How our Boston team creates an inclusive workplace



An inclusive workplace is one where every person feels as though they can voice their ideas and contribute their expertise.  In today’s intergenerational, diverse offices – where millennials work side by side with baby boomers – it’s especially important to make sure that all team members feel valued, respected and engaged – regardless of their age or work experience.

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As part of Diversity & Inclusion Week, we brought together a group of men and women of various generations from our Boston team to discuss their careers and how inclusion impacts their performance and possibilities.  Here are some highlights from the conversation on how inclusion has made an impact on their work:

- “Inclusion means tapping into ideas from different backgrounds,” said Ali Brathwaite, a CAD engineer who joined Skanska’s BIM team right after graduation in 2014. “You’re a part of it and bring something to the table to help everyone succeed.”  For him, working with (and sitting at a desk nearby) VP of Operations Paul Pedini, has been a formative experience in his young career.  Ali spoke of how meaningful it was to have Paul ask for Ali’s (a self-described transit nerd) take on a new transportation project and how Paul’s emphasis on Injury-Free Environment training had impacted his own perspective on safety. Inclusion means sharing ideas and expertise, regardless of age or position.

- For Steve Lappin, a director of mechanical preconstruction in his first year with the company inclusion, means tapping into the unique skill sets of both older and younger workers. On the preconstruction side, Steve still likes to get hands-on with plans, breaking out the highlighters and Post-its where needed. As a baby boomer, working alongside technologically-fluent Xers and millennials is both a learning and teaching opportunity for him. Steve looks to his younger colleagues to help him utilize the most efficient technology for his projects, yet at the same time he tries to teach his colleagues the importance of face-to-face communications. “You have to talk directly to people. Take that 30 minutes to build a personal relationship.”  Doug Hill, senior graphic design director with 13 years of experience at Skanska, echoed Steve’s comments: “Technology can take away the personal aspect. Someone says ‘I sent him three emails.’ Did you pick up the phone? It’s the personal touch, stepping away from the technology. “

–  On the other side of the tech equation – millennials Emily Pfaffenbach, a project engineer, on the Watermark Seaport project, who has worked for Skanska for a year and Connor Hennessy, a former Skanska intern-turned-field engineer also on our Watermark project, shared how their innate ability with technology has helped make them invaluable to their teams. “I try to help with any computer problem and not judge,” Emily said. “They give me the construction knowledge so it’s a fair trade.”

The group also shared a few key ways to foster inclusion amongst intergenerational teams:

- “It’s about the relationships that you have. When you go around, you listen to what they [team members] say. Listen to their problems, help them along – successes and failures. That’s the secret.” – Sandy MacLeod, director of technical services who has been with Skanska since the 1980s (Traditionalist)

- “It shocks me when subject matter experts scoff at a new idea. Have an open dialogue.” – Doug Hill (Generation X)

- “I appreciated when I started and got thrust right into a project, my team did take time to sit down and chat about exactly what we’re doing. Our more senior members would teach us certain things to do and the best way to do it. When I had a question they dropped what they were doing. Now I am helping a new Latvian team member the same way and I understand why it is so important.” – Ali Braithwaite (Millennial)

- “You have to look at the big picture. Make everyone more efficient. If you don’t pay attention, you’re going to do it all. It’s important so everyone is capable of doing the work.” – Steve Lappin (Baby Boomer)

- “Learn from people. In construction, so much is based on past experiences. Soak in as much as you can.” – Connor Hennessy (Millennial)

- “When you’re working in a group, focusing on your own problems, everyone gets in “the pit.” You have to flip, put things in a different light… I’ve been in the industry for 30 years, and try to focus on the positive. Inclusion gets you out of the pit.” – Cindy O’Brien, a marketing director who has been with the company for a decade (Baby Boomer)

- “When I started my career, just out of college, there were not that many women. Going from jobsite to jobsite as the admin pushed me to have a voice. That experience molded me and helped me grow.” – Laurie Clifford,  Boston office manager who has been with Skanska for three decades (Baby Boomer)

- “At a team building event, we were brainstorming about our expertise. It’s funny how little we know about what skills people have. One of the things we discovered was the need to learn more about our personal skills and industry skills. Things about backgrounds: What did you do? What kinds of projects? The nitty-gritty. It’s really important for team work. “ –Bijou Vilaranda, an executive assistant who’s worked for Skanska for three years (Generation X)

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BOOSTing subcontractors in our communities

Inclusion directly impacts performance, especially when it comes to innovation. Inclusive groups facilitate more ideas, better ideas and different ideas.  On an individual level, performance improves when a person feels included and that has a direct impact on the group. Employees who believe they have more of a “voice” will exert more effort on behalf of the group, going above and beyond the “call of duty.”

