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DEI in the Workplace with Jorge Quezada

George Grombacher May 8, 2022

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DEI in the Workplace with Jorge Quezada

LifeBlood: We talked about DEI in the workplace, the challenges of implementing new programs during COVID, how to create authentic and safe spaces, and how to create a better normal, with Jorge Quezada, VP of Inclusive Diversity at Granite Construction.  

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Jorge Quezada

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Come on

life of this is George G. And the time is right welcome. Today’s guest is strong, powerful. Jorge casada. Jorge, are you ready to do this? Let’s do it. Man I’ve been I’ve been waiting for thank you so much for the invitation to be with you this morning. I’m excited to have you on. Or he is the VP of inclusive diversity at Granite construction, where he’s working to create a workplace where professionals can learn, understand and act create a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. Or, hey, tell us a little about your personal life more about your work and why you do what you do. So thanks for the question. I think. So originally from San Salvador, El Salvador, right came to 1969 to New Orleans, there wasn’t a lot of hotheads there. So believe it or not, I was George, I became George and my mom and sister still call me George. And they talked to people. But over time, you know, I found out who I was. So literally, Jorge became my name again. And it was used, especially when we moved to California. But as you mentioned, I’m the vice president of inclusive diversity, we were very specific with that, you know, we didn’t want to do just diversity and inclusion, right, because there, sometimes you just do the diversity and don’t do the inclusion, some companies do the inclusion and don’t have the diversity. So we thought, you know, in the company that we have, we wanted to be inclusive of all the diversity that we have today, the diversity that we want tomorrow, here at Granite, and the diversity we’re going to have into the future. So that’s how I would tie it together. The work chose me, I didn’t choose the work, I have 35 years of business experience. And I say that in aggregate 25 of the I would say about 20 years of it was in the business side. And the rest of the 15 years have been in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Nice. I appreciate all that the exception of turning your back on George, but you know, we all we all have choices to make, or

Jorge Quezada 2:09
Yeah, I still you know, it’s funny when people say, George, I look, I I still do. Yeah, I still

george grombacher 2:15
do. Old habits die hard. Yeah. So granite construction, if you would give us sort of a thumbnail shot of of the company. I know, it’s a massive construction company. Yeah. How did how did you find yourself there? What was it about that company that said, we need to be leaders in this space?

Jorge Quezada 2:38
Yeah, no, I appreciate that question. And I’ll tell you, so we are a vertical vertically integrated construction company, meaning that we do things from quarry work, where we bring in the aggregates or the rocks, right, then I’m just trying to keep it till I can understand it right? To actually paving paving roads with asphalt concrete.

We build bridges, tunnels, you know, one could argue that, that we we help build the infrastructure, right of our country. We’re in airports, we work for the military. So we have a very diverse portfolio of work that we do.

And at a given time, and I tell you, this was probably around 2017, that, that not only the board, but our leadership team said, you know, we got to really think about what we want to do with diversity and inclusion. And there was a search that was done in 2019, early 2019. And at that time, I was with another company. And so they reached out. And

I think I’m here, like I said, the word chose me. I, I thought what a great opportunity to come into an industry like construction, where you know, it’s funny. I tell construction companies all the time that we need to do a better job of amplifying amplifying the opportunities that we have in our industry. Because outside people tell our story, right? They’ll say that this work is not for women. And they’ll say that, you know, there’s no careers for people in construction. And coming into this. It is amazing the opportunities that we have, and it’s amazing the talent that we have in this industry. And it is right for opportunity for people. We just need to do a better job of communicating. So thank you for allowing me to elaborate a little bit on that. Yeah. Well, I’m fascinated.

george grombacher 4:36
I fascinate. I have a live in Arizona, and we’ve been growing and growing and growing for seemingly forever. And so I’ve got a lot of friends and family members who have worked in as contractors or worked in construction. So I have probably a better understanding of the industry than somebody who hasn’t had that experience. And so I can definitely see it People from the outset say, Well, I’m a female, there’s no way I would ever get into that line of work, or I am, I’m gay, there’s no way I’d ever fit in at a construction company. And probably similar thoughts to if I were to look at a career in the military, and I know that certainly our armed forces have been working on this as well.

