November 27, 2023 | Articles
As a worldwide organization, Hill International is strengthened by the unique life experiences and perspectives of our employees and the communities in which we serve. The Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Awareness (IDEA) Committee formed in 2020 and aims to help Hill harness the power of that collective to foster an environment that increases employees’ engagement and satisfaction, attracts the best talent, and captures the attention of the external community through the company’s diverse culture in action.
In September, Hill’s IDEA Committee hosted its first panel discussion, “PMs Around the World.” The panel was conceptualized by the IDEA sub-committee dedicated to community partnership and kicks off an IDEA Committee panel series on life, work, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Hill. Project Manager Derrick Mills (Columbus, OH) served as moderator with panelists Project Manager Salem Alkattan (Belgium), Senior Project Manager Lorraine Mead (Spokane, WA), Project Manager Marcus Swayzer (Houston, TX), and Director Project Controls & Deputy PMC Director Kalypso Kyriakopoulou (Greece). The panel featured conversations about participants’ experience, current projects, and on the value of diversity in construction.
What’s Diversity, Anyway?
“IDEA’s community partnership sub-committee wanted to create an informational program that dealt with a variety of DEI issues at Hill,” explains Hill Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Diversity Officer Tiffany Harmon Banks. “But diversity involves so much. We decided the best way to start would be to explore what diversity means and the many different ways we are already diverse at Hill.” To that end, the panel featured individuals of different races, genders, ages, and countries of origin—some of the usual ways diversity is understood.
While the panelists certainly had diverse identities, they also shared diverse professional experiences. All panelists are currently project managers, but each has a different career path, tenure in the construction industry, and tenure with Hill. A brief snapshot of their resumes highlights this diversity:
Derrick Mills joined Hill in 2016 and has more than 22 years of experience in the construction industry, including many years in a family construction business. He has a strong background in managing complex renovations involving mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, and his areas of expertise include project management, budgeting and estimating, team leadership, professional development, field management, and negotiating on behalf of clients and stakeholders. At Hill, Derrick has worked with clients including the Columbus Regional Airport Authority and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC).
Salem Alkattan joined Hill in 2022 and brings to the company nearly ten years of experience providing support on construction projects in the Middle East and Europe. In his career, Salem’s roles have included site engineer, project consultant, and project manager, and he has worked on a variety of building construction projects, including educational facilities, hotels, residential, commercial, and more.
Lorraine Mead joined Hill in 2014 with more than 41 years of hands-on experience leading project teams and working on commercial construction projects encompassing program, project, and construction management; complex scheduling; and estimating services. Lorraine’s background includes a wide variety of projects and clients including airports, city and national parks, rapid transit, hospitals, schools, theme park and cultural venues, industrial and wastewater treatment plants. Her training as an engineer provides her with a strong management background looking at both design and construction issues. Some of Lorraine’s projects with Hill include the City of Spokane’s Public Library Construction Bond Program, the City of Richland’s Fire Stations 73 and 75, and Washington State University’s Wine Science Center.
Marcus Swayzer joined Hill in 2014 and has more than 23 years of technical expertise in project and program management, project controls, and IT. He has served in various managerial roles including project, program, project controls, construction, and IT manager. As project manager, Marcus is responsible for overseeing teams of construction management and data entry personnel, verifying compliance with applicable specifications, implementing problem-solving and team-building skills on the work site, and reviewing time and cost expenditures to keep projects on time and within budget. At Hill, Marcus has worked for a variety of higher-education clients in Texas, including the Texas State University System, Texas State Technical College, and Texas Southern University.
Kalypso Kyriakopoulou started working on the contractor side of the industry in 2007. She joined Hill in 2014 as a proposal writer and quickly became an integral member of Hill’s team in Greece. Now a project controls director and deputy project management consultancy director, Kalypso has contributed to many of Hill’s projects in the region, including the renovation of the Four Seasons Astir Hotel, a technical assistance assignment with the Albanian Ministry of Transportation, and Hill’s framework agreement with Fraport Greece. Currently, Kalypso leads a team of almost 35 colleagues on the Hellinikon Project, one of the largest urban infrastructure investments in Europe.
A Productive Discussion
During the discussion, each panelist offered their thoughts on the challenges of the industry, described varying approaches to solving problems, and related their leadership styles. For example, when asked about her leadership approach, Kalypso said she prioritizes creating an environment where people can thrive, receive support and guidance, and understand expectations. Lorraine Mead, on the other hand, prioritizes over-communication and making sure everyone knows what’s going on at all times.
The panel also shared a range of thoughts and observations on diversity in architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC). Panelists discussed progress they’ve observed in diversifying the industry, but they also brought up pervasive perceptions and preconceptions about construction and the skills needed to thrive in the industry. Despite their differences, all panelists agreed on the importance of diversity in project management. Only by harnessing the spectrum of different perspectives can project managers create the best possible outcomes for their clients and projects.
Says Marcus: “Diversity in construction is not just male, female, race. Everyone has different ideas, