Build Me Up with Laurie Trousil!
Welcome to Build Me Up!
Kraus-Anderson’s Monthly Innovator’s Blog
By Tom Emison, Strategy and Innovation Advocate, KA
In March, we introduced you to our first blog in our series on innovation – or ingenuity as we call it here at KA. In May, we hit on pre-construction ingenuity. This month, we will discuss inclusion and diversity in the US construction and real estate industry, and within KA. As always, this blog is about relevant topics to you in the built marketplace, a huge part of our US economy. It’s about keeping it real, straight talk. It’s about inspiring you with actual examples of innovation at work in our industry. We are here to build you up!
The War for Talent
The year was 1997. The first business paper using that specific term “war for talent” in the business world was about to be published by Steven Hankin of McKinsey & Company see that paper here. This war refers to the increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining talented employees. It’s not only about a set of superior human resources processes, but a mindset that emphasizes the importance of talent to the success of organizations. I co-authored a whitepaper for the Building Futures Council a couple years later on the same topic. Since the late 1990’s hundreds of workshops have been held, papers have been written, summits and symposiums have been held, and virtually every industry association and publisher in the US construction and real estate sector has been focused on this war for talent. It remains arguably the most significant strategic challenge of the day.
Inclusion and Diversity
So, where do inclusion and diversity fit in this war for talent? Well, if you want to win that war, you need a comprehensive approach – a strategy – for inclusion and diversity. We have a very specific, strategic approach to inclusion and diversity at KA. In fact, it is one of a very small handful of strategic priorities that run across all of the KA family of companies. It’s working. So, I sat down recently with our Director of Inclusion and Diversity, Laurie Trousil. I wanted to learn more about the “Why?” behind this initiative at KA. I also want to know how our industry can get past the lip service and down to real, substantial change. Moreover, I wanted to learn more about an innovative project Laurie is part of up on the range in the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia Public Schools in northern Minnesota.
Meet Laurie Trousil
Last September, KA increased its commitment to inclusion and diversity. We hired Laurie and she has been accelerating our efforts and results. She creates and helps to lead the implementation of programs and policies designed to attract, retain, promote and advance a diverse workforce within Kraus-Anderson’s family of companies.
“At Kraus-Anderson, we are committed to building an inclusive culture where talented people with diverse skill sets, experiences and backgrounds can be empowered to thrive and grow,” says Bruce Engelsma, president, CEO and chairman of Kraus-Anderson Companies. Laurie came to us with deep experience in inclusion and diversity management.
Tom: Laurie, inclusion and diversity have been very important to KA over the years. Share a few highlights, accomplishments, or contributions KA has made to the inclusion and diversity movement over the years.
Laurie: Thanks Tom. You’re right: KA has had many Inclusion and Diversity programs and efforts in place throughout the years. We have decades-long relationships with organizations such as Opportunity Partners, the Association of Women Contractors, the Metropolitan Economic Development Association and the Minnesota Commercial Real Estate Women, or MN CREW.
What that means:
- We have individuals with disabilities at all levels of the organization with who show up every day and shine.
- We provide opportunities to amazing women, minority and veteran business owners on our commercial construction sites who do anything from erecting steel beams to caulking to landscaping and so much more.
- KA employees care about underserved people and communities, and we do more than write a check. We bag food, paint houses, plant gardens, and generally roll up our sleeves to make good things happen.
So what’s different now? We want to be even better. Our inclusion and diversity strategy is a way for KA to be intentional about influencing business outcomes with a stronger focus on inclusion. As you mentioned, the War for Talent is real. Our people are our most valuable asset, and without them, we won’t be able to be successful and grow as a company.
I am grateful for how many people at KA are rallying behind the strategic initiative. From the C-Suite on down, everyone is making it happen. KA has two inclusion and diversity committees: one at the Executive level, and another Working committee that is made up of a cross-section of employees from different business areas, groups, locations, and other diversity dimensions. These committees are the glue that holds our strategy together and keep it moving in the right direction.
Tom: I was there in the room the day that Bruce (Engelsma) made a clear top leadership commitment to inclusion and diversity. Very inspiring. What is it like for you working with Bruce?
Laurie: Bruce Engelsma is an amazing leader. There are a couple of things that I admire most about him:
- He is committed to inclusion and diversity across KA. I have worked at several companies – both public and private – and I can honestly say that I have never worked with someone who is as dedicated to inclusion and diversity success as Bruce is.
- He is humble. Two key attributes of inclusive leadership are humility and vulnerability. For many Executives, admitting they DON’T know something can be outside their comfort zone. One of the first times that I sat down with Bruce, he told me, “I know inclusion and diversity are critical for the continuity of this company; I just need help making them a reality.” Funny story: recently we were sitting together at a business community event where he was recognized as an out-going Board member. Bruce is involved with a LOT of boards. Anyway, they mispronounced his name. He leaned over to me and whispered, “Close enough.”
As an introvert myself, I appreciate how Bruce uses the power of quiet to lead others. So often in our society, we typically look to extroverted leaders who are cheerleaders; who often talk too much and say too little. Bruce leverages his strengths to inspire all of us.
Tom: why do you think our industry, the A/E/C/RE industry, has some special challenges with inclusion and diversity?
Laurie: Frankly, I don’t think that any company or industry has it all figured out. I have worked at companies that claim to be “best in class” when it comes to diversity and inclusion. But under the surface, it’s really a hot mess. We do have some unique challenges in our industry.
