News + Ideas

MGAC Inner Voices: Episode 3


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.

Bryan Gamez (MGAC Assistant Project Manager, Los Angeles) sits down with Jayson Lacno-Musngi (MGAC Cost Consultant, Los Angeles) on being a first-generation American, job site mannerisms, and the importance of a diverse workforce.


Bryan: Hi, everyone, welcome to ''MGAC Inner Voices,'' a podcast digging into issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. As always, I wanna preface this podcast by letting you know that we're not experts in all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. We wanna share our stories and discuss how, together, we can create a better outcome for all of us in the AEC industry and beyond. As you all may know, I'm Bryan Gamez, your host. I am assistant project manager at MGAC working and living in Los Angeles. And today, we have the special privilege of talking to a fellow LA office member, Jayson. What's up, Jayson, how are you?

Jayson: Hey, Bryan, I'm doing great. For those of you that don't know me, my name is Jayson Lacno-Musngi. I'm a cost consultant in the LA office. I've actually been with the firm for about almost five years in June. So it's funny because this is actually my first job right out of college. So in terms of professional experience, this is pretty much...I've been, from the very get-go, at MGAC.

Bryan: Wow, you're a veteran of the LA office. It's so interesting to our listeners, Jayson and I met just about two months before the pandemic, and we left the office, and we haven't seen each other since then. So I would like you to tell our audience more about your identity.

Jayson: Okay. Yeah. So I would say that, you know, just looking at me, I would look Asian, but I am Filipino. My parents were actually both born in the Philippines. I'm the first generation, you know, the first to come over here for my family.

Bryan: I'm also first-generation as well. So I can relate to yourself and where you're at. I've also been in the industry for about almost six years now. I'm interested to know more about how your identity has really affected you in the professional space, and also if you've ever really faced any challenges in your career because of your identity.

Jayson: Being an Asian or Filipino in the construction industry, it's quite interesting, in a sense, because, you know, I would say for the most part, the construction industry is, you know, white dominated, and being an Asian coming into this industry is little, you know, eye-changing know, I don't really have any family members or any, like, friends to say that I could relate to that actually work in this industry. So for me to be coming into this is kind of, like, you know, as being blind, I'm the first one to experience all these interactions with, you know, other professionals. So I'd say, for the most part, like, I've had a great experience, you know, meeting a lot of these professionals. I haven't had any really big issues. If anything, it's a little bit more about little small mannerisms that I've noticed that are different from, you know, my upbringing or where I came from.

Bryan: Can you tell us a little bit about that or elaborate what you mean by mannerisms?

Jayson: So, let's see, I guess the mannerisms that I've grown up, you know, like, taking from my family, it's like a lot of them it's, you know, like very strong eye contact and, you know, like, strong and firm handshake. So this is something I've noticed, a kid, I have noticed, like, I shouldn't be having these, like, strong gazing, you know, eye contact with my parents because, in a sense, I would think, just from my personal experience, it kind of feels like a disrespect to, like, you know, stare them straight into the eyes. And then we didn't really, you know, give, like, handshakes, you know. When we greeted one another, it's more of like a kiss on the cheek and stuff like that. So it's kind of different, like, you know, especially being a professional, it's like, you know, it's more, it's like a handshake.

I didn't really handshake, you know, my relatives or, like, friends or anything like that. You know, it's a little bit different from a professional standpoint, but I guess, like, you know, the mannerisms it's like, it's very subtle if anything. Yeah. I don't know. It's hard to explain. Cause, you know, like, when I try to think about these small mannerisms that, like, are different from, you know, how I grew up to say, like, you know, the construction industry or more professional career, you know, for me it's normal. Like, I've grown up doing the same thing over and over. Like, you know, when we greet, you know, my friends in, like, high school, also, you know, we say, like, "What's up?" you know, all this stuff, you know. You know, you started getting into, you know, the professional industry, it's kind of like, you're taught, like, "Okay, you need to be professional. This is how they speak. This is how we should speak."