But inclusion means more than just engaging internal team members. The more we work to educate and develop diverse talent, the larger the pool of potential employees and businesses we have to draw from. An environment that includes and engages a diverse group of talented people provides a competitive advantage and contributes to superior work.

Consider the case of the Building with an Objective to provide Opportunity through Sustainable Training (BOOST) program, which focuses on educating contractors. “There isn’t a book out there on how to be a sub [contractor],” said Lori Fox, of ML Fox Construction LLC, a BOOST participant. In order to address this educational gap, we created BOOST to help contractors improve their skills and raise the standards of the trade contractor pool in our communities. “The BOOST program is a pretty comprehensive overview of being a subcontractor,” said Fox. “It was really helpful. A lot of the things we had been doing – but maybe didn’t understand the why, and didn’t understand things from the general’s perspective.”  The ten-week program focuses on key construction management topics: everything from contracts and insurance to LEED and safety. By providing these resources to small and disadvantaged businesses, the BOOST program educates the trade contractor community to better understand their work, helping them perform better and deliver better results. “We go after all kinds of work now,” said Fox.

Inclusion works because it is a competitive advantage.

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This network helps women thrive in construction

Building a culture of inclusion opens up new possibilities for personal, company and community growth.

For women, a culture of inclusion in construction can unlock tremendous possibilities. Women hold just three percent of the seven million construction jobs in the U.S. Catalyst, an organization that works to build inclusive workplaces, has found that teams with an equal mix of men and women outperform male-dominated teams in both profits and sales.  Recruiting and hiring more women is an obvious way to increase diversity in the construction industry, but building an inclusive environment in which women can thrive is just as – if not more – important in the long run.

Not only is gender diversity essential for team performance, but diverse leadership has also been shown to boost business performance. In 2007, Catalyst found that companies with the most women board directors outperformed those with the least on three financial measures: return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital.

With this in mind, last year we launched the Skanska Women’s Network, an employee resource group focused on retaining and developing women throughout our organization, especially for leadership roles. It provides professional development and a forum in which women can share experiences and influence the company. Groups like the Skanska Women’s Network help women make connections, share ideas and develop the confidence they need to thrive and lead our business.  Unlocking these resources and connections for women creates new possibilities not only for their personal growth, but for Skanska as well.

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Why inclusion is beneficial for people and business

“Inclusion Works” is not only the theme of our Diversity & Inclusion Week, but it’s also a fact. A company may be diverse, but if there is not a culture of inclusion in which  employees are given the power and framework to leverage people’s differences, innovation and growth will suffer.

In order for inclusion to work, it requires strong leadership. Research shows that well-managed, diverse teams outperform both homogeneous teams and teams that are diverse but poorly-managed. Teams with inclusive leadership are more productive and innovative. In Creating Value with Diverse Teams in Global Managementthe writers found that, “Diverse teams are especially well-suited for tasks that require considering an issue from many angles or that depend upon out-of-the-box thinking. “

To fully understand how and why inclusion works, we have illustrated the five key reasons inclusion is beneficial for both people and business:

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How our Community Advisory Teams are building stronger communities

Partnerships are what make inclusion work. Partnerships among people of various backgrounds, experiences and skillsets allow organizations to have a greater reach that transforms lives and increases the productivity of not only themselves but from those with which they partner.

At Skanska, partnership comes in many forms. Hiring a diverse talent pool and fostering a positive environment for all employees, clients and partners is one part of the equation. But partnership is about external collaboration as much as internal efforts. But partnership is about external collaboration as much as internal efforts.  We want to build more than buildings and highways – we want to build communities.

