MGAC Inner Voices is an interview format podcast where a diverse mix of employees are interviewed to share their perspective on challenges they have faced in the A/E/C industry as a result of their identity—including race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. By discussing the experiences of our staff, our hope is that their stories will have newfound and powerful resonance with the audience—both to comfort others in similar situations and to encourage those in positions of power to bring about positive, actionable changes to workplace environments for all A/E/C professionals, regardless of their identity.
Beth Scully (MGAC Senior Project Manager, Seattle) interviews new MGAC team member Dara Jafari (Director, Brighton) to break down the pivotal moments in his childhood, young adulthood, and subsequent career that led to his passionate involvement in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts.
Beth: Hi, and welcome to MGAC's "Inner Voices" podcast, where we dig into issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture, engineering, construction industry, brought to you by MGAC. I'm Beth Scully, I reside here in Seattle, Washington, I'm a Senior Project Manager, and I want to start by offering a disclaimer—that we always want to preface our podcast by saying we're not experts in all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. I can speak to my lived experience and do my best to help our guests share their experiences as well. Our goal is not to be the experts on diversity, but rather we truly just want to share stories of how together we can create better outcomes for all of us in the industry and indeed beyond and into the world. So, today, we will be speaking with Dara Jafari. I want to turn it over to you, Dara, and allow you to introduce yourself.
Dara: Thank you very much. Yes, I'm Dara Jafari and I am the Director of Project Management for the South East. So, I'm based, actually, in our Brighton office in the UK, and I'm really excited to start working with you all and especially looking at our ED&I journey together hopefully as well. A tiny bit about my professional background. So, I did actually a degree in something called Building Surveying, which I completed about 12 / 13 years ago. So, I've got around just over 10 years' experience in the property industry, working in consultancies as Building Surveyor, Project Manager, and also alongside my role as being a Famework Manager. So, looking after a main client with a local authority, within government, within the UK. I also was the national ED&I lead for the company I was at previously called Faithful + Gould for nearly two and a half years. A role I really, really enjoyed. And myself, the reason why I got into that role is because I, myself, identify as an ethnic minority. Both my parents are from Iran essentially. And growing up, you know, I kind of had challenges with my own identity around that, which I'm sure we'll go into in a bit. And that's what really motivated me and spurred me to, you know, talk on this topic and hopefully inspire others.
Beth: Wonderful. Thank you so much. And for our listeners, I'm sure you've had the pleasure of noting that Dara is located across the pond and so, there are a few differences as we talk. ED&I is what it's referred to over in the UK, while we say DEI. So, just some clarification, we are all on the same page talking about the same thing here. Dara, it's really a pleasure to interview you as you join MGAC in the UK office. And you already touched on it a little bit, but I wonder if you could tell us a little more about your parents, where they were from, and the engagement of your grandparents in your life as you grew up.
Dara: Yeah, definitely. So, to set the scene back from the beginning, I suppose, so my parents are both from Iran and they both came actually before the Islamic Revolution in Iran. So, this is back when a time where, you know, the population was kind of split in Iran between people that were very religious and people that were not religious. But one thing everyone always has in common in Iran and still do now, is they're very patriotic about our history and our past. It's a very rich history, you know, that dates back 2000 BC almost, some areas of Iran. So, we're very proud nation of people. You know, growing up, my granddad actually used to spend a lot of time with us. He used to come from Iran and stay with us for, you know, months at a time. So, he very much raised me and my brother. I've got an older brother from a very young age and you know, he always taught me about Islam and kind of his version of Islam actually, which he called “the unspoiled version”, you know, rightly or wrongly. But there's lots of different ways to practice your religion. But he was somebody that was, oh I guess liberal but still Muslim, you know, had very firm beliefs about things but very liberal as well, having been exposed to being in the West for some time. Well, I used to go to Iran almost every summer and Easter as well actually because our Easters coincide with Iranian New Year, Persian New Year, which is a lovely time to have a new year by the way, spring. Really nice time to celebrate it. So, the first time I went to Iran, I must have been about four or five years old. So, I had very, very early exposure to, you know, the differences in culture and to be frank, you know, the differences in situations I suppose that people live in. There's a lot of deprived areas in Iran, especially some of the areas which my granddad and my dad actually grew up, but they were still very family orientated. But it used to always make me come back and feel incredibly humble to actually live in the West because everybody in Iran, you know, sees the West as being this great place that's free, that isn’t oppressed, where people can, you know, live and feel what they feel and think what they think, etc., etc. But having that early exposure really gave me, I suppose, that drive to want to try and be the best person I could be. And I think instilled from my dad was also I guess that doubt that my challenges would be different to somebody that was born in the UK just based on what my dad had probably went through himself, you know, through his career. So, that's a very long intro to the beginning. I suppose we can begin to paint a picture of how that shaped my life and my background, which I think is really important when you engage and speak to people.
