tells us that it leads to innovation and allows companies to be more nimble and more creative, leading to increased productivity and success. And, for us, seeking out diverse thinkers feels more genuine and authentic than hiring based on numbers and percentages. When we aim for diversity of thought, great diversity of all types follows. We think this approach has been a hallmark of our success in developing a diverse team.
Ten years ago, as I was beginning to really grapple with the topic of diversity, I had the good fortune to receive the resumé of a young international student for an entry level engineer position. Vishnu Jhaveri stood out to me because, among the stack of resumés I had received from recent graduates of engineering and construction programs, he had a degree in architecture. I thought that it would benefit us to bring on somebody who could see things from the design side and offer that perspective to our construction teams. When we interviewed him, we immediately saw that he was also a culture fit in terms of his values and operating style.
We hired Vishnu and put him to work as a young project engineer. The fact that he grew up in India proved to be an unintended benefit to our work. Not only did he provide diversity of thought through his professional expertise, he offered the perspective of growing up outside of the U.S. His thinking and approach to problem solving reflect this experience. He offers a different viewpoint that adds value to our business and richness to our culture. Fast forward 10 years, and Vishnu is one of our high-performing project managers. He's a leader within our business, a vocal recruiter for our company, and a champion in our efforts to continue to seek out diversity of thought.
That experience had a significant influence in how we continue to recruit and build our team. We have developed relationships with universities that enroll a higher percentage of international students, people of color, or female graduates. And, we have increasingly pursued “nontraditional” hires, those who may not have an engineering or construction management degree but have unique skills or a background that would allow us to train and develop them within our organization.
Four years ago, we hired Amy Rutz, a junior high school teacher who was looking for a career change. Amy had real passion for the building process and was a culture fit, but she had no experience in the field. We took a chance on hiring her and put her to work as a project engineer, a position she executed really well for three years. Recently, we transitioned her into a role as our training and development coordinator, in which she now pairs the powerful knowledge gained through years as an engineer with her teaching background to run our training and development curriculum for all of our employees.
In our experience, the success of building a team in which people like Vishnu and Amy thrive relies on a culture that consistently supports diversity of thought. I think you'd be hard pressed to find somebody in our company who hasn't heard the CEO talk about the power of diversity of thought and how important it is to us and how we operate as a company.
This messaging is reinforced by two of our core values—"Trust and Respect" and "Fulfillment"—which similarly support diversity of thought. Unless you trust that your teammates will listen to your point of view, be open to your perspective, ask quality questions to seek understanding, and respect you for sharing your opinion, you’re not likely to share your thoughts. If trust and respect are present, ideas are shared openly and diversity of thought rises to the surface, propelling innovation. And, when you are free to share your thoughts and ideas—to bring your whole self to work each day—you are much more likely to be fulfilled in your job.
I’m proud of our intentional focus on diversity, but I also know that we can do much more. I am looking forward to continuing to help our recruiters gain awareness of unintentional, subconscious biases that may be barriers to hiring. We will offer ongoing coaching to team members involved in hiring to help them understand how their personal background might produce biases when it comes to recruiting, hiring, training, and promoting people.
As a leader, I know that raising awareness of these issues can be uncomfortable and may require removing people from the hiring process who can’t move beyond these biases. That takes bold leadership and decisiveness, but if there are team members who are perpetuating unintentional biases and can’t rewire, we need to seek out someone else to recruit—someone who recognizes the value in diversity of thought. Because for us, continuing to foster diversity and growing our company to reflect the widest possible variety of thought, perspective, and experience is essential. It’s through diversity that we will continue to innovate and thrive for the long-term.
Bart Ricketts is CEO of Lease Crutcher Lewis.