Lift Every Voice - Celebrate Diversity Month

April is Celebrate Diversity Month, an opportunity for us to recognize, celebrate, and learn about the cultures, religions, races, and backgrounds that make us all unique yet unequivocally equal. 

1. How would you describe cultural diversity, and what does it mean to you?

Art Hoffmann, Chief Administrative Officer: I traveled a lot over the years with Gannett Fleming, and I've been fortunate to have been in our Doha, Qatar office. You stand in the Doha airport at 2 a.m., and you see thousands of people coming from, and going to, hundreds of different places, places you've heard of, but you never really knew existed, like Timbuktu. And the people you see around you are also different, such as the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, the way they speak, their languages, the things they carry. And this is just how they appear, but they also act and behave differently. I was once standing in an airport at the gate in Abu Dhabi, and I watched everybody in the entire boarding area stand up and get into two rows to board the airplane. They weren't rows around boarding groups or first class or coach, they were by gender. There was a boarding line for men and a boarding line for women, and they behave this way because that's the way they think, it's the way they see the world. We all have filters, and it never would have crossed my mind to board a plane by gender, but because that was important in their lives, that's how they acted. I think that cultural diversity is really the way that we see the world and how we move through it.

Rul-Aref Kashif, Project Manager: Cultural diversity is the acceptance, respect, and appreciation of individuals or groups of people different from yourself. It includes acceptance of their religion, culture, and clothing and acknowledging their holidays, celebrations, traditions, and cultural practices. To me, cultural diversity means freedom. It means justice, equality for all, and freedom to live without the pressure to conform. It means justice without bigotry, hatred, or prejudice and equality to have the same opportunity as others without having to work twice as hard for the same outcome.

Eva Ladocha, Roadway Corporate Business Group Administrator: I grew up in a small town in Poland where everybody was pretty much the same. When I was 16, I moved to New York City, where pretty much everyone is from different parts of the world. That was the first time I experienced true diversity, and, of course, culture shock because growing up, everybody was the same, spoke the same language, and had similar religious beliefs for the most part. I had no idea that there was so much diversity that could potentially exist in the world. Personally, I enjoy getting to know different cultures and exploring their foods and different cultural customs and beliefs. It's just a great idea to have friends from different parts of the world to expand your horizons.

Dennis McLaughlin, Architect: I would describe cultural diversity as the existence of a variety of culture groups or a collection of people with different characteristics within a society. Groups may be different nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, genders, ages, and even physical fitness levels. I view cultural diversity as an opportunity to learn from others who have different perspectives, life experiences, education, or opinions that are different from ours based on their life experiences. The key is to be willing to truly engage one another, to talk and listen and learn from one another. That's how we get better.

Steve Panton, Unified Communication Manager: Cultural diversity is the coexistence of many different subcultures within one larger culture. To me, it means the ability to interact and learn from the many different traditions and history the people from other countries have brought to the United States. One of the benefits of living here in the United States is having the ability to explore the various subcultures just by sampling the different types of cuisine.

William Roman, Chief Geologist: Cultural diversity refers to the variability of the cultural and ethnic groups within a society. To me, a culturally diverse society reflects a vibrant and healthy society, which is less susceptible to the perils of racial and ethnic discrimination that monoculturalism sometimes fosters, as seen in Nazi Germany and other totalitarian regimes aiming to create monocultural societies.

2. Why is it important to raise cultural awareness in the workplace?

Art Hoffmann, Chief Administrative Officer: If you're aware that people with different cultural backgrounds sometimes see things that you might miss, and if you take the time to explore their points of view and learn about their experiences, together you might see opportunities that you never would have seen alone.

Rul-Aref Kashif, Project Manager: Every individual is unique. The same could be said for different cultures, each having their own set of unique strengths, abilities, skills, and weaknesses. Appreciation of these differences helps us to grow and succeed individually and collectively. In my faith-based tradition, the scriptures state that God has made us different cultures, races, and faiths to compete and cooperate for the prosperity of mankind and not to fight with one another or despise one another. A few possible benefits of increasing cultural awareness in the workplace include worker satisfaction, increased productivity, freedom to speak, increased knowledge sharing and innovation, and the possibility of becoming an employer of choice. Who would not want to work for a company that actively appreciated your unique fingerprint, abilities, strengths, and contributions?

Eva Ladocha, Roadway Corporate Business Group Administrator: I think it's important for us to understand where other employees are coming from so that we can connect with them on a more personal level. By connecting on a personal level, it increases employee engagement, boosts morale and productivity of employees, and I think in the end, it increases the effectiveness and overall profitability of the firm.

Dennis McLaughlin, Architect: Raising awareness in the workplace helps us to be mindful of each other's cultural differences, which gives us opportunities to learn from, and hopefully appreciate, each other's values and opinions. I think if we approach each other this way with openness and a desire to learn, we cultivate meaningful relationships. When we cultivate meaningful relationships, we tend to care about each other, and when that happens, we're more willing to help each other. In my opinion, that's a win-win in a workplace and in life.

Steve Panton, Unified Communication Manager: With globalization, interacting with people from all over the world has become the norm. Having a level of understanding about each other's cultures not only helps us understand different perspectives, but it also helps us dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups. By doing this, we can better facilitate collaboration and cooperation with our colleagues.

William Roman, Chief Geologist: Raising cultural awareness in the workplace fosters a welcoming environment where people of diverse social and ethnic backgrounds are less likely to feel excluded or isolated and can function better.