Beth: It certainly is because I'd like to kind of explore with you both what the doubts were that were produced and how that shaped your confidence.
Dara: Definitely. This is a great question. And I think the doubts were that my dad, I can always remember, you know, I was quite good in school and my daddy always used to try and say to me that, "Oh, you know, if you're doing well in school or you've come first in a test, like never tell people that or show people that. You always have to stay humble, etc. Or you know, people will be jealous of you and try and put you down." And you know, growing up I really had that always at the back of my mind that I should never show off about achievements that I've had. And you know, looking back, that's a very good way I suppose to bring up your child. But I suppose when you come into, you know, the consultancy world or real estate world, or whichever world, you know, we're talking in now where a predominantly it is male dominated, let's be frank about it, that's a very tough mindset to have, to not want to put yourself forward and be celebrating of your achievements. And I had to go for a real mindset change to sort of say, well hang on, you know, everybody else is able to speak about the great things they've done and it seems to get them promoted, etc. Maybe that's a stance that I need to adopt more. You know, forget what my dad said, you know, he is not here listening to this, I can say that. But you know, I do kind of have to leave that mindset behind and it was quite tough to do that because it was a part of my personality. And I think my dad's reasoning for that was the troubling thing because he used to say that because you are from a foreign country, you know, you speak two languages and Iran is a country that isn't painted in the best light at the minute. You just want to keep your head down and do your job is kind of his mindset and bless him, he's still kind of that way now even though he's so technically like, talented. And he's done really well for himself but I can't help but think if he'd had a different mindset, maybe he would've done more even. But not taking anything away from what he's done, because yeah, he's someone I look up to.
Beth: Yeah. You know, as I listen carefully, I think, you know, there's a difference between walking in a state of humility but confidently. And walking in a state of humility being a bragger, right?
Beth: And there's sort of this, perhaps what you felt, I don't want to put words in your mouth, is this cultural difference from a very young age. Like, what is the differentiation between being a bragger and just confident? Because we all should be confident, right? We all are these beautiful humans that bring luster to the world and that's what you want to shine. But I think early on you had that presented to you and I know your story so maybe I don't want to get in front of us, but I think it probably did shape you a good deal, you know, having that difference. But you said that you went to Iran and you spent the summer month there and gained appreciation for your roots. One summer though was particularly interesting, correct?
Dara: Yeah. Basically, it was the summer after 9/11 happened essentially, which is obviously a huge devastating milestone in many people's lives, of course. And, I remember coming back from Iran and seeing it on the news and you know, our parents and everyone being really upset and my brother, etc. And we'd just got back from Iran the day before as well. So, we were kind of saying, you know, how lucky it is that you, nothing happened to our flight. We were coming to England, you know, we didn't know at this stage. It was chaos wasn't it, at the time when that happened. And then I went into school and everyone was very somber, everyone was very sad obviously in the UK, so this is literally the next day almost or maybe the day after. And there was somebody in my school that then took it upon herself to say, "Oh, didn't you just come back from Iran? Where were you going, to see your uncle Osama bin Laden?" Is what she'd said. And you know, it just come out of the news that there was this Osama bin Laden was behind these terrorist acts and it was the first time that anyone had said anything offensive about, you know, my background and my heritage that I was really proud of. You know, I said at the start of this call how proud I was to come from Iran, and you know, I embrace all the good parts of it. Obviously not what's going on at the minute, that's one side, but the culture and the history and you know, I was really sensitive because I really missed my family every time I come back from Iran. I had this overwhelming sense of guilt that I come back to this luxurious life in their eyes to then come back to a country that I call home, and to have someone say that to me really rocked me to my core. I was a confident person growing up, and I was always outspoken about where I came from. And back then was a time in my life where I was kind of wanting to like follow the direction of my religion as well, because my dad and my granddad had gone back to Iran at this point because he was getting a bit older and needed to be looked after more. And I was really, really upset. And I remember going to the headmaster and the headmaster actually said, well you know, "What would you like me to do about it? Because that person's mum is a teacher in the school, you know, are you sure you want to go down that avenue?” and, it transpired that she had actually said that I'd lied and made the whole thing up. So, no one had believed me and I didn't even want to go to the head teacher. I just thought it's the right thing to do, is this person's going to go and say something like this to somebody else. But I just couldn't believe that that was a response. And I came home, I was really upset, like in tears and really angry and you know, told my mom and dad. And my dad, you know, said to me, really took it seriously that I was really upset, obviously really, really cared and said, "You know, don't worry. That person, they won't get very far with that mindset." Which is true. Like, you probably look at people now that have that narrow-mindedness and you won't think that they'll last very long in this industry or any industry you'd like to think. But to have my dad say that to me when I was, you know, 11, 12 years old was really conflicting for me because I wanted action there and then.