You know, when you introduce yourself, you're like, "Oh, hi, I'm Jayson." You know, eye contact, firm handshake, everything like that. But, you know, it's kind of like a term, because I didn't ever saw my family do that. Whenever, you know, my family would tell me to...or, for example, like, you know, my parents, you know, are from the Philippines, and they kind of have a hard time speaking English, especially my dad. And so a lot of times, you know, when he asked me to say, for example, like, you know, call something for the bills or something like that, you know, it's like he's telling me to call them. And, you know, the interaction is very interesting because I have to pretend I'm him. And, you know, I'm just like this 12 year old talking on the phone, it's like, "Oh yeah, what's your social security? Are you Mr..."

You know, I have to talk as my dad. I'm like, yeah, my social is this, I'm like a little kid. And, like, he gets mad at me because I'm not asking the right questions so that I have to, like, kind of translate it back and forth. And it's like, it's interesting because, like, I'm just thinking, like, you know, like, this isn't normal for everyone, but, like, as for, like immigrants, I would say, this is, like, you know, an everyday thing that happens all the time.

Bryan: You're bringing up my childhood too, because my mom speaks English, but she has a strong, heavy accent. So she would do the same thing to me. She'd be like, "We're gonna talk to the bill people." But I noticed they treated me a lot differently than they would have treated my mom because of the accent. And that, to me, was just baffling. And I'm assuming your parents weren't in, like, a professional white-collar, white workforce, right? My mom wasn't, as well.

So it's interesting that you say we entered the workforce. We're learning to be professional in an industry that is dominated by white men. And when you're entering that workforce, you're picking up their mannerisms, you're picking up and you're learning. And, like, how you were saying, it was a learning curve for you, and it's been a learning curve for me. And now that we're, you know, here five years and six years into our careers, it's just interesting to look back and think, wow, you assimilated into this professional setting, but you still look back and think to your roots.

Jayson: This is very interesting because I'm thinking about, like, you know, my upbringing. I was born off in San Diego. I moved to Carson, like, when I was about two years old. And then, you know, I come to realize the reason why my parents moved to these cities is because it's a big Asian, or more specifically, Filipino-dominated city. I'm looking at a census right now. I just, like, Googled Carson real quick. In 2010, you know, 25% of it was Asian. But out of that 25%, you know, 20% or plus is Filipino, which is, you's an interesting fact, because you know, my parents, especially for them to come as immigrants, you know, they want to be somewhere where they're comfortable, and, you know, being somewhere comfortable is seeing people that look like you.

Like, I mean, I can understand now, looking back at it, it's like why they moved to these cities, because, you know, it's scary, you know, moving to a new country. Everything's different, all the mannerisms. And the thing is, especially since they were adults coming into it, it's harder for them to pick up these mannerisms and adjust to it as, you know, for us when we're, you, if we're born here, you know, like, we start to pick it up in grade school right away. So it's like, okay, we learned that this is the way how people talk to each other and what not.

Bryan: What you're saying resonates completely with me. So I wanna know, have you ever faced discrimination in the workplace or, like, have there ever been instances where you have felt people in positions of power within the organization have, like, discriminated against you? Have you seen discrimination to people who identify similar to you?

Jayson: So, for the most part, I think I'm lucky that, you know, we're in the LA office, and our office is very diverse. It's very, very mixed, for the most part, and especially our office, I feel, like, completely comfortable. But there has been some times where I noticed that going into meetings, it's predominantly white men, you know. And it's like, it's a different atmosphere. You know, as soon as you walk in, you get this, like, little hesitation of, you know, like, I don't look like them. I have to interact in a certain way to, you know, get my point across.

Bryan: I felt that. You're adapting to a persona where you hope that they recognize you, that they see you, and that they're listening to you, because when you are a minority, you always have in the back of your head, that, "My opinion may not matter as much as these folks."
Jayson: Exactly.