We work to engage a diverse pool of business partners. One example of partnership in action is our Community Advisory Teams (CAT), which aim to connect the under-served communities in which we work with jobs and training opportunities. We currently have CATs established in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, northern California and Seattle – and others are on the way. In D.C., our CAT brings together a group of local officials, organizers and contractors to address the pipeline of new work in the region and what it means for the community. “What we want to do is invest for our future,” said Project Director, Chris Guthkelch. “We can’t grow unless we have work forces with the skills that we actually require. And indeed to have businesses who are actually able to grow with us.”

From small business, workforce and youth development, our CAT is investing in the D.C. community and building partnerships that will create a more sustainable business environment for all. As Joanne Brooks, VP and General Counsel of the Security & Fidelity Association of America, who is part of our D.C. CAT noted, “When we talk about sustainability, we’re talking about ‘What are the tools you need to be successful long term?’ If we can really build contractors, and build businesses, we’re moving into job creation and then the next thing you know we have sustainable businesses and a flourishing community.”

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How to maximize inclusion in your workplace

Today marks the start of Skanska’s second Diversity & Inclusion Week, a special time of year to highlight one of Skanska’s core values. We believe diversity is key to providing the creative solutions that our clients demand. To introduce this week’s theme of “Inclusion Works” and share insight into how inclusion builds perspective, we spoke with Maja Egnell, a vice president of human resources focused on talent development and diversity.

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How do you define inclusion?
Inclusion is a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are, and having the support and commitment from others so you can be yourself and contribute at the top of your abilities. But inclusion is also a sense of being unique, and being recognized for your differences. An inclusive organization is a workplace that is free from exclusion, marginalization and harassment, a place where no one feels the need to hide aspects of themselves out of fear for not being accepted.

Inclusion is about mirroring the communities in which we operate, developing and utilizing diverse trade contractors, and giving back to society locally through active involvement in community activities.

This year’s Diversity & Inclusion Week theme is Inclusion Works. What’s the central message of this theme?
We want to stress how important it is for Skanska to be an organization where everyone can feel welcome and able to fully contribute with their strengths and talents, a place where everyone can reach their full potential. Inclusion is equally important for us externally: for our clients, our subcontractors and suppliers, and for the people we recruit. Inclusion makes us the company we want to be, and because it also happens to make perfect sense from a business perspective.

How has inclusion been shown to impact a business’ bottom line and performance?
When employees feel included, they are better team players and more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, such as through suggesting new ideas and improved ways of getting work done. This can boost overall organizational performance. Inclusion also lowers something called “minority stress” that can occur when a person’s minority status exists in conflict with dominant values of the surrounding social environment.

Looking at diversity, there are many examples of studies showing that mixed gender teams outperform male-dominated teams. Research shows that boards of directors need a critical mass of 30 percent women to outperform – measured by return on equity – all-male boards. Other research has shown that a racially diverse workforce is positively associated with more customers, increased sales revenue, greater relative profits and greater market share. Yet another study showed that firms that implement LGBT-friendly policies experienced increases in firm value, productivity and profitability. So it is easy to see how increasing diversity and inclusion has a huge impact for the business.

How do you ensure that you’re recruiting a diverse workforce?
In order for us to recruit the best and the brightest, we need to access a wider talent pool. To accomplish this, Skanska USA has set a target that at least 35 percent of our new graduate recruits are either women or ethnic minorities. We are also utilizing the ”Rooney Rule” concept from the National Football League. That requires at least one diverse candidate be interviewed for all job openings when sourced through external recruiters and search firms. Additionally, we work hard to establish relationships with predominately minority universities and their engineering programs, and do active recruitment at ethnically-diverse schools through career fair participation.

We also find that external posting of employment opportunities through social networks and job boards increases visibility for non-traditional candidates.

What do you hope people take away from this year’s Diversity & Inclusion Week?
I hope people feel inspired to become more curious: in their colleagues’ thoughts and experiences, but also in the outside world and our stakeholders there. What is their perspective of the world, and how can I learn from it?