You know, I wanted someone rightly or wrongly, you know, a preteen and you got all that anger in you, I wanted somebody to have the same feeling of upset that I had. I just didn't feel like it was fair that this person was making fun of something and embarrassing me in front of other people for something that I couldn't change. Something that I was really proud of, you know, my country and my heritage. And the reason I say that that's something you couldn't change is because when I tell this story, I want people to understand that it can be anything. It doesn't matter about the country that you're from. It could be the sexual orientation that you have, your gender, you know, your beliefs, your neurodiversity, could be anything. That's why I really touch home on that. I know I'm talking about one subject here of, you know, equality and diversity, but it made me really sad.
And I think that that kind of put in my mind that, okay, well going through life, I guess this is something that's going to happen now. And you know, my own dad telling me that the consequences will happen later. I guess when these things happen, I shouldn't even react to it the time. I should just wait it out and see what happens down the line. And it is a really pivotal, and when I look back on it, it's a really sad moment in my life because, you know, I quite openly said to you, Beth, that I've had, you know, counseling and you see like a therapist etc., when you, you know, talk about things in your past because I knew there was something inside me that I was suppressing. And don't get me wrong, I actually went to go and see a therapist when there was actually a very good part of my life. It's just I felt that there was something there. And it really boiled down to that pivotal moment where, you know, I was in a position in life where I was wanting to be more in touch with my roots and heritage and all that taught me that from that single experience was maybe I shouldn't do that because to get through life, I'd rather just hide the fact that I'm from Iran or wherever because I don't ever want to face that again. So, even going to job applications and starting careers, etc., I didn't even want to disclose when I was applying for jobs that I was Middle Eastern and British. I'll just tick British for the fear that they could be somebody looking at my CV that would think the way that person did, you know, which is pretty sad actually. It kind of ruined my innocence of the world, and I knew it had to happen at some day, but, yeah.
So it's only been like recently since I took on the ED&I roll, I've really had the confidence to speak openly about these experiences, and that's why I think it's so important to, like, I don't mind letting people know that even telling the story makes me quite upset because I want people to relate to it and know that I'm coming into MGAC to work with you all. I'm being open to tell you about this experience. I'd hope that you'll be open about similar experiences or just take something from that I suppose to able to talk about your own experience and get it off your chest as well for people that you see more than your friends. You know, people are at work so often.
Beth: Yeah. I think originally when you and I first spoke and you faced these pivotal moments in your life and I think for many of us in the U.S., the murder of George Floyd was that moment, you know? And it was enough, right? And the genesis of this podcast was that you could be working side by side with somebody and not know their story, not know what it took for them to get to where they are, what it takes for them to get up every day, sometimes in the face of this discrimination. And suddenly, when you hear their story and this is your colleague and this is your friend, now you become an ally, you get off the bench and you say, oh, I have to engage here. Which is, you know, it's very exciting that we are doing this together and that you're coming into MGAC and we're going to be working to build a plan around this. And I'm maybe, spoiler alert for everybody, but you touched on the fact that you had this experience as a child, but I think how you got into ED&I over there was also a ridiculous experience for you. Can you tell about that?
