At BDFP, Every Cultural Community Deserves To Be Celebrated

"Construction Inclusion Week is a year-long initiative at BDFP," says Webcor Safety Manager Kendall Cantave.

October 17, 2023


When entering the large “asphalt tent” gathering space at MWH/Webcor’s Biosolids Digester Facilities Project (BDFP) site for the first time, you immediately recognize that this meeting area is different from a typical construction project’s. Instead of bare, neutral walls, you’re greeted with large, colorful posters featuring influential leaders—all of whom are people of color, women, and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community—dedicated to empowering historically marginalized communities and creating a more equitable world.

The bold display sends an unapologetic statement that’s impossible to misconstrue: This is a project where everyone fully and unequivocally belongs, regardless of race, religion, or gender/sexual identity.

“The asphalt tent almost feels like a museum,” says Sr. Safety Manager Kendall Cantave. “We swap out the posters every heritage month, e.g. Black History Month in February, AAPI Heritage Month in May, Pride Month in June, etc., to celebrate key figures within each group who fought for positive societal change. Doing so allows us to educate BDFP team members and site visitors on one another’s culture, which brings us all closer together in unity.”

The BDFP team is exceptionally diverse – nearly every Webcor employee resource group (ERG) is represented on the project, and the team recently launched an internal group dedicated to championing all women on the project, from trade partner apprentices to Webcor and MWH superintendents and project managers. Perhaps most notably, BDFP’s Neighborhood Hiring Program within San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood has fueled a level of racial diversity on the team that Kendall says he’s never before seen in his three decades of construction experience.

“The mentoring that [Sr. Field Outreach Manager] Tyrone Evans and I have passed on to these young African-Americans has helped me realize I’m making a real difference in these workers’ lives so they’re better positioned for success in the future,” he shares.

The vast diversity of BDFP’s team inspired the eventual creation of their national heritage calendar, an initiative that originated as a calendar solely noting the typical American holidays (such as Thanksgiving and Christmas) as a way to bring everyone together for a few lighthearted and fun events each year. The team’s resoundingly positive response to these small celebrations and enthusiastic participation inspired Director Rowena Domingo to shift the holiday calendar’s focus to national heritage months so they could celebrate the myriad cultures and identities represented on the project.

Over the last year, BDFP has celebrated Black History Month, Women in Construction Month, Pride Month, Ramadan, and Chinese New Year. Last week, the team celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month for the first time by welcoming Hispanic community activists to the project site to discuss the mission of their work and various community resources. Of course, BDFP has also created and attached posters featuring headshots and brief bios of “Heroes of the Hispanic Community,” including Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, to the asphalt tent’s legendary walls.

“These heritage-focused celebrations are a great way to immerse the entire team in one another’s cultural backgrounds so we all learn together,” Kendall says. “The goal is to foster a safe workplace for all backgrounds and identities where everyone feels not only accepted, but celebrated for who they are. The heritage calendar exists to ensure we capture all ethnic groups represented on the project so we can help uplift and build trust with them.”

The current heritage calendar is the culmination of a year’s worth of trial and error; when Kendall, Tyrone, Rowena, Project Coordinator Nicole Rangel, Safety Clerk Ty’Asia Reynolds, MWH Safety Manager Jorge Torres, MWH Safety Coordinator Darlene Camara, and MWH Director Kathryn Mallon launched the national heritage month calendar, several BDFP team members who realized their own cultures weren’t included were quick to point out the oversight.

“Looking back, I should have printed the calendar at the beginning of the year and stuck it in the field so everyone could let us know whether their heritage month was missing as soon as possible,” Kendall reflects. “If you only celebrate one community, the rest will inevitably ask, ‘Well, what about us?’ These events take time—it’s impossible to organize them without enough notice. Thankfully, after coordinating these celebrations for over a year, more people seem to be recognizing that we truly are acknowledging everyone at BDFP.”

Sr. Construction Manager Ryan Fischer says that from his perspective, the unique sense of belonging that the BDFP team has cultivated wouldn’t have been possible without leaders like Kendall who are courageous and passionate enough to lead these efforts. Without them, priorities such as nurturing a sense of belonging at the project would likely be overlooked.

“Fostering a sense of belonging amongst all team members seems to be in their DNA,” Ryan says. “The rest of us are fortunate to work with so many people who clearly embodied these values and priorities long before joining BDFP.”

It’s no secret that countless companies within and outside the AEC industry have treated diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) like a temporary social campaign, as if virtue signaling were a legitimate solution to resolving rampant DEI-related issues in the workplace. It’s a stark contrast to the authentic approach BDFP has taken to ensuring all team members know they can bring their whole selves to work without fear of judgement or harassment based on any facet of their identity.

“Construction Inclusion Week is a year-long initiative at this project,” Kendall says. “We do everything we can to foster a community-like atmosphere based on trust. We want everyone on this team to care for one another and enjoy coming to work every day.

“It’s gratifying to know that we’re making a real difference and living our values at this job site,” he continues. “When women, people of color, and/or members of the LGBTQ+ community walk onto this project, they can sense that it’s different. This team embraces everyone with open arms and offers a level of support that few others in our industry care to give. The unwavering sense of belonging felt amongst all team members will undoubtedly be part of BDFP’s legacy.”