Jorge Quezada 5:21
Yeah, no, I think, you know, great thinking there. Because I think what happens is, I don’t know, if people realize how critical it is to be like, have a solid team. And I know that that sounds crazy, because every company says they’re gonna have a solid team. But think about this, like, we’re working in dangerous situations on highways, for instance, people are flying by you. And it’s important from a safety perspective that we have the level of vision, a level of inclusion, that that requires everyone to be watching each other’s back. That’s just one simple example. But but but I’ll tell you that that’s the kind of stuff that I’ve come to realize, because I had a bias. Now, you know, I appreciate the examples that you had. So, you know, I didn’t know this, but my wife showed me pictures of my son, when he was four, my daughter when she was two, we were getting them ready to go to a Halloween parade. I dressed him as Bob the Builder. And I dressed my daughter as Minnie Mouse. I was not going to dress her in a construction outfit, right? Because I didn’t, my bias prevented me to see what was possible for her. But very quickly, I knew what I I would want him to become, right. And there’s a little nuance there that like as parents, like, we dictate, like the bias. And so when I came to the when I came to granted, she goes, this is funny that here you are, you’re the DEI guy, right? There’s diversity, equity and inclusion. And I went, wow, like, you’re right. Like, you know, there are these biases that exist. So yeah, no, it’s very insightful of you. Because I think that’s the kind of stuff that we want to be able to project to people. I just, I just spent a weekend, I mean, a week over with the women of asphalt. So women trying to come into the asphalt industry, and there’s a lot of women in that industry. And to your point, I’m a How could I ever do that work? There’s a lot of women that are doing this work and and doing it really well. Mm

george grombacher 7:18
hmm. So, you’ve, you’ve been with granite for how long?

Unknown Speaker 7:22
Now? going on three years. Okay. Great. So that’s, that’s, that’s,

george grombacher 7:26
that’s a good little while? Yes, yeah. And you came in, you recognize your wife’s, like, that’s pretty funny that you came from this spot. And now you’re there. So you walk in? And now here we are today? How was How was the experience better?

Jorge Quezada 7:43
Um, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s different layers? In that question, I would tell you that. In my 35 years, I’ve never had to do this work during a pandemic. So let’s, let’s think about that. In 35 years, I’ve never had to do this work when people were actually then went and worked at home. Okay. And then at the same time, in 35 years, I’ve never had to do this work with the external pressures, and the conversations that are being had around diversity, equity and inclusion, right? We see it in the media all the time, you know, we have issues like this, you know, things like CRT, right? We have black lives matter, we have. And these are, these are things that are important that I think we need to have conversations about, but guess what, we can’t have them like we used to, because people are at home. And this zoom environment doesn’t allow you to really engage in the way that we used to before we had, you know, we were we were together. The pandemic also created a different, like dimension that had to be thought about. And it occupied that free frontal cortex right there. In your thinking, like, Oh, my God, do I shake hands? Don’t I shake hands? I think coming back to the workplace, people are going to have to learn. It’s like fist do we fist pump? Do we shake hands? Do we hug again, and I share that with you. Because those are the kinds of things that if you focus on your work, you’ll never notice the things that are important. You’ll never learn to understand people for who they are individually, and you won’t know how to act. And that’s what we try to teach in this work. Right? Literally those three things. Can you notice? Can you understand and can you act appropriately to the difference or similarity that’s in front of you?

george grombacher 9:43
Nice notice, understand and act differently. I appreciate that. I I love a good framework. So

Jorge Quezada 9:49
yeah, yeah. Because I think you know, so think about this, right? So people are coming back to the workplace. Some people are coming back with beards, right? You have a beard, sir. They didn’t have a beard before. And you may have had a bias of having clean fame like no mustache, no beards. Now they’re coming in. And now you have to like notice like, like, you have to understand why. And then how do you act? How do you how do you reach out to that person when you it? Was you that thought like I don’t I want people to be clean shaven, right, or dress dress attire has changed, right? There’s a lot of articles coming up about what is the new dress code. And so there’s a real gravitational pull to, to go back to that and say, I want the new normal. And there’s a gentleman by the name of David Rock at the neuro leadership institute that said something really profound. He said, you know, what, instead of creating a new normal on how it was, why don’t we create a better normal? What it what it could be going forward?

george grombacher 10:52
Like that new normal versus better normal? Yeah, better normal. So fascinating. I don’t know if he had gray hair before these last three years or not? Or hey, that’s, that’s another conversation. Yeah, I don’t even know if you have gray hair. Now, actually, there’s light shining on you. So anyway. But all the all the things that you’ve just laid out how there’s so much external pressure on organizations and companies to be doing certain things at certain times. And we live in the real world, where we’re dealing with people that have arrived, at this time doing what they’ve always done with the biases that they’ve always had? And so how do you think about change? Is it we’re making incremental change? Or we need to change? Now?

Jorge Quezada 11:47
You know, I love the way you phrased that question. Because so first of all, I would tell you that people need to take kind of like a responsibility to for themselves before they can go and lead others, like, especially leaders or have conversations with others. So when you phrase the people have had their biases, people have had their beliefs, their values and the way they think to themselves, right, that creates a level of emotion, that then you have behaviors and outcomes. So I agree with you. I think what we’re experiencing now, and part of me is what I believe that we’re experiencing now, is that we have to find a way of be able to have people share their point of view, and not presented as the truth. Because sometimes I think people have, you know, hunker down, bunker down, and, and now they have opinions, whether it’s an echo chamber of friends that they have, or just the fact that they’re at home, I think they’ve they’ve started formulating, like, they’re not in the office having office conversations, right. So now they’re having personal conversations that gets filtered because I work, let’s say at Granite, so that I before I was at Granite, and I thought, oh, granite values, you know, values, you know, you know, I bleed green kind of thing. And I would go home, now, I’m at home, and everything about me, like at 430. And take care of the kids, you know, I’m, I’m helping my wife do this, I’m doing this, then I go to granted, or I jumped on a call. There’s, there’s some people that just never went back to the office, right? And so, so I share that with you, because I think you’re gonna have to do some personal work at one level, then you can go like, it’s like, within a day you go among, and then you go beyond, right, like, so how do you do it? And I think when people come back, we’re gonna have to do that work. We’re gonna have to bring people together, we’re gonna have to have conversations, we’re gonna have to say, welcome back to granite. Remember what we used to do this, this and this, we’ll still do some of that. But guess what, we’re gonna do something better. Now we’re going to do this right? We’re going to have to engage in those discussions. But But you’re right. We haven’t had these external pressures that we’ve had, you know, the tragedy of George Floyd created a lot of movement, you know, social injustice movement, that I can tell you that before that. Not a lot of conversation. You know, before that, there was a lot of companies that because the COVID were letting go of people who were doing diversity, equity and inclusion. After the death of George Floyd. All of a sudden a bunch of companies started hiring people started putting out messaging that they never put out before about diversity, equity inclusion and where they stood. And and and I share that with you because That all happened in a very compressed time. Right? So these are the kinds of things that we’ve been working through.

george grombacher 15:05
Yeah, yeah. And and it’s, it’s a lot. And that’s it. I mean, goodness. So So I certainly appreciate appreciate your work, the ability to share point of view, but not to, not to hold on to it as not not not to present it as truth. Yeah. Who to really hold on to, to be strong in ideas, but are to what is the term Don’t Don’t, don’t hold on to your ideas, be convicted, but don’t hold under a DSB be willing to change your mind about things. And I don’t like the term Safe Space Jorge button. That’s really what we’re, that’s what what’s required to be able to actually bounce ideas off of one another.

Jorge Quezada 15:53
Yeah, you know, I think we have to right, and I think, so I’m kind of like, I have a different point of view about safe space. But but but I think, I think I can understand why the term gets kind of like squishy, or like, weird to some people, right? I think what we’re trying to say is, and Amy Edmondson talks about psychological safety, right? And she talks about how important it is to feel, to feel comfortable being able to have a conversation with someone without ridicule without feeling like you’re being something’s being held against you. Because it’s in the spirit of being able to share that also belonging comes into place, right? When you and I can talk, then you and I can build the bond, and then I know that around you, I can have a good conversation. And so to say, Yeah, we you and I can have a safe, share a safe space. I get that right. But I think you know, I, yesterday, Tim, Tim urban, I wrote it down here, the joy of finding out that I am wrong, is the only way you know that you’re learning anything. And sometimes I think when we come at it with no, my What is the truth, without you opening up your aperture of what’s possible, what’s different, doesn’t allow you either to grow or doesn’t allow you to relearn or learn something. You know, Adam Grant has that book again, think again, that really is challenging, are thinking about that, right? I think whether you read, you know, stoicism or you Marcus a realist, and stuff like that, that’s those guys were thinking about that stuff they were thinking about, like you know what, it’s about the learning. It’s about the relearning, and unlearning at times that we get better. And this work requires that type of muscle to build that you learn unlearn, relearn, learn and doing it constantly. And sometimes when you hold on to your truth, you don’t allow yourself that opportunity to grow that way. Yeah,

george grombacher 17:53
totally agree. You were talking and I wrote down a trusting space. So it’s just it’s just it’s just a word. Right? It’s a safe space. And you know, whatever. Yep. It’s, it’s, it’s it’s my problem. Certainly not safe spaces problem. Yeah, yeah. No, I get it. But trusting that I’m entering into an interaction or a dialogue with somebody who is being genuine, about coming and meeting me, where we both are and learning from one another. That strikes me as your opportunity, your challenge within a big organization with lots of pressure.

Jorge Quezada 18:35
It does, you know, at granted, we say that and we undress, stop, yeah, he works at Korn Ferry right now. And he had this phrase that define diversity and inclusion, he said that diversity is the mix. And inclusion is making that mix work. And granted, we believe that, but we practice inclusive diversity, right? Like we’re very intentional about our inclusive, inclusive diversity practice. But what you just said, right, what resonates for me is that we have to have the ability that to believe that we’re an environment, that we can have this conversation. Because then what we what we become, right, we become more open to the possibility of moving the work forward. And then ultimately, when you have that, you have the belonging that we all crave, we all want to be part of something. Right? That as humans, that’s, that’s, that’s in us that’s in our DNA to belong. And so that belief that becoming in that belonging is so important for us from a mental health perspective as well. You know, there’s a lot of studies out there that says that, if you feel excluded or you feel like you don’t belong, it’s like, like taking a punch to the gut. That’s the type of physical thing that your body goes through your brain the chemicals in your brain goes to when you feel like you were excluded from something So this is why this work is so important beyond just the representation thing that that people try to hijack the word diversity for, right? It’s, it’s about, oh, we need more XYZ people here. We need this. We need that. Yes, we do. But it’s the inclusion of how to make it work without that piece. All that representation piece goes right out the back door, because we’re not creating the environment for people.

george grombacher 20:27
That’s right. Like that. That’s really Well said, sir. Well, Jorge, that was that was solid right there. But people are ready for your difference making tip. What do you have all?

Jorge Quezada 20:37
You know, you know, I’m, you put me on the spot on that one. But I will tell you this. I will tell you that if we can wake up to live, like an amazing story, like challenge yourself to live an amazing story. That’s the first thing. The second thing if you can love generously, to create that type of environment that you and I have been dancing around talking to right that space. And then if we can inspire to show people that things yes may appear to be impossible, but they are possible. So if we can live love and inspire my man, that would be awesome.

george grombacher 21:17
Well, I think that that is great stuff that definitely gets caught. Love and inspire. It’s a world where George’s and Jorge’s Can, can can can live happily together?

Yes. Yes, we can. We can love it.

All right. Thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage with you?

Jorge Quezada 21:39
You know, the best place to get ahold of me is through LinkedIn. Right Jorge, aka sada and I have MBA next to it. But we also have a podcast with Stacey Rodin and I from Rosa den called construction de ai talks. That’s construction de i talks with an S at the end. And you can type that on LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. And you can find our episodes, you can find the conversations that we’re having around the industry, and this place called diversity, equity and inclusion.

george grombacher 22:09
But if you enjoyed this as much as I did show Jorge, your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, find them on LinkedIn, under Jorge casada, and be a link that the notes and then check out the construction dei talks podcast. Put it into the search bar on LinkedIn and find it wherever you listen your podcasts. Thanks again, Jorge. Thank you, and until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

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