Building inclusive spaces in construction industry

Confronting hate 'was lonely' recalls gay construction worker

Building inclusive spaces in construction industry
Dustin Victor poses outside the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, British Columbia

"I’ve always loved building things, but the toughest thing I ever had to build was a safe space for myself in this industry," says Dustin Victor, a quality coordinator at EllisDon, currently working on the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, British Columbia. Victor, an openly gay man, is part of the 1.3% of people within the Canadian construction industry who identify as LGBTQ2S+, according to a 2023 report titled ‘2S/LGBTQ+ populations in the trades in Canada: Exploratory insights.

The current landscape

The construction industry has long been perceived as a tough, traditional field with a notable lack of diversity. This perception is backed by statistics: the same report highlights the stark underrepresentation of LGBTQ2S+ individuals in the trades. Furthermore, Deloitte's Global 2023 LGBT+ Inclusion @ Work report found that while the vast majority of their 5,000 respondents think it is important to be able to be out at work, less than half feel comfortable being open about their sexual orientation (43%) or gender identity (47%).

Victor's early experiences

When Victor first joined the EllisDon construction project as an EHS coordinator, he encountered numerous challenges. "I didn't see anyone like me," he recalls. "It was lonely, and I often questioned if I belonged. There was a sense of having to prove myself constantly, not just as a professional but as a person."

Victor speaks candidly about the psychological toll this lack of inclusivity can take. "Having to hide who you are can be incredibly isolating. It creates an environment of chronic stress and anxiety," he explains. "I’ve seen colleagues struggle with depression because they felt they couldn't be themselves at work."

Victor also shares a particularly disheartening experience early in his career. "I remember walking into a job site and seeing graffiti on the wall that read 'No f**s allowed.' It was a stark reminder of how far we still had to go," he says. "Seeing that kind of hatred right there in the workplace was a low point, but it also fueled my resolve to fight for change."

EllisDon's commitment to change

EllisDon is making significant strides to address these issues through initiatives led by their employee-led group, Proud Employees for Allyship, Community, and Education (PEACE). Victor is an active member of this group, which is working diligently to foster an inclusive culture within the company. "Our goal with PEACE is to create a workplace where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued," says Victor.

One of PEACE’s landmark initiatives is the development of a Gender Affirmation Policy and Gender Affirmation Plan. These policies are designed to protect and support employees regardless of their gender identity or expression. "The Gender Affirmation Plan provides a comprehensive roadmap for individuals to explore and express their gender identity authentically, with access to necessary medical, psychological, and social support," Victor explains. "It's about giving people the freedom to be who they are, without fear of discrimination or isolation."

A call to action for the industry

Victor believes these policies are just the beginning and calls on the broader construction industry to follow suit. "We need to lead by example," he asserts. "It’s not just about having policies in place; it’s about creating a culture where diversity is celebrated, and everyone feels safe to live authentically."

Victor's journey within the industry underscores the importance of these initiatives. His work on the Royal Inland Hospital project has given him a platform to advocate for inclusivity. "This project is not just about improving infrastructure; it's about setting a standard for how we treat each other on the job site," he says.

The impact of EllisDon's efforts is already being felt. "We've received feedback from employees who say they feel more comfortable and supported at work," Victor notes. "This isn’t just about numbers; it’s about real people’s lives and well-being."

During Pride Month, the message from EllisDon and advocates like Victor is clear: the construction industry must continue to evolve to become more inclusive. "Diversity strengthens us," Victor exclaims. "When we embrace our differences, we build not just better workplaces, but a better society."

EllisDon's initiatives serve as a blueprint for other companies in the industry, demonstrating that with commitment and action, inclusivity is not just a goal, but an achievable reality.