Bryan: And that's unfair to us, it's unfair to you. I mean, this is one of the things I love about this podcast is exploring these themes of communication...nonverbal communication, really, because you're talking about how you're entering a room, and all of a sudden, you think, "Wow, these people..." We're so affected by how people see or view us because of how we identify through these minority groups. And it's to a point where it's like, how do we, you know, assert ourselves in our opinions and make ourselves known that we are here to, you know, be just as successful as they are.
Jayson: Yeah. It's exactly what I was trying to get at. You know, it's interesting because in your head, like, you know, I know what I'm doing, I know what I'm gonna say, but when you see a majority of the room doesn't really look like you and doesn't talk like you, specifically, you start to get the sense, like, you know, "I'm the minority." Most of them are probably correct. They're a lot older. So if you see the majority of the room look like that, you start to feel like, "I don't know if I wanna speak up and talk about what I believe is right," especially in a job setting.

Bryan: Yeah. That's absolutely true. I think I've definitely had the same thought. If we have greater diversity at the very top, at the C-suite level, we know that our goals are achievable, right? We wanna be...I know that I, at least, wanna be a great leader. And I also want other people to be like other generations that follow. I have a little sister, and she's going to college, so it's interesting. I 10 years time, it's like, what will our society look like in the professional workplace? And I hope that in 10 years time that this is not a conversation that, you know, makes people uncomfortable. So I see right now, we're striving to make this a more equitable space for all. You know, that brings us to our own diversity. So why do you think diversity equity inclusion is important in the workplace?

Jayson: I think it's very important because it educates young people' know, their backgrounds and educate you on the, you know, religion. And so, you know, it teaches people respect for people's beliefs, which is huge.

Bryan: I agree. And I think our country right now is in such a interesting state, turning on the news, going on to Twitter and seeing these viral videos of how minorities are treated, recently with the attack on elderly Asians and across the country, because of COVID, obviously the black lives matter movement and how this happens, not just outside, but it also happens in the workplace professionally. And it's better to have these conversations now and create the dialogue and understand that, hey, we are here to create mutual respect with each other, learn from each other. And I think that's what you're bringing to the table here today, Jayson.

Jayson: Thank you, yeah. I hope I am.

Bryan: I think you are. So how does your unique identity make you a strong asset to the team, and how has it informed you professionally?

Jayson: Okay. I would say, okay, a unique identity. I think the first thing you would think it's, you know, visually. So, for me, obviously it's my long hair, I think, which is interesting, because I started growing out my hair in college, you know, like the typical college phase and people end up cutting it after, and I ended up keeping it because I just started to realize, like, for my identity, I like the long hair, because it somewhat associates with taking days, you know, one step at a time, relaxed, don't stress out too much. But at the same time, you know, I'm trying to bring this, you know, I guess, personality of mine, of being, you know, very nice, carefree, but, obviously, you know, be on top of your work. It's just like, I want the workplace to be more enjoyable.

If I'm gonna spend, you know, the rest of my life, per se...and not to make it sound bad like that, to be working, I wanna make sure it's enjoyable. I want people around me to be happy, you know? So I try to bring that positivity into our office just to make sure everyone feels good. Especially if any new hires, for example, I wanna make sure they're feeling welcomed. They just joined and the pandemic hit, hey, you know, and, like, they didn't even get to meet anyone. So it's a little scary for people, you know, to just join an office. You know, we wanna like one another, especially when you working.

Bryan: That's true. And I think, I mean, Jayson, you and Gary...Gary's our other coworker, and you guys made me feel really welcome.

Jayson: It's funny, though, because, actually, Gary was my college classmate.

Bryan: That's true.

Jayson: So for those of you...yes, for those that are listening, like, Gary is another cost consultant as well. But we were classmates in college. I mean, we got along so well, and I'm glad that he actually got the job as well.