- Beyond the Box. Traditionally, many in the industry have been engaged in compliance efforts where diversity is a “check the box” activity, tracking race and gender on projects, in hiring, etc. While meeting our compliance requirements is very important, we must do more than check a box if we want to see true, sustained change in the industry.
- Education. There are so many fantastic opportunities for young people in the industry – from all diverse backgrounds. However, there are also perceptions; stereotypes about what it’s like to work in commercial real estate, in construction, in engineering and architecture. We have been speaking with K-12 students for many years, talking about what it’s really like to work in the field, and trying to change the “university-for-all mentality” that for some students results in a boatload of student loan debt and working at a job they don’t love. Earlier this year, one of my colleagues in construction spoke to a kindergarten class. Now that’s what I call starting early!
- Change. Resistance to change is always a factor with any new idea or initiative; especially at a company like KA, where we have been successful for over 100 years. It’s easy to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” The good part for us is that inclusion and diversity are strategic priorities to enhance our strengths – so that we can keep what is already working, and become an even better company. Tom, that’s why I see synergies in the work that we both do: Innovation, Strategy, Inclusion, and Diversity.
Tom: define inclusion and define diversity, please.
Laurie: I define both terms separately, because while interconnected, they are distinct.
- Diversity is a blend of organizational and human characteristics, experiences, skills and traditions.
- Inclusion is an environment where all employees have a sense of belonging, and where diversity can be leveraged to create a sustained competitive business advantage.
More simply put: diversity is having a variety of voices at the table, and inclusion is ensuring all of those voices are heard and valued. I also like this analogy: Diversity is being invited to the dance, Inclusion is being asked to dance. Tom, if you and I are dancing together, but you’re doing the Tango and I only know how to Fox Trot, we’re going to step on each other’s toes. Invite me to dance, and also teach me how to succeed – and be open to knowing I can teach you some new moves as well.
Both inclusion and diversity are necessary because:
- If you have an organization with diversity, but no inclusion, you may have high turnover and a revolving door of talent. People won’t feel valued and they’ll leave.
- If you have an organization with inclusion but no diversity, you may easily achieve consensus, but will not have the same level of innovation versus when there are more perspectives at the table.Tom: for the skeptics, and others, how do we get past quotas and other methods for achieving diversity but not moving the needle?Laurie: Quotas are illegal and KA does not use a quota system to increase talent diversity at the company. However, your question brings up a good point: it is a common stereotype and some might think that “diversity hiring” involves forced measures to bring unqualified people into KA roles.We live in the land of 10,000 lakes, and recruiting is a lot like fishing. If you cast your line into the same small lake from the same dock repeatedly – and if others are doing the same thing – there are only a limited number of fish you will catch. However, if you move to a different lake, maybe try new bait and tackle, or better yet buy one of those fancy fishing boats with a trolling motor, you will improve your chances of getting some great fish. Diversity recruiting is about casting a broader net and attracting talent from new pools. In the end, candidates have to be qualified to do the job. But the goal is to give everyone an equal opportunity to be part of a great company like KA.In addition, moving the diversity needle can involve many things beyond recruiting.
- What do your metrics and scorecards look like? How do you compare with the industry and labor markets, and where are the gaps? Who are those diverse rock stars within your organization and how are they positioned to move to the next level? How are you mentoring and developing them?
- What is your brand and reputation? Do diverse people even want to work with you?
- How else can you think innovatively and make diversity a value add?
Tom: You are part of a team that won work for KA with the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia Public Schools in northern Minnesota. This is very innovative. Can you please describe what we are doing and why; and how it impacts inclusion and diversity?
Laurie: This is one of those examples of where I feel inclusion and diversity thinking and practices can really be a differentiator. I have had the pleasure of working with the team on the Virginia/Eveleth/Gilbert (yes – the VEG) school project. The community recently passed a referendum to combine districts and build a $160M joint academy model high school. It’s huge for the whole community on The Range. Here’s where the diversity part comes in:
- First, we demonstrated gender diversity – we did not just show up to the interview to win the work with a bunch of construction guys. Our team looked like their team on the other side of the table.
- Second, I have a teaching background. I was able to talk about the Academy Model to educators and school board members and positions us as a company that can do more than just build a state-of-the-art building and hand over the keys – we can help set them up for success as they strive to educate future generations on The Range.
In the end, I am just a small part of a big KA team effort involving dozens of talented people. It’s good to know we will make a difference in the lives of students and families on The Range.
Tom: Finally, where do you see this going for KA? Like, what is your professional vision for inclusion and diversity?
Laurie: My vision is to work myself out of a job. I want to embed Inclusion and Diversity deeply into KA. I want every single person at KA to have inclusion and diversity glasses; seeing the company and the industry through those lens’ – when developing internal talent or working with subcontractors or understanding clients’ needs or solving problems. I want people to have honest conversations about topics like bias and racism, sexism, heterosexism and privilege, and come away better for it. I want to make Tim Mayer’s role (KA’s recruiting director) easier by having a plethora of talented diverse people beating down our doors because they want to work with us.
Note: a special thanks to Laurie for taking time out of her busy week for this interview. More from Laurie soon on our KA Innovation Podcast called Build Me Up!
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Yours innovatively, Tom E.