Dara: Yeah. So, I think this is when I was at university, I worked part-time just in a real estate agent is what you call it in the United States, estate agent in England, obviously we know the same thing. And one of the directors there was, I was running to, I go meet my friend in the car or a train, I can't quite remember, but I was late, you know, leaving. And I was running and he was sat there with a few other people and he said, "Oh, where are you running to? Do you have a bomb in your backpack?"; and he said it as a joke, which obviously for a Director you should never make a joke like that. Obviously, I left and went and sat in the car. I was honestly so angry, you know, that something similar had come up that I'm really proud because in that situation I went back in and said, you know, “Why did you say that?” And I was really irate and upset and I probably could have been a bit more composed, but I was very shocked by, you know what he said. And I said "I really didn't take a liking to that. I think that was out of order." And then actually one of the directors had rang me and said, "Oh, you know, really sorry. He shouldn't have said that, etc., etc.", but that person that said it never rang me to apologize. It was just, you know, his boss that had to ring me to say that. And that person didn't face like immediate consequences either. I start to face him like the next day or the next weekend when I was working there when I was a bit older. I've just found that almost laughable. It didn't anger me as much as when I was younger, but I just thought it was ridiculous that that person should be allowed to still work, having said that to someone. Because imagine if we had a client sat there and he said it in front of them, then maybe it would've been different. But why should it be different just because it's a client, you know, that overheard it, for example? Yeah, that was, that was very upsetting.
Beth: What, why do you think you made that transition from anger to almost laughable? That is interesting.
Dara: Yeah. I guess it was just a way for me to cope with probably the anger that I faced, if I can be totally honest with you. Because I think, you know, when you hear it back now, if somebody had said that in any of our offices, they'd be shown the door straight away, I'd like to think anyway, if somebody had said that, something so offensive. I guess looking back and was probably so angry that I just internalized the anger and didn't want to face it any other way. And bear in mind this is, as I mentioned to you, Beth, like this is when I was already shunning kind of my background and my heritage. So, I guess my subconscious was saying, well, you know, not Muslim anyway, never have been. So, I don't find that offensive. But you know, looking back on it now, obviously I wish I'd gone back to my own self and said, “no, hang on, you're allowed to give yourself time to be upset by that”. But in that situation, I guess part of the trauma that I'd faced before when I was younger, I kind of, I tried to shrug it off, I suppose that time around.
Beth: Yeah. I was just going to suggest that you know, after a series of all-out aggressions and microaggressions, it becomes normalized. And it kind of goes back to maybe what your dad said, like, yeah, “don't complain, don't complain, just do your work, do your thing”. The only relevance or the only way I have connectedness, it's, I face it as a woman, right? People assume a woman at this construction table you know, you get called a series of names or whatever if you don't play around. So, I think we want to talk about what happens to people when they get these constant microaggressions and aggressions and what that does and then how that has spurred you into a point of action and leadership.
Dara: Yeah, definitely. I think as I mentioned, you can tell when I was talking there, that I had two different versions of myself and that's what really started to hit home for me when I heard a couple of people talk about that very thing where it's called code-switching. Interestingly we call it in the UK, where you're switching between, you know, different cultures or adopting to different cultures. And I felt that that's something that I had to do. When I see my parents, I'd speak Iranian to them or go to Iranian restaurants, etc., etc., or my family or some Iranian friends I had. And then suddenly when I'm at work, I was just the British version of myself that didn't want to bring that up. And that honestly, is actually exhausting. And I know I'm only like touching tip of the iceberg for what some people perhaps go through.
I mean if you're from a different marginalized group, whether it be your sexual orientation or you're from a different ethnic minority, fortunately for me, like I'm able to switch between the two other than my name. And probably, people can't see, but I've got a bit of a bigger beard at this point. If I didn't have that, people probably wouldn't know that I was from a different background. So, it's quite easy for me to do that. But it is inside and internally it is absolutely exhausting to feel that you have to hide parts of your identity and hide parts of who you are for fear of being embarrassed or teased or something, or just people treat you differently.
Beth: Yeah, it's such a difficult thing. And I know that even as you started the ED&I efforts, what happened, you fired up a meeting, right?