Bryan: Yeah, he's really cool. And, honestly, I think, when I entered the office, I just thought, "Wow, this LA office is actually really diverse. And that tells me that there's so many different backgrounds here that I'm gonna be able to learn a lot from other people here." And from you, it was, you know, being welcoming, being chill and just having a laugh, you know, it was really cool. So, anyways, I really...I digress. So what advice would you give young people pursuing AEC careers who could be worried about facing discrimination or feeling like they're not adequate or have, like, the same thought that, you know, "I don't really see anyone that looks like me"? What would you say to them?

Jayson: I would say just to follow your passion. You know, I, myself, didn't have anyone to base my career on. You know, I didn't look to, like, my family or my friends. I didn't know anyone that was really following the path of the AEC industry. And so I thought to myself, you know, "You have to be that brave representative for those falling behind you." So, for example, in my high school, I could only remember, I think, one time there was an outreach, an engineer came by. And so I was very fascinated because, you know, I very into the math STEM field, but I really didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with my career. And no one really told me what to do.

And so after seeing this outreach of people that starts to look like me that are joining this industry, it made me start to broaden my path or, you know, field vision of, you know, maybe I can do this. And so, at the same time, you wanna make sure that, you know, the industry doesn't look like you, but doesn't mean you can't join it. And so by you joining it, you're setting an example for those behind you. Like, okay, the people look like me, and so you feel more comfortable. Like, it takes a lot of bravery to join these industries, but at the same time, you know, change won't just happen overnight. So you have to be the change you see.

Bryan: And if they join MGAC, they'll see us.

Jayson: Yeah. Let's make sure to know that I'm the one that brought you here. I'm just kidding.

Bryan: We kind of touched upon this earlier. In 10 years time, what do you think that our industry will look like?

Jayson: I mean, in 10 years time, I would like to see it be more diverse, but, you know, a lot of times, it's a slow change. If anything, I would like, you know, people in the industry to understand that you don't have to look a certain way, act or dress a certain way to get your point across. As long as you're professional, as long as you get your work done, that's pretty much all that matters. It shouldn't be based on your appearance.

Bryan: Yes, because that's a very superficial thing for someone to even get hung up on.

Jayson: Yeah, exactly.

Bryan: There's more to us than just this skin color or what we look like.

Jayson: Exactly. Exactly.

Bryan: I hope that in 10 years time, we are appreciated for what we're bringing to the table and that diversity becomes a normalized aspect in all companies. I know a lot of companies are trying to do that now with, like, advertising and marketing, but, in reality, I'm not sure if minorities are creating those marketing campaigns, but I hope that they are.

Jayson: Yeah, I agree. I completely agree with that.

Bryan: Speaking about our company, how would you bake DEI into MGAC's DNA?

Jayson: I would say, for the most part, the company as a whole, I think, is doing a wonderful job at that. We have, I would say, one of the most diverse companies I've seen in terms of the construction industry. And so that's a big start. And also, you know, our company is doing a lot of these DEI podcasts, and, like, you know, we have calendars, reminders talking about all these different ethnicities. And so I think for it to be baked into our DNA, it will take time. Obviously, talking to one another about it is the biggest thing. So I think that the path that we're going on right now with MGAC is great. You know, I hope to see in 10 years time, you know, it becomes even more diverse.

Bryan: Yeah. I agree. I think also has to do with their intention for hiring more diverse, unique people, which I believe that they are doing. And if you were establishing a company from the ground up, what would you do to ensure that DEI was central to the company's values?

Jayson: So, for me, I would say, okay, if I were to establish a company from the ground up, I would think, from the get-go, I would treat everyone equally. Especially equal pay, I would think, is a big thing, because there's a big gender pay gap and especially in the male-dominated construction industry. For me, if I were to start my company from the ground up, I'd make sure that everyone is paid the same, especially if they have the same education qualifications. I think that's all that really matters. Like, I'm just basing this back, you know, looking into my parents .My mom, she has a master's. My dad is not educated, but he has a job that actually pays a lot more than my mom, and she has her master's. I mean, it could be an industry thing, but I would want to make sure that everyone gets paid equally for the time of work and effort that they put.

