I sometimes marvel at my own life’s journey, where I’ve come from, who I’ve become, and what I do. My work in DEI began quite serendipitously – it was a national demonstration several decades ago demanding more diversity at US law schools that jumpstarted my DEI career. But, in retrospect, I’ve largely lived my life around the basic tenets of DEI: perseverance, access to opportunities, and the quest for parity.
I am a product of the transatlantic slave trade – the oceanic trade that brought more than 12 million enslaved African men, women, and children to the Americas, predominantly the United States, the Caribbean, and South and Central America. I try to never forget this history, which influences the way I live and motivates the work I do around diversity, equity, and inclusion. On the occasion of Black History Month, I often reflect on the resilience of the many who survived the Passage, the global impact of the Trade, and the shared connection with those in the African Diaspora who have a similar history and ancestry.
More of my story can be found here in an essay paying tribute to my ancestors, written on the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British colonies.
Venetta and her three children: (from left to right) Andrea, Kailyn, and Davin.
What is Lendlease doing to bring forth DEI?
Lendlease’s DEI strategies span across all areas, internal and external, with a strong focus on culture, belonging, workforce development, inclusive leadership, and external partnerships. Indeed, we have framed our DEI work around four pillars: Culture, Talent Development, Recruitment, and External Relationships / Partnerships. In each of these areas, we’ve identified programs and initiatives and are developing strategies with the appropriate metrics necessary to drive our success.
For example, one initiative we’re putting in place is an “Inclusive Hiring Practice,” which we are currently piloting for positions at the IC8/PM4 level and above. This process requires a diverse hiring panel, with structured panel interviews. This allows for greater transparency and more input in the decision-making process, creating a stronger, more inclusive workplace.
What do you see as one of the biggest challenges of embracing DEI within companies? How can these issues be resolved?
One of the biggest challenges is Inclusion – ensuring that every employee is given the opportunity to fully participate and to thrive. There is a tendency for human beings to get along with people that look like them and to socialize and spend time with individuals of the same race, background, gender, etc. This is called Affinity Bias and can result in diverse employees or underrepresented groups being overlooked for advancement and other opportunities.
One way to address this is to offer bias awareness education programs. For instance, Lendlease recently completed a mandatory program for all employees called “Conscious Collaboration – Maximizing Inclusion.” This discussed the unconscious biases we all hold as human beings and the importance of being aware of these biases, which tend to govern our actions, so that we can correct them and be more inclusive.
Addressing and eliminating biases in the workplace is key.
In your essay, you mention ‘microinsults’ and ‘microassaults’ – could you explain what these are and how they may manifest in the workplace?
Microinsults and microassaults are included in a lexicon of terminology generally classified as Microaggressions. Microaggressions are subtle everyday comments, slights, snubs, and behaviors that negatively target members of a marginalized group. These can be verbal or nonverbal, intentional or unintentional, and communicate hostile, derogatory, negative messages.
Microinsults are verbal and non-verbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity. Microassaults are conscious and intentional actions or slurs, such as using racial epithets, swastikas, bias-charged graffiti, or the deliberate ignoring of members of a marginalized group when offering routine services.
It is important that we stand up and speak out against these behaviors if and when we see them occurring.
Where does Lendlease stand on our DEI journey?
The work of DEI, I’m afraid, is constant and ongoing. DEI is not a destination, rather it is a daily path we take that requires commitment, learning, and the individual and collective will to change. At Lendlease, we strive to create a workplace that brings people together – all people; a workplace where respect, equal treatment and equal opportunity are the norm – a place where differences are valued, and where we understand the value that DEI brings to the workplace in maximizing productivity and fueling innovation.
One of the terrific things that Lendlease has done is to create an organizational structure that supports our DEI work. We have established a D&I Advisory Council designed to inform and guide our DEI strategies and we have created Employee Resource Groups to collaborate and share program information, bringing tremendous value to this work (a special shout out to The Black Forum for winning a 2021 Employee Excellence Award). We are also looking to expand the DEI function by adding more staff. This framework sets us up for greater success and I am looking forward to the work ahead.
Thank you, Venetta, for sharing your personal story, and for your continued work in creating an inclusive and diverse workplace at Lendlease. On March 3, Venetta will be speaking at the New York Build Expo 2022 on the “Women in Construction” panel, addressing the various career paths, opportunities and challenges facing women in the industry. Register for free tickets here.
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