Dara: Definitely. So, this is a really good case, and in fact, I love bringing this up. Whenever people say to you, you know, can you tell me a situation which you challenged something? I always bring this up, and this is a story that, you know, I'm really proud to tell, but at the same time it was, you know, a bad example of how things go. So, I was asked at the beginning of my ED&I journey, I was really up for doing podcasts and talks and keynote speeches, chairing panels, so I was asked to chair a panel at a big property and infrastructure conference. So, this is around May time, it was last year, 2022. So, I was asked to chair this panel and the topic was ‘how do we attract and retain diverse talent in our industry’? So very specific, something that I would be very happy to talk about. I felt very comfortable being able to chair a conversation on that. So, I said, "Yeah, absolutely, I will do it." And I knew a graduate, her name's Rumbi, she's Black herself, she was a graduate and she wanted to be involved in ED&I. So, I gave her the opportunity and said, "Hey, do you know what? Why don't you come on the panel, it'd be a bit of a change. We're used to seeing the same people on panels, why don't you come on it? For someone that has just come into the industry, what better person to speak to?" So she was really excited to come and then we joined the briefing call internally, which had about 60 people on the call. So, this call was just talking about, you know, where you're staying, your hotel, this is the layout, etc., etc.
During the call that graduate actually pointed out to me to say, "Hey do you know, we are 2 ethnic minorities out of 60 people on the call and we are doing the panel?" So, that's to add, to rub salt into the wound is because we're doing the panel. That's what it felt like. Obviously not intentional, but that's exactly what it felt like. And I thought, oh my gosh, like, I didn't even notice it myself. And that's probably, you know, what you were saying it gets normalized or that kind of behavior. So, I didn't even, I wasn't looking for that, you know, that was my British Dara sat on the call until Rumbi nudged me basically. And then I had to say something. So, I put my hand up in the meeting and I, you know, just said it how it was. I said, you know, I just wanted to say what it looks like. Just to paint a picture here, you are sending out the only two ethnic minorities who are a part of this whole group of 60 to do a panel on attracting and retaining diverse talent. Do you not see how ironic that looks? That looks almost embarrassing. We're going to a city that's got a huge diverse population. In fact, I think it was the city it was in had like 25% ethnic minorities. It's a big amount. And there we are sending 4% ethnic minorities to this event. And we had loads of talent in the business. And it's really case and example of how these things happen because in businesses, you know, at the minute we're in an industry that's predominantly dominated by White males. A lot of them, you know, have got there by good merit, etc. But then I can paint you the picture of how these things happen where it continues to be, you know, for example, White males that will rise up in businesses because we just sent the same people over and over again to these events. And you know, I've raised this on the call, and a little bit insulting. It wasn't intentional, the person organizing it, she handled it really well after just to the caveat list. But they'd pointed out a spreadsheet to me that said, oh no, no, no, we have thought about diversity and they showed me a spreadsheet that had male, female, and diverse and I was ticked under the diverse box. So, not even the male bracket, I was just part of the diversity bracket. And I said, you know, I'm not going to tear that spreadsheet to shreds publicly, so let's just forget I even saw that. But I'm not going to do the panel until we change the people we're sending this event. Because there's no way, I can get up on that stage and do that. And at this point, I'd already found panelists that were leaders in this field to come. And I said, it'll be really embarrassing for us to have to go and tell them the reason why I'm pulling out.
But I will say the response that I had from the business was really good. And we ended up taking away around I think about 10 to 15 delegates who were going to the event and brought in some of our younger generation that just happens to be where we had the most diversity to go to the event. And there was a really lovely time. I remember standing on this rooftop bar, the welcome drinks, and I could see, you know, all this diverse talent around that we had put there through this effort that we had done, you know, engaging and speaking to clients, speaking to senior people in the business. And that's when I really thought to myself like, this is what the ED&I journey is about. It's about sponsorship and ensuring that you have people in positions that can make those decisions to ensure, you know, diverse talent gets recognized and looked after.
Because a lot of people can always shrug off and say, oh yeah, you know, the whole ED&I thing, not sure if I'm on board with it, but we can't do that anymore. Like, society is so in a balance where if you're not on board with the ED&I train, you will get left behind because there's so many pockets of depravity around the world at the minute. I think we have to all look out for each other and make sure that we are not excluding people that deserve to have a seat at the table just as much as anyone else in the business. And that clear example that I described is exactly how these things happened. There wasn't one person that sat there and said, “let’s only invite two ethnic minorities.” That isn't what happened. They just said, "Oh yeah, I'll bring so-and-so because I know him or her, worked with them for five years." They know this client, they know that client. So, that's just what happened. You know, it's about who you know. And in an industry that's dominated by one particular demographic, you tend to miss all the other demographics. And then from that journey, that really spurred me to make sure we made a difference in all of the events that we are attending. So, that's something we can take as MGAC going forward. You know, we can definitely have a rethink about who are we sending to events and why, what are they going to get out of going to these events? If it's just to go and meet clients and schmooze, you can do that anywhere. You don't need a big event to do it.