Bryan: I agree with you. I mean, it's gonna take years for that divide to be closed up, but that would be an essential item for me. I just want equity to be at the forefront of any company. If I ever created one, if you ever created one for our generation, I want equity to be a foundational value.

Jayson: I agree. If we were to start a company, I wanna be the one that's actually at the forefront of that. You know, as an employee, if you know that your employer treats you well and takes care of you, that's how you retain your employees. You know, if they know that they're being taken care of or, you know, that, like, "Okay, well we'll keep low barring their pay until they actually ask for it." For the most part, it's like, when you respect your employees and you're paying them well, they won't wanna leave, for example, like Costco, right? Like, they're probably the top paid, you know, job for people that it's like right in...just high school. You know, you're just coming into the industry, and they pay really, really well. You treat your employees well, and they'll take care of the company.

The employees will start talking about, like, "I love this job. They treat me so well." And, you know, it shows a positive impact onto the company. I guess, talking back to MGAC, they've treated me so well, just coming straight out of college. And so I'm just happy to be a part of this company.

Bryan: Can you speak to increasing diversity and representation while avoiding tokenization?

Jayson: I mean, it's a tricky question because, obviously, the first couple, you know, people are like...I would say, like, if you were to hire a couple of people, right? And, like, you know, you wanna increase your diversity. They are obviously gonna be seen as, you know, the token X, Y, Z, right? To avoid tokenization, it's not just about employing an X, Y, Z. It's more of the intention of the employer. You know, they wanna make sure that they are seen and heard as an actual human being, not just like, "Okay, we have a number to pump our diversity up."

I think it all comes from top down, I guess. As long as the boss is saying, "We value them as an employee. They're a great asset to our company," I think that is fine. It's a slow process to bring more representation into the company. You know, it's small baby steps to get there. So I just think as long as the intent from the top down is to, you know, show that they are valued and they're cared for, then I think that's all that matters

Bryan: For some of our coworkers who may have never experienced, you know, discrimination...and this could be, you know, our JCs, our people that we work with on a day-to-day basis, what advice would you give them to be an ally?

Jayson: My advice would just be to be respectful for our coworkers, because it's hard enough for them to be joining an industry that doesn't represent them. And just to know that they are valued as an employee and that as long as they're doing their work, then that's all that matters.

Bryan: I would just think that people see something that's wrong or that's not really okay. You bring it up. You encourage a dialogue between others, encourage them to see that other person's point of view, to understand that some things bring pain to others. It brings back memories. And if someone is suffering and is going through these emotions, that's not a good place to be in a professional workplace. You know, there are a lot of our coworkers who have never faced discrimination. There are a lot of white men who have had such a privilege in their life. You know, what's interesting is, my boyfriend, he's white, and he really tries to understand where I'm coming from as a Latino who is gay. And he, I mean, he's obviously gay, but there's just discrimination that he's never faced before. When we have our conversations, he does his best to understand, you know, "I actually have been very, very privileged, and I'm gonna do my best to ensure that I'm not saying things that are gonna make people uncomfortable."

And if you do see something and it's wrong, you speak up and you let them know, "Hey, you cannot say stuff like that." I know that older generations may say phrases here and there, but it's important to communicate to others that in order to be an ally, you need to understand where that person who is a minority, where they're coming from, what their background is, and then be cognizant of the fact that your words matter. Communication matters between people. So I would say that if you wanna be an ally, you have to extend your hand to the other person and really try to have that communication and common ground with them.

Jayson: I totally agree.

Bryan: You know, Jayson, it's been really great speaking with you. I hope that people, when they're listening to this, they understand that, you know, you and I come from diverse background. We come from melting pot cities, and it's helped us in our perspectives, in our careers. And I hope that, you know, moving forward, that we normalize diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. So, I mean, I appreciate you coming on and speaking your thoughts and letting our listeners know more about yourself.

Jayson: Thank you, Bryan. It was a pleasure being on this.

Bryan: Thank you for listening to this episode of ''MGAC Inner Voices.'' Come back next month, and we'll have another episode for you. Thanks, everyone.

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