Partnering With Employee Resource Groups

As part of this year’s Pride Month initiatives, Project Outreach Manager Chris Bardales, leader of Webcor Queers & Allies (aka Webcor Q&A, Webcor’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group), spearheaded the ERG’s first panel discussion centered on the vulnerable topic of “coming out” and effective ways to ally with the LGBTQ+ community.

When he pitched the idea to Webcor Q&A and asked if anyone would be interested in participating as a panelist, he received responses from five members confirming their interest. All of them were part of the BDFP team.

“BDFP’s team culture absolutely contributed to all of us feeling safe enough to share our stories,” Chris says. “Openly sharing our stories helped allies understand the complexities of the LGBTQ+ community and how ‘coming out’ impacted our youth.

“The overwhelming support that followed our panel discussion really reinforced that inclusivity and belonging are vital parts of our project and Webcor as a whole. Allyship is such a strong part of BDFP’s culture—we’re all deeply committed to amplifying voices that have historically been silenced.”

Launching BuildHERs at BDFP

Near the beginning of this year, BDFP introduced BuildHERs, a grassroots movement launched by Webcor Project Coordinator Nicole Rangel and MWH Project Director Kathryn Mallon. Founded by women, for women, BuildHERs’ mission is to empower women currently in construction while recruiting more women into the industry to combat its glaring lack of gender diversity. BuildHERs’ initiatives range from the implementation of project site improvements prioritizing women’s well-being to quarterly events offering women a safe platform to voice their concerns and support one another.

“Women have responded to BuildHERs’ progress with tremendous enthusiasm,” Nicole says. “They’re eager to contribute to this rapidly growing, impactful initiative.”

It’s worth nothing that BuildHERs’ supporters aren’t limited to women—the men at BDFP have not only actively engaged with BuildHERs but stepped up to lead group initiatives and help build its momentum. This type of visible allyship is crucial to the group’s long-term success and achievement of its mission.

“BDFP is the only job site where I’ve seen this level of male representation behind a women-focused initiative,” Nicole says. “It’s amazing to see. This type of solidarity is integral to maintaining a sense of belonging and empowerment amongst the women of BDFP.”

Currently, Nicole’s in the midst of planning BuildHER’s Q4 meeting, a two-hour extended event designed to cater to the various needs of the group’s growing membership. Although BuildHERs began as a BDFP-only group, she looks forward to welcoming women outside of the project to the final Q4 meeting for the first time since its founding. The event will take place on Dec. 2. Four days later, BuildHERs leaders will represent BDFP at North America's Building Trades Unions' (NABTU) Trades Women Build Nations (TWBN) convention, the world’s largest gathering of tradeswomen, in Washington DC.

Prioritizing Belonging Within Your Team

If leaders interested in cultivating a stronger sense of belonging amongst their team members are unsure of where to start, consider recognizing and challenging your own implicit biases first, Ryan advises.

“It initially takes some effort, and it’s especially difficult to alert others of their own biases—I won’t even begin to pretend I’m able to guide anyone on how to properly do that—but as with anything else leadership-related, it’s best accomplished by modeling it yourself,” he says.

Actions powered by authenticity are key, Kendall adds.

“These types of efforts need to come from the heart,” he explains. “To make a real, sustainable difference, actions need to be genuine. Don’t engage in these initiatives just to get people talking about your project—do it because you’re truly dedicated to the purpose and are committed to making a lasting impact.”

Personal Impact of BDFP’s Cultivation of Belonging On-Site

Kendall Cantave

“Thinking about BDFP’s impact on my life fills with me with emotion. Over the course of my career, I’ve witnessed countless injustices against the African-American community; we’re rarely supported or given opportunity for advancement. For the last 30 years, I’ve dreamed of being a superintendent and always felt that I was capable of flourishing in that role. Despite dedicating nearly two decades to my last company, however, I was never offered the opportunity to take on that job. Now, as a safety leader on the BDFP team, I’m working with more people of color than I ever have in my career and cherish the opportunities I’ve had to mentor many of them. This entire team has worked to bring the many communities represented on the project together as one.

“Putting effort into your team’s culture will keep them committed to their work. Creating the best place to work—a place filled with people who enjoy coming to the project site because they’re respected and embraced for who they are—will pay off in major dividends including production, quality, and safety. When people are happy, they produce better results.”

Chris Bardales

“As a Latinx member of the LGBTQ community, I had some reservations about entering the construction industry and wondered how I’d be perceived. I love that the BDFP team prioritizes inclusion and members go out of their way to foster a sense of belonging for everyone. I feel that my perspective is appreciated and valued, and I am thankful for my career growth within Webcor thus far. Contributing to conversations without fear of judgment empowers me to authentically be myself in the office and helps me feel truly respected and valued at work.”

Nicole Rangel

“My experience as a woman at the BDFP has been quite positive. It’s allowed me to actively contribute to goal-setting, collaborate with incredibly talented people, and achieve meaningful accomplishments and milestones. It keeps me inspired and motivates me to persevere through challenging workdays, as I’m constantly reminded that our mission extends beyond construction—we are striving for people to thrive, not just survive.

“It's essential for leaders to break free from traditional norms and tap into their empathy and experiences as learners. Encouraging others to have a seat at the table and fostering a collaborative, open-minded atmosphere are key to progress and positive change. When people feel welcomed and valued, their work performance tends to improve significantly.”