Employee Resource Group for LGBTQ+ Community Fosters Transparency & Understanding on Webcor/MWH Job Site
LGBT+ construction employees at the SFPUC Biosolids Digester Facilities Project have created a group that promotes community and welcomes allies: Webcor Q&A.
June 29, 2023
In an industry known to be dominated by straight white males, several LGBT+ construction employees at San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s (SFPUC) Biosolids Digester Facilities Project (BDFP) in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood have created a group that promotes community and welcomes allies: Webcor Queers & Allies. Better known as Webcor Q&A, this ERG (Employee Resource Group) supports the company’s LGBTQ+ (Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, and all others who identify as part of this community, such as Intersex and Asexual) community.
Although the group is officially a Webcor ERG, several MWH partners have been key to the ERG’s substantial growth and development over the last year. The ERG has become an increasingly critical part of BDFP’s team culture and aims to break stereotypes of the LGBTQ+ community experienced within the construction industry.
“We are organizing events such as gender pronoun workshops to help educate allies,” said Chris Bardales, Webcor project outreach manager and founder of Webcor Q&A. “We want to help answer questions and show we can all talk about these important topics!”
Several members of Webcor Q&A work for the MWH/Webcor, JV overseeing the construction of BDFP, which will replace and relocate the Southeast Treatment Plant’s outdated solids treatment facilities. The project is the largest construction for SFPUC’s Sewer System Improvement Project and currently oversees more than 250 workers on the site.
The Landscape of the LGBTQ+ Community in Construction is Changing
Chris’ career began in San Francisco politics when he worked for the late Mayor Ed Lee in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services. As the administration changed rapidly in the wake of Mayor Lee’s death, Chris found himself looking for his next work opportunity.
“At that time, my boss and mentor told me about a communications position at a construction management company,” he said. “I have to admit, knowing that construction is dominated by cis-gendered white males, I thought, ‘Do I want to do that?’”
However, his mentor encouraged him to take the chance—so he did. He learned that some of the stereotypes he expected were not true; in fact, he found the organization to be welcoming, and he liked the work.
“The landscape of queers in construction is changing,” Bardales said. “For diverse groups who work here or are looking to work here at BDFP—I get it. I know what it’s like.”
Chris is a first-generation Latino-American as well as gay. “I provide transparency, and I know how to advocate for others,” he said.
Chris would like Webcor Q&A to also advocate for LGBTQ businesses’ economic visibility in San Francisco construction, much like how minority-owned and women-owned businesses have access to contracts here in the city.
Working with a Supportive Partner in SFPUC
The work that Chris and his colleagues are doing in the Bayview complements the work being done by the SFPUC and the City as a whole.
The SFPUC supports affinity groups, including one similar to Webcor’s, that bring together employees with similar backgrounds or interests.
SFPUC’s LGBTQ+ affinity group helps build a sense of community, educates employees, and provides a space for advocacy. It is designed for employees who identify as members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community. All SFPUC employees from across the agency and its different worksite locations are welcome.
Helping Everyone on the Job
For Lizzy Trueblood, an MWH project engineer on BDFP, joining the Webcor Q&A group helped ease some of the concerns that often come with entering construction as someone who doesn’t fit the typical employee demographic.
“Creating a community space is important to me,” said Lizzy. “In college, I created aclub for LGBTQ+ students in STEM because there was a need for it.” She added that for her, it was wonderful to enter the professional environment and realize that Bardales had already built that kind of space.
Lizzy added that the group can remove LGBTQ+ employees’ barriers to success on-site by improving colleagues’ awareness of LGBTQ+ concerns on the job. “I think that in any workplace, ERGs are important,” she said. “We start every meeting by just giving updates on what we’re up to at work or in our lives. We relate on common interests and struggles.”
Lilli Fang, member of Webcor Q&A and Webcor superintendent on the BDFP, said she agrees with Lizzy that joining the group helps her on the job in many ways.
“Joining Q&A was an easy decision,” said Lili. “We know that the landscape of queers in construction is changing, but the change is slow. This group is key to moving along that change .”
Including allies in the process is equally important to her. “Many of our fellow construction professionals are eager to learn how to be better allies to the LGBTQ+community.”
For Pride Month, Webcor Q&A has hosted educational lunch & learn conversations with peers and participated in state-level conferences centered on LGBTQ+representation in the construction industry.