In celebration of Martin Luther King Junior Day, we will hear from several Lewis employees on their experience as black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) in the construction industry, what Martin Luther King Junior means to them and how they are taking time to celebrate this year.
WM: Throughout your time working in our industry, what kind of changes have you seen in as it relates to being a BIPOC?
DT: I have seen more women joining the field. People are recognizing that women bring a level of eagerness and hunger for working in the field that we used to only recognize in men. It is encouraging to support that growth at Lewis. Coming from the Bay area, it was commonplace to see Latino and minority field leaders—not many women, though—and we are seeing that diversification start to happen here in Portland, too.
WM: What does a diverse and inclusive workplace look and feel like?
CY: For me, it is understanding that how you see me does not decide the opportunities that wait for me. That is equity. My experience should not be any different from anyone else’s. Everyone has good days and bad days, but we should all be given the same opportunity to have a good day. It’s also about having open conversations to understand different perspectives around you. Everyone has a story and a unique perspective to bring to the table and that is what should draw us together.
WM: what is your experience working in an industry that is primarily Caucasian?
DT: I notice that I am a minority most at superintendent meetings. Until recently it has been me and a lot of older white men. I didn’t realize it until a female PE had attended one of our meetings. We looked around and I wondered if she might be uncomfortable being the only woman surrounded by men. Then I also realized I was the only minority in the room. As people, we navigate toward what is comfortable and familiar and that is how we build relationships and hire people. My peers are talented construction professionals, but I think we at Lewis can all continue to be more sensitive to how we choose who our employees are.
WM: What advice would you give to a BIPOC or minority joining the construction Industry?
DT: My advice would be to work harder and be better. Keep perspective and act in humility. Be the first one on site and put yourself in the situation to seize opportunities at every level. Every day. I’d offer that to anyone joining any industry, but it’s important for minorities to find ways to see opportunities.
CY: I find Dr. King’s quote, “the time is always right to do what is right,” very inspiring and empowering. No one will tell you when to go into construction and no one will tell you when to stop. It’s really all up to you—sometimes it can be overwhelming. But that’s okay—start small. Compassion, respect and tolerance are the framework for sustaining positive change and a career in construction.
WM: The Black Lives Matter protests have sparked conversations about race all over the country. What has been your experience with Lewis’ DEI journey?
CY: When I go to work every day, I do not see myself as a Chinese woman in construction. What I see is someone who wants to build something amazing, who feels that everyone has a space at the table.
The only time that feels different is attending women’s events because it is a change to be surrounded by so many women in the industry. I don’t see my peers any differently than I see myself. I am the co-chair of the Women’s Development Group and it is very empowering to see 15 or more women talking about ways to be better construction professionals. Having that space to be heard is so important here at Lewis. There is no space where women can’t be, and I choose to be here—in construction—to build something and make things better.
DT: I’ve seen Lewis question itself and ask what it can do as a company to acknowledge the injustice our society has experienced. In my mind, we need to just take a closer look within. We start with us. I don’t feel like we are consciously racist at any level. I feel like what Lewis does to be a diverse and inclusive company is what is natural and what comes easy. Equity is tough to talk about, especially as a construction company, but there is always more for us to do.
WM: It sounds like when you are working on projects, there is less awareness on being a minority, but when you go out into the industry there is more focus on race and ethnicity. Personally, I have become more aware of my cultural background following the current social justice movement. Lewis has been very accepting of the me and my ideas, so I never really considered my ethnicity but I am becoming more socially conscious about how it impacts myself and my peers.
CY: To be honest, there is so much going on in projects, my race isn’t even on my mind!
DT: It’s hard to tell, because as a leader in the field, I have the opportunity to make choices and navigate decisions in a way that is inclusive and empathetic, but maybe I don’t see the things that others may experience in the field. I joined the DEI committee because I remember being a young person in our industry and thinking that if I had the opportunity to positively influence the way people are treated in construction, I would do it. It had nothing to do with anything but giving people a fair opportunity.
WM: In your opinion, is celebrating the diversity of our people important? If so, why?
DT: Yes. Lewis has come a long way in the last few years and a good example of that is Lewis’ celebration of Pride. When we first started plans to celebrate, it became clear that our company wasn’t as aligned as we thought we were, and that it was still a very sensitive topic. But over the course of just a few years, we are in a much different—and more inclusive—place when it comes to DEI. Sharing stories and celebrating our employees brings awareness and sparks conversation. DEI still feels relatively new in our community and it needs to be explored.
WM: From your perspective, what is your assessment of Lewis’ DEI journey so far?
CY: The intent is there. DEI at Lewis is still a vision and is referenced as a “hope” a lot of the time. It’s good because we have these conversations about building positive company cultures. It’s difficult to build that culture and let people know it is safe to have these difficult conversations. I want Lewis and the construction industry to be a platform for continued education, awareness and shared experiences. I want it to be a norm, not something you have to schedule, but we aren’t quite there yet.
DT: Sometimes it can be contentious.
WM: I agree, I think it can be good though because it means there is push and pull and discussion and honesty, which is forward progress.
CY: I’d like to challenge leadership at Lewis to go beyond how employees are impacted and look at the industry overall. How can Lewis make an impact on diversity in our industry?
DT: I’d like to see our diversity efforts ingrained into how we are built and how we formulate relationships—not just to check a box.
CY: Won, I’d like to ask what are your thoughts on Martin Luther King Junior Day?
WM: I think of Martin Luther King Junior Day of more than a celebration of Dr. King. It is a time to bring recognition to women and BIPOC across our nation. Dr. King’s speeches are insightful and energizing. I admire his work, but I think that this day (or week) should be focused on celebrating our progress and reenergizing ourselves to continue to fight racial injustice.
DT: I think Martin Luther King’s movement was as much about black and minority oppression as it was about the poor and less fortunate. It was rooted in acting in love to your peers.
As we continue to celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion in honor of Martin Luther King Junior’s fight for racial equity, we look forward to sharing more perspectives from our employees.