Sundt DE&I Manager, Tracy Sanders discusses why a culture of belonging is important in the construction industry.
One of Sundt’s primary goals is to create a culture of belonging through our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) initiatives and programs, as well as ensure that principles of equity and inclusion are top of mind in everything we do.
The industry has come a long way in opening its doors to people with diverse backgrounds outside of the traditional demographics, but there is still much to be done. As of 2022 for example, women still only make up 10.9% of the industry’s workforce. In the past fiscal year, a dedicated group of Sundt employee-owners recognized a collective desire for an Employee Resource Group (ERG) to support women in construction. With the guidance of Sundt’s DE&I Manager, Tracy Sanders, the Women of Skill, Grit and Purpose ERG was born.
The group’s goal is to provide resources for professional development, plan and host events, trainings, and networking, and provide opportunities for organic mentorship for women and allies. We sat down with Tracy to learn more about how the ERG came to be and how it will evolve in FY 24.
What’s the story of how the Women of Skill Grit and Purpose ERG came to be?
“A handful of Sundt employee-owners came to me and expressed a desire to form a community for women and allies at Sundt to gather and find support. Following the initial expression of interest, I simply said, ‘Let me know when you’re ready to do this,’ because, ultimately, many initiatives fizzle out after this point. But this group demonstrated commitment. Throughout 2023, we met as a group to determine the basics of the ERG. During our meetings, I walked them through the establishing steps of confirming an ERG. The recruitment initially happened through word of mouth as I provided encouragement and education. After the group’s official establishment, my role is to ensure the ERG can independently operate successfully and remain in alignment with our DE&I program. We were excited to officially announce the group during Construction Inclusion Week.”
What is the value of an ERG to an organization?
“First and foremost, I would encourage any person or organization who is interested in fostering a culture of true diversity, equity and inclusion to really become aware of what that means at its core. To do this, it’s crucial to remove the political stigma that can, unfortunately, come with the mention of DE&I. Then, focus on what your culture needs to create greater diverseness, enhance equity—leveling the playing field and providing support— and intentional inclusion. Implementing all three over time creates a sense of belonging for those who embrace the concepts of DE&I. ERGs help an organization recognize its diversity and nurture those feelings of belonging for individuals.”
“At Sundt, we were able to launch this ERG because the foundation had been laid and leadership support helped to foster possibilities of greater inclusion, which allowed members to feel empowered. I look at establishing a culture of belonging like planting a tree. You can’t just sow the seeds in barren soil and hope a healthy tree will magically grow. Care must be taken to nurture the tree to grow strong and healthy, and initiatives like the ERG are the fruit that tree bears when it’s been taken care of properly. In other words, the result of a strong foundation that was nurtured through commitment.”
What kinds of activities and resources will the ERG provide?
“Eventually, once the group is more established, we will develop our own live/ virtual trainings and events. In the meantime, the goal is for members of the ERG and anyone in the company to be able to access resources and tools collaboratively provided by ERG members. Resources and tools such as podcasts, books, websites, training courses, conferences and more will be accessible to everyone via our employee intranet. ERG events would showcase guest speakers sharing insights around topics like personal and professional growth, which could be specific but not limited to women.”
“One of the offerings the ERG will provide is mentorships and coaching initiatives. They won’t operate like traditional 1:1 mentorships, but rather as roundtable discussions where multiple people can participate in asking relevant questions to industry pioneers and leaders. The idea is that by using the roundtable format, it opens up opportunities for networking and forming mutually beneficial and diverse relationships that foster organic mentorship/ coaching.”
Since Sundt is spread out across multiple offices and regions, what is the group’s structure?
“ERGs are employee-led, so we’ve identified a number of “champions” across Sundt’s regions. These champions will take the lead in making sure all employee-owners in their region are aware of what the ERG is doing, help others get involved and share the facilitation of group meetings. I will continue to assist, guide and provide resources. I’m excited to see how it develops across regions and offices to meet the interests of its participants.”