3. Why is it important for Gannett Fleming’s workforce to reflect the communities we serve?

Art Hoffmann, Chief Administrative Officer: A lot of our clients are government agencies, and they’re serving their communities, and quite often our clients are really our communities. I only live in one community, and I think I understand it pretty well, but I may not realize or understand how Gannett Fleming water or transportation projects are going to affect the daily lives of the people who live in that community. If members of Gannett Fleming’s team are either part of that community or they reflect that community, it's more likely that Gannett Fleming is going to be able to help that community and our client achieve their goals.

Rul-Aref Kashif, Project Manager: For a company or organization to strive to actively reflect the workforce, it is actively fighting to remove the remnants of discrimination, bigotry, bias (conscious or unconscious), and prejudice that still exist in our society. Yes, the needed corrections of these past injustices start well before the hiring process, but Gannett Fleming’s willingness to seek this goal and every step toward it increases Gannett Fleming’s reputation, standing, trustworthiness, and credibility in the industry and in the general working community. Gannett Fleming will be known as an inclusive, trustworthy, and progressive company. Having diversity in a company’s ownership, workforce, and management reflects its openness and willingness to consider and explore different points of view and truly listen to the clients and communities in which it serves.

Eva Ladocha, Roadway Corporate Business Group Administrator: I think it's important that Gannett Fleming's workforce reflect the communities we serve, because we can learn about different people, their unique needs, and how different people use the products that we build and create so that we can serve them better and avoid rework.

Dennis McLaughlin, Architect: The services that Gannett Fleming provides are profound and long-lasting. Whether it's creating highways and byways, restoring historic buildings, creating an open space for people to gather, or even schools, it’s important that these communities see a reflection of themselves. It lets them know that Gannett Fleming understands, and we're going to do right by them.

Steve Panton, Unified Communication Manager: It is important that Gannett Fleming foster a workforce that's inclusive of the diverse communities we serve because it allows for the rich tapestry of voices to be included in solving the challenges we face. Out of different perspectives, we will see bold, new ideas, which will enhance our thought leadership within the various business groups.

William Roman, Chief Geologist: Gannett Fleming is generally in the business of providing solutions to its clients’ needs. Many of our clients own and operate facilities serving a vast public. A diverse workforce supports the design, operation, and maintenance of public facilities that are more likely to meet the needs of a diverse community and not just a limited segment of the community.

4. How do you honor and celebrate your heritage?

Art Hoffmann, Chief Administrative Officer: My mother came to the United States in 1950 after growing up in Nazi Germany during World War II, and my father came here at about the same time, but he came from Switzerland. My wife, daughters, and I are all Swiss citizens. We have Swiss and German relatives in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and in South Africa (I’m filming this with the Swiss flag behind me). Every few years, we try to get together someplace in the world, and we usually do that around August 1 because that's Swiss Confederation Day (it's like our Fourth of July). When my father and his four brothers were all still alive, after a nice day of hiking in the Alps and a good Swiss dinner with maybe a few glasses of wine, they would get together. And they would sing, in harmony, the old Swiss songs, probably what you'd call yodeling. I really miss that.

Rul-Aref Kashif, Project Manager: I consider my faith and race the primary elements of my heritage and culture. I am an African American Muslim born in the heart of America in the nation's capital. I was born to African American Muslim parents. I celebrate my heritage and honor my ancestors daily by learning something new every day in any subject possible to honor those who came before me who were once prohibited from even learning to read. I study the scriptures and pray multiple times a day to strengthen my relationship with our creator. I volunteer and teach in my faith-based community as well as the community at large. I attend community gatherings, including weekly congregational prayers and yearly holiday celebrations. And lastly, I strive to demonstrate and try to pass on to my children the values of truthfulness, honesty, and integrity in everything that we do. This is my heritage as was passed on by my father and mother.

Eva Ladocha, Roadway Corporate Business Group Administrator: Polish culture is, of course, very important to me, and it's a huge part of who I am. As I said, I used to live in New York City where there's a lot more Polish people than in North Carolina, and we had a lot of opportunities for cultural events, concerts, festivals, even theaters and plays, which I love, and I explored all of it. There's a huge diversity of foods, and you can celebrate various Polish holidays, like Polish Independence Day, Dyngus Day, and St. Andrew's Day, which is when we practice polish customs. Every year, I visit New York City as well as Poland, the motherland, as often as I can just to keep up with my family and with the culture there.

Dennis McLaughlin, Architect: Well, for one, being of Scottish/Irish descent, I find it hard to miss a good Celtic fling! I've never had a green beer, but I have had my share of Shamrock Shakes, although it's because of going to these festivals that I really started to dig into my own family lineage with my wife and children. It's not something that was ever really talked about when I was younger growing up, but I will say that it's been very interesting so far, and I highly recommend it.

Steve Panton, Unified Communication Manager: I'm extremely proud of being born and raised in Jamaica. Jamaica has so many great things to offer, from the rhythm of reggae music to the amazing cuisine. People travel from around the world to experience the beauty of my small island. I honor my heritage by teaching my children about the rich history, cooking the food that I grew up on, exposing them to cultural events, and traveling to the island so that they can get familiar with my humble beginnings as well as introduce them to their extended family.

William Roman, Chief Geologist: I honor my heritage mostly by observing holidays and through certain religious practices.