I also hope that people realize how much is in their power to change our culture to make it more inclusive. Inclusion is not only an issue for leadership, it is everyone’s responsibility. Becoming more aware is a great first step, and allowing that awareness to affect the way we act towards each other will make Skanska an even greater company for which to work.

What are some ways people can help increase inclusion in their own workplace?
The first thing you can do is to take a long and hard look at yourself and identify your personal assumptions and beliefs. What attitudes do you have, and what are the behaviors you show your colleagues? Try to question your own frame of reference.  Many times, exclusive behaviors stem from a – often unconscious – personal bias that needs to be dealt with.

The next step is all about acting consciously. Involve and encourage your colleagues in discussions and decisions, and include all team members in social and office/project events. Try to stay open minded to new ideas, seek to listen and understand others’ perspectives, even if they seem foreign to you. Don’t engage in private jokes during team meetings, and make a point of challenging someone who exclude or show bias.

Inclusive leadership is all about making employees feel valued for the unique talents and perspectives they bring —without emphasizing their differences so much that they feel alienated.

What key traits do inclusive leaders exhibit?
1. Empowerment: Enabling team members to grow by encouraging them to solve problems, come up with new ideas and develop new skills.
2. Courage: Standing up for what they believe is right, even when it means taking a risk. A good example of this is directly and openly challenging an excluding or derogatory comment from a team member.
3. Humility: Admitting mistakes, learning from criticism and different points of view, and mitigating their own weaknesses through actively seeking contributions from team members.
4. Accountability: Holding team members responsible for aspects of their performance that are within their control, and through doing so showing confidence in their abilities.

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This year at Greenbuild, we’re championing green

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Are you a green champion? That’s the question we’ll be asking this year at Greenbuild. It’s not enough to build green, but it’s our responsibility as an industry to stand up for sustainability.

We’ve seen firsthand how important advocacy is to advancing green building. In 2013, our CEO Mike McNally led Skanska in resigning as a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest the organization’s backing of a chemical industry-led initiative to effectively ban the future use of LEED for government buildings. The initiative threatened to halt years of progress in energy-efficient and environmentally responsible construction. As a result of this effort, in 2013 the U.S. Green Building Council recognized Mike McNally “for being an unwavering and bold champion for USGBC and LEED in the face of continued attacks by special interest groups.”

Advocacy brings about change. In August of this year, the USGBC and the American Chemistry Council announced that they will work together to use ACC’s materials expertise to better ensure the use of sustainable and environmentally friendly products in buildings. This was a huge win for green building advocates, and a reminder that doing what’s good for a sustainable future is good for business.

This year, we’ve continued to champion green building by helping advance research that helps make the case for sustainability. Recently, the District of Columbia’s Department of Environment wanted to understand the costs and benefits associated with buildings featuring net zero energy and net zero water consumption, as well as those pursuing Living Building challenge certification. To help, Skanska joined the New Buildings Institute and the International Living Future Institute to conceptually transform three LEED v3 Platinum-designed buildings in the District to conform to those criteria.  Our findings, published in Net Zero and Living Building Challenge Financial Study: A Cost Comparison Report for Buildings in the District of Columbia, revealed that after factoring current tax and renewable energy credits, the return on investment in net zero building is approximately 30 percent!

This year we’ve also partnered with the World Green Building Council on a major global research effort to understand the impact of green building in offices on staff health and productivity. The report, Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices: The Next Chapter for Green Building, found that that design features in green buildings can enable healthy and productive environments for their occupants, which in turn improves the bottom line. New standards, like WELL Building, which take into account the holistic impacts of the built environment on human wellness, build on this understanding that what is good for the environment is ultimately good for people and for business.

These are just a few of the ways we’re working to champion sustainability. If you want to join us, stop by the Skanska USA booth at Greenbuild – #2023 –  pick up your “Champion” badge and found out how you too can be an advocate for green building and energy efficiency.

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Get to know the newest additions to the San Francisco skyline

In the next few months, the new Transbay Transit Center in downtown San Francisco will reach a number of important construction milestones.  One of them will be the arrival of two Skanska cranes which will be used to assemble the Transit Center’s structural steel.  Taking as long as a week to assemble, Skanska’s impressive machines will lift loads as heavy as the equivalent of two and a half BART cars.  The following graphic gives additional details on the newest additions to San Francisco’s crane-laden skyline.  With these machines working on-site, Bay Area residents will soon finally get to see the first real glimpse of the future Transbay Transit Center.

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From tunnel tubes to data center cooling: what we’re reading

Data centers, tunnels and power plants – this week’s roundup focuses on structures that play essential –  if sometimes under-the-radar – roles in our everyday life. While these projects don’t always capture the public’s attention the way a major skyscraper does, they’re fascinating in their own right. From the advanced engineering required to submerse a tunnel to the challenge of cooling a data center, check out what we’re reading this week:

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The team at Elizabeth River Tunnels moves the 1st 16,000-ton tunnel element into place to submerge it next week.

Submersing 16,000 tons isn’t so simple

Sometimes the most fascinating parts of construction take place out of sight. Such is the case on our joint venture’s Elizabeth River Tunnels public-private partnership project in southeastern Virginia, where we’ve begun the process of submersing the first of eleven 16,000-ton concrete tunnel elements under the river’s waters. From scooping out a trench up to 95 feet deep in the river bottom, to preparing the tunnel foundation with 40,000 tons of stone and sand, to the 12-hour process of lowering one of  elements to its final location, we’ve illustrated each step of tunnel element’s underwater journey. Be sure to also check out this Gizmodo feature on the project, here.

Power and industrial – and more – heats up

We are at a crossroads in the U.S. as new energy resources and an increased emphasis on efficiency is shifting the balance of power in America’s favor. The shale gas boom is attracting energy-intensive industries to the U.S. and is creating a demand for new power plants and industrial facilities. This week, Skanska’s Rich Cavallaro spoke to Reuters about how the American energy market is impacting construction and the kinds of investments we’re looking to make in the sector.

Energy isn’t only reason we’re optimistic about the U.S. market. Increased urbanization is creating demand for new infrastructure and buildings, and not only are we constructing more of those, but we’re developing some of the most tenant-focused buildings on the market. More projects are being procured via best-value methods, which enable the benefits we bring to clients to be more fully recognized. Additionally, the American market for public-private partnerships has become of the world’s largest, as more public owners are turning to P3 to meet their building or infrastructure needs.

Check out the full outlook from Capital Markets Day, in the presentation and webcast, here.

Among the world’s most energy-efficient data centers

Data centers are increasingly important in our digital world. They also require an incredible amount of energy to keep them from overheating: twice as much energy can go into cooling a data center as is used to power the equipment. Skanska worked with Inertech to find a more efficient solution, and together we created one of the world’s most energy-efficient data center cooling systems at the TELUS data center project in Rimouski, Quebec; this project was recently certified as LEED Gold. This week, Mission Critical magazine examined the nuts and bolts of the TELUS cooling systems, noting that with more efficient cooling: “a data center using 13 million gallons a year could cut annual water consumption to 2.6 million gallons. With more than 500,000 data centers worldwide, that level of conservation could save trillions of gallons of water.”

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How we’re submersing 16,000-ton segments to create Virginia’s newest tunnel

Next week marks a major milestone for our Elizabeth River Tunnels public-private partnership project in Virginia, as the first of eleven roadway tunnel elements is being submersed into a trench carved in the river bottom. This 16,000-ton concrete element will be part of a new two-lane tube parallel to the existing Midtown Tunnel, with the expansion doubling the number of lanes to improve mobility in the Hampton Roads region. This is one of just several U.S. tunnels built in this manner, including most recently the Fort Point Channel Tunnel in Boston.

To reach this point, the SKW Constructors team – a joint venture of Skanska, Kiewit and Weeks Marine – in June floated six of the hollow concrete elements 220 miles from where they were cast near Baltimore, Md., to the project site in Portsmouth and Norfolk. See that process unfold in images, here.

Submersing these elements is amazing work requiring great precision. Yet, most of those complex activities will take place unseen beneath the Elizabeth River’s waters. To share what’s involved with this latest phase, we’ve outlined the process below.

Besides SKW, other key members of the Elizabeth River Tunnels team are the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Elizabeth River Crossings operating company and designer Parsons Brinckerhoff.

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