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Feb 7

Breaking Bias: How social intelligence can save the construction industry

The construction industry, like many others, has historically been dominated by distinctive demographics, leading to biases (conscious or not) that can hinder progress, innovation andoverall success. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up only 10.9 percent of the construction workforce and representation of non-white employees is at 43 percent. Over the last decade, there has been a growing awareness of the need to break downthese barriers and create more inclusive and diverse work environments. One key aspect of achieving this transformation is recognizing the significance of social intelligence in effective leadership within the construction industry.

Whereas intelligence (IQ) is largely what people are born with, social intelligence is mostly learned and develops from life experiences. Socially intelligent leaders are not only aware of their own biases but actively seek to overcome them, fostering a culture of inclusivity and openness within their organizations.

The construction industry has been historically male-dominated, with limited representation from other gender groups and ethnicities. That, combined with the labor shortage problem ofthe industry needing to attract more than half a million workers on top of its normal hiring pace in 2023, is why it is imperative leaders tap into social intelligence - and quickly. The industry as a whole is losing talent by the masses to more diverse, inclusive and forward-thinking industries, but it’s not too late for change.

Embracing social intelligence is crucial for creating environments where individuals can thrive and organizations can achieve long-term success. Construction leaders can integrate socialintelligence into their leadership style in various ways to motivate others, foster inclusivity and ultimately transform the industry.

Know and observe your audience.

Being conscious is a great first step to improving your own social intelligence skills as an effective leader. Practicing consciousness in the workplace can vary, but learning to observe and listen first can help leaders better understand the needs of their teams.

Instead of focusing on what you want to say next when in conversation, pause for a moment to sit back, listen and ask questions to better understand the people with whom you’re interacting. This opens the door for building trusting relationships as all parties feel heard and safe to share their thoughts. It’s also important to see how others interact in different workplace settings instead of immediately jumping in. Assessing the culture of the group you’re speaking with will provide useful information to implement a strategy for change.

While often unintentional, the inability to be socially-aware can hinder success and ultimately tarnish relationships and reputations. For example, a firm delivering a pitch for a new project to a diverse, majority female group shouldn’t send an all-white, male team. Instead, a socially intelligent leader should consider those in the room and choose the pitch team accordingly.

People tend to like people who are just like themselves, especially in the workplace. In this scenario, a more diverse team would likely better connect with the decision-making panel and demonstrate your understanding of who you are hoping to work with.

Be proactive and follow up with purpose.

Being proactive is critical to building social intelligence and meaningful connections. Like consciousness, proactivity in social intelligence involves making an effort to understand who you’re speaking with before you’re speaking with them, as well as finding ways to connect after.

In the workplace, proactivity can include researching the person you’re meeting with to see if you share any commonalities. From basics, like attending the same university or sharing ahometown, to a fun fact, like a love of animals, doing the research can help you identify the right doors to open for deeper connections. Further, following up after with key facts from your interactions serves as a reminder of the conversation you had and the connection you built. Connecting the two can be an effective and natural way to touch base and continue building the relationship.

Create a culture of inclusivity.

Socially intelligent leaders play a vital role in shaping the company’s culture. By fostering an inclusive environment where everyone’s ideas and perspectives are valued, employees feel more engaged and motivated. This leads to a more creative and innovative workplace, enabling the organization to tackle challenges and lead by example more frequently.

It’s critical to have leaders from different backgrounds who bring diverse perspectives to the decision-making process and set an example for the rest of the organization and industry. Not only is great talent often drawn to these diverse perspectives, but new clients and customers are also more likely to engage in business because they recognize themselves in the leadership.

Companies like Rihanna’s Fenty have been successfully gaining significant market shares from established industry giants by fully embracing and showcasing diversity in every aspect of their business. This trend is also noticeable in the construction industry, where minority and women-owned and led firms, like WMG, hold a distinct advantage. They are in a unique position to connect with other minority leaders and potential talent, building strong relationships based on their shared experiences as leaders in an oftentimes white, male-dominated field. This approach drives the success of progressive companies in a competitive market, which the construction industry so desperately needs as there will soon not be enough professionals to build and manage the infrastructure plans needed.

Practice positivity in every interaction.

Positivity seems like the obvious trait of a great leader – it’s contagious and acts as an energy magnet. Being positive can help leaders build meaningful relationships with colleagues, establish themselves as trustworthy experts and promote collaboration within their teams. Integrating positivity into leadership can include being a confidante for others, finding new opportunities for team building or collaboration, implementing feedback-based changes and more.

Applying positivity to a broad scale, when leaders make their organizations and brands welcoming to everyone, including marketing to all types of people, they open the door for improved customer relationships and positive impressions. Companies who step outside the box are often those who set the bar in the long run. Positivity impacts companies both internally and externally, and it starts from the top.

The truth is the construction industry will continue to suffer and lose potential talent to more inclusive, diverse and forward-thinking industries if change doesn’t happen quickly. Social intelligence is necessary to make the industry more diverse and inclusive of all. If there’s no change, there’s no diversification. Our companies should reflect the communities that we live in and serve. With the volume of work coming down the pipeline, the industry needs to adapt, transform and be socially intelligent enough to attract forward-thinking clients and the next generation of builders. Breaking the bias through social intelligence is not only the right thing to do; it is a strategic imperative for future success in the construction world.

As President and Founder of WMG, Lauren has spent nearly two decades understanding the impact social intelligence has on effective leaders and how they can improve, especially in the construction industry. She can be reached at lweinbaum@wmgconsult.com.

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Office: 310.598.7107

WMG is a certified DBE/SBE Construction Management Firm (ID# 41529) through the Los Angeles County Metro Transportation Authority (MTA/METRO), a participating member of the California Unified Certification Program (CUCP).

Office: 310.598.7107

WMG is a certified DBE/SBE Construction Management Firm (ID# 41529) through the Los Angeles County Metro Transportation Authority (MTA/METRO), a participating member of the California Unified Certification Program (CUCP).