Construction Management hosts panel discussion on bystander awareness in the construction industry

Image of stick figure people with one standing out in contrast to the rest and captioned "bystander intervention starts with you"In Colorado State University’s Department of Construction Management, more emphasis and awareness is being given to a strategy that involves witnessing uncomfortable situations that can lead to bias, harassment, and potentially escalating to violence. Bystander awareness situational examples are “quite varied, ranging from witnessing someone being sexually harassed, to a colleague making a racist remark, to a loved one acknowledging signs of depression or distress.” On March 9, the department hosted an industry panel for student leaders and faculty that included four industry members for an interactive discussion about bystander awareness.

In the CM department, there are many contributing factors, events and discussions that ignited a growing series of panels and presentations on the subject of bystander awareness. Much centers around prior discussions and connections within CM, i.e., through the Women Empowering CM mentoring program, panel discussions in classes, and the Women in Construction Summer Institute (WICSI), along with the realization of some challenging situations encountered by students within the industry – often women – with some being reflective of situations and challenges encountered 15-20 years ago.

While these challenges are rarely encountered anymore in current employment roles – maybe through hierarchy, but more likely resiliency and armor, or perhaps even some other reason, there was an illusion that because of how little it was happening, it did not need to be discussed; or possibly the more hopeful thought was maybe it didn’t even exist anymore.

Direct or indirect participation

While the majority of people within the industry do not directly and/or intentionally create uncomfortable situations for fellow industry members, this does not mean that employees, interns, or others do not have indirect, and even larger, participation in it. Often, people find themselves “staying out of it,” and “avoiding it,” because it is uncomfortable and they don’t know how to fix it. They may even say the wrong thing unintentionally, adding to the discomfort, until it’s realized that simply being neutral or avoiding it can actually feed the problem and make it worse, which is what often happens.

There will never be the right answer for every situation. However, becoming educated and informed about what these situations and challenges even look like, and becoming more comfortable in asking tough questions to gain awareness, is a very important and huge step in addressing this problem within the industry. In trying to improve the industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion, heightened awareness has started down the path of this very long but important journey. Through discussions, collaborations, difficult conversations, and experiences of those within academics, as well as those within the industry, it is beginning to make progress.

Industry members offering solutions

Some within the industry are starting to recognize this and implement different measures to help tackle this massive challenge. One panelist, Dee Oswald of Kiewit, emphasized the need for “diverse, equitable and inclusive environments, addressing critical people issues that impact our business, like focusing on microagressions and bullying; developing company culture surveys; and understanding the meaning of building community within an organization, and forming long-lasting relationships.”

Panelist Ash Valenzuela-Ruesgen of Hensel-Phelps said, “It’s important to look for leaders that are both enlightened and self-motivated, but also constructively disruptive. They need to have a strong emotional quotient, meaning to know themselves and also have the ability to self-manage and embrace social lenses. And, they need to give ‘space and grace,’ which simply means to have tough conversations and establish trust for each other.”

It is important to make sure students and professors are informed and prepared to continue to contribute. The industry is made up of those individuals who participate in it, which means their participation creates what the industry is. Everyone has an impact, so it’s imperative to be intentional in what that impact is, and how it is defining the industry at large.

CM programs on board

In CM, as previously mentioned, there are some great programs and intentional structure to create community and connection, particularly among women – Women in Construction (WIC), EMPOWER (formerly WECM), WICMSI, etc. Now, as a department, there is more intentional focus to improve the inclusivity of all CM spaces and communities – not just the ones purposefully designed for women.

Through self-reflection, feedback and the conscious, consistent effort of our RamBuilt community, CM can grow. While most instances of bias are unintentional, all can improve how we welcome and support one another. We can work together to prevent negative experiences before they happen, addressing them appropriately when they do. CM strives for continuous improvement for our students, because they are the future of our industry.

The Department of Construction Management is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.