Beth: So, you've touched on a lot of things and I want to bring it back around to the fact that, you know, I mentioned earlier that we are renewing and reinvigorating our own plan here. And as I listened again to what you've just said, I had that opportunity the first time, you know, the word tokenization just came to me, right? Like, you were tokenized, let's call it what it was. Tick, tick, tick. I made a lovely Excel spreadsheet. But we've spoken about the importance of this, but as we're rebuilding this, the importance of having leader engagement, senior leader engagement. Can you speak to that?
Dara: Yes, absolutely. I think in terms of leadership engagement, even using that example, this is what made that really work is that I raised something, and it was the senior leaders that had come back to me to make that change and implement it. Without their backing, I don't think I would've had a large enough voice to do that. Maybe I'm underestimating myself, but I think having that senior engagement is so, so important. And I think if you set out an ED&I strategy, that it doesn't just have to be agreed by senior leaders, they have to follow through with it. It comes from the top down. A lot of the times what tends to happen when it comes to ED&I, there's always a risk of it becoming a tick-box exercise where it's just delivered and carried out and managed by, you know, grassroots or people that have more time is the way it's perceived. It's always like an add-on and an extra, but for it to be fully integrated in the business, it has to be from the top down, and now is a time when clients, particularly in the UK, not sure what it's like in America. I'd like to think more so from, since George Floyd, even in our bidding documentation, they're asking us, you know, yes, "Tell us how good you are at project management. Tell us how good you are at quantity surveying. But Tell us your ED&I strategy." And they will see through it if you don't have a good ED&I strategy. If you put forward an ED&I strategy and then you put through forward a team of PMs and QSs that are all White males, they will notice. You have to think about these things. It can't just be a document that you do. You have to actually live and breathe it and just make sure that you are attracting that diverse talent. It has to be authentic, and in order to get that authenticity, it has to come from the top. So, if I'm to have a role within ED&I space, you know, I will be knocking on the doors of senior leaders and saying, "Hey, didn't see you on the call. I just wanted to ask if there was a reason for that. Was there something else that was more important? Because it's something that I feel is really important." And I will explain the reasons why it's important. If people don't see senior leaders on a call, they're going to think that the leadership team don't think it's important, so why would they join it? You know, you can't expect other people to join if even the senior leaders don't make time to join it. I know they're busy as well, but you know, we all are. There's no reason you can't just be on a call even if you are just semi-present, just join the call and engage and drive initiatives, question initiatives, show some enthusiasm towards it. It's absolutely everything to have that engagement.
Beth: And I think even if you can't get to the space, if I want to engage, I want to join a call out of curiosity, what's going on?
Beth: You know, hey, okay, this keeps coming up. Perhaps I should be a little bit curious about it and join a call. At least one, right?
Dara: Yeah, definitely. And this is the thing. I think because see, the majority of senior leaders in our industry, so this isn't, you know, a fault. This is just what's transpired because it was an industry that was dominated by a particular demographic. A lot of the senior leaders are from the same demographic, and they will feel intimidated to join a call. Perhaps some of them would feel that they think they're part of the problem or they don't want to be judged or they feel a bit sheepish to join the call. Completely understand that. But by joining a call it means so much to people to show that you're showing interest. It's just so, so important and it'd mean a lot to people I think more than you'd realize. So, the senior leaders that listen to this call, that’s a message to you, I think it'll mean a lot more to people than you could even imagine if you were just there.
Beth: Just a presence. Because I know I've spoken with so many people as I'm sure through their lived experience, these aggressions and microaggressions, like we said, they're at capacity. They are at capacity and it's all they can do to show up to work, do their job to the best of their ability and function, you know, and then maybe go home and be able to take that code off, settle in to the tranquility of their own home. And so, you know, I am with you 100% that we've got to have that kind of engagement, and we've got to live this. We can't just, say or even tell ourselves, "Well, you know, it's all very well and good because we have this DEI and EDI component of our business." It's got to be shared by everybody. It's got to be lived by everybody and, you know, that takes time. So, I know that we are wrapping up and running out of time, but I do want you to be able to cast a vision for what this is going to look like.
Dara: So that's a really good question. So, in my mind if we're going to have a good ED&I strategy and a vision, we need to just be really, really authentic and try and set the scene for where we are now. And that's absolutely okay for us to say, you know, for example, if we haven't got very far, we can say that honestly. And if we are going to attract the best talent, and you know, we all know there's a bit of a skill shortage in the construction industry as a whole, why not tap into that talent that is probably 40% untapped in our industry, to be frank, in some areas. People know authenticity. So, if you're able to say, okay, this is where we are, we're at the beginning of our journey. We've just gone through the acquisition of RLF in the UK, we're going to take learnings from each other across the pond. We've got huge amounts of learning we could do with each other collectively. If we're going to become a global business, you know, can we say clearly this is where we are now, this is where we want to get to, and this is how we're going to do it? And we can quite clearly do that by just saying, our targets are this amount, we want to get to this, and this is all the great things that we are doing along the way. And just people listening to this call that want to be involved and engaged.
I know you mentioned really quickly, don't want to run out of time, but you mentioned tokenism. There has been times when I'd felt like, oh, could I be falling into that category or as a token? Or if I ask this person to do this talk or if I want this person to engage, am I at risk of putting them, making 'em feel like a token? The reason we're calling out to those people is because you are a role model. You are in this industry, and you're from, you know, a minority group, whatever group that might be, you're from a different background. You are not a token, you are a role model. And if you don't do this particular panel or you know, you don't feel like doing it, then who else is going to do it? Who else is going to do it to attract more people like you in the business? So, you know, if you don't do it for yourself, do it for others. Think in that way, it's a mindset change again.
Beth: And then that diversity happens organically. And you know, the value that that brings, I know what my sense of that value is. But what is your sense of that value? What it brings.
Dara: I think it brings allyship, which I know is a word is thrown around a lot, but it is so important for people to feel like they have allies at work that people that can relate to them. You know, this is today is my last day at my current employer, and I've had so many messages from the Embrace network, which is what we call it in the UK, which is the ethnic minority network. So, whatever network you're from, etc., about, you know, wishing me luck and wishing me farewell and people ringing me, and it made me feel emotional to think, oh, I'm actually leaving friends in the workplace. And, to build that feeling, the only way you'll get to really having like friends in the workplace is if you are open enough to tell them what you've been through and where you are and what you find interesting about the other person, etc., you know. So we have to just break down those barriers of that, you know, this is just a place that you come in and work, and you go home. And I know there'll be some of you that want to live that way and that's absolutely fine, but for those of you that don't, you know, let's make this a welcoming place so we can all talk and engage about things. We don't have to argue, people can have different opinions, but let's just all respect each other and respect what we've all been through because we are, have all had different backgrounds and upbringings, so let's bring that together and make something beautiful, as corny as that sounds. That's how I feel genuinely.
Beth: Yeah. Yeah. I mean I share that with you. You know, anytime that people can bring their most authentic self to the workplace, they're also doing their best work for their employer. And, you know, creating that kind of connectivity for people and trying to espouse this not just as a tick off of a box, but if people are their most authentic self, they're going to do their best work for you always.
Beth: You know, there's no fear of shame, there's no fear of repercussion, you know, just, hey, bring your best self. That's all we ask. Right?
Beth: Yeah. So, we are running out of time and I'm wondering if you have anything else that you want to add that you feel like we've missed as we close this off?
Dara: No, I don't think... I think we've covered lots of ground, which has been lovely to have a conversation with you, Beth. That's all I can add to this. So, thank you so much for having me on and hopefully thank you to people that have listened as well.
Beth: Yeah, thank you so much. It's been a great privilege. I enjoyed our first conversation. This one was even more gratifying because we went a little deeper. We had the time. So, I look forward to meeting you someday in person, Dara. And again...
Dara: Absolutely me too.
Beth: ...thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.
Dara: Thank you.
Beth: That concludes this podcast of MGAC "Inner Voices." Thank you so much for joining us, and please check back next month for another episode of "Inner Voices."