A diverse and inclusive work environment has been shown to be more innovative and productive. Well-managed diverse teams – epitomizing inclusivity – outperform homogenous and poorly managed teams because they have better synergy, recognize and utilize each other’s unique strengths and points of view and are thus well-suited for tasks that require outside-of-the-box thinking.
When we talk about inclusion, it’s easy to focus on how inclusive leadership can benefit an individual’s career and a company’s bottom line. However, in some industries, including construction and manufacturing, success is directly tied to safety. If the work cannot be done safely, it should not be done. So the question is does inclusion impact safety? And if so, how does fostering an inclusive culture help lead to an Injury-Free Environment®?
Linking safe and inclusive leadership
Diversity alone is not enough to improve performance: inclusive leadership and an inclusive culture are essential to secure a positive impact. We’ve seen that increased diversity in combination with inclusive leadership and an inclusive culture results in an improved safety record. Research also shows that an effective safety culture and a diverse and inclusive culture demand the same kind of leadership. Inclusive and safe leaders constantly strive to develop and support their teams. They empower their employees to voice their concerns and opinions. They are courageous. As our vice president of talent development and diversity, Maja Egnell said, “Inclusive leaders stand up for what they believe is right even when it requires personal risk-taking.”
Diversity and inclusion improves safety by enabling input from different stakeholders. It creates engagement among a larger group of people: men and women, different ethnic groups, crafts people, joint-venture partners, trade workers and more. It allows people to speak up in terms of unsafe behavior. It facilitates a caring culture, and it helps us to challenge traditional or “macho” ways of behavior that can have a negative impact on safety.
Bringing safety lessons to life
To illustrate and open dialogue on the impact of inclusion on safety, Skanska recently held a workshop in which four senior leaders acted out scenarios in which a lack of inclusive leadership impacts project safety. For example, Vice President of Operations Larry Gillman acted out a situation in which generational differences hurt team performance. Gillman played the part of Hans, a young trainee on the jobsite who is teased by older men at the project because he always wears his protective equipment: they labeled him sensitive, a weakling and a sissy. Hans gets a cut on his finger and, following protocol, asks for a first aid kit. His older colleagues heckle him because, “This is a rough job and we need people who can handle it.” Embarrassed, Hans leaves without treating his cut and wishes he could avoid work entirely.
For Gillman, this scenario offered an important jumping off point for a discussion about jobsite age diversity, as well as the macho culture he encounters often in his work on projects in New York.
“That’s a scenario you can see on the jobsite, and illustrates cultural expectations on men in terms of unsafe macho behavior, as well as generational and age diversity related to that,” said Gillman. “A very good discussion followed about some of those challenges and how to overcome them and shift perspectives. In my personal experience, I see incredible diversity on our jobsites: whether it’s in age, ethnicity or gender. We encounter it every day on our jobs. With good communication and leadership that includes everyone; diversity is a great benefit to our performance.”
Gillman’s scenario demonstrates how, in homogenous groups, there is a tendency for “group think.” This silo thinking decreases our collective ability to assess risks related to safety.
“In male-dominated cultures we might experience a macho jargon/culture that negatively impacts safety,” said Skanska’s global diversity manager, Pia Hook, who organized the workshop. “In diverse and non-inclusive groups we tend to see low levels of trust, care and respect. Instead we tend to see high level of banter, derogatory jargons, discrimination and conflicts. This is in itself unsafe from a psychological and emotional standpoint, and it can have a negative impact on physical safety.”
Building an inclusive and safe jobsite
Additionally, as our jobsites become increasingly diverse, inclusion helps ensure that everyone understands our commitment to safety. For example, on jobsites where there are workers with languages and cultures, it could be easy to say: “We posted warning signs in their language. We’re all set.” But it’s clear that these kinds of non-inclusive efforts do not instill the necessary safety culture needed to prevent incidents.
For example, on our Pegasus Park project in south Florida, we had a team of Chinese craft workers with no English skills. For Analyn Nunez, the Skanska environment, health and safety manager responsible for day-to-day project safety oversight, having translators on site every day helped Chinese-speaking workers feel included and committed to our Injury-Free Environment culture.
“But just having translators isn’t enough,” Nunez said. “Instead, we have worked to build positive relationships with the translators – they’ve become part of my safety team. Numerous times I’ve walked the site with them to train them and show them what I look for on my inspections. By seeing me doing safety walks with the translators, it’s clear to the Chinese workers that safety is Skanska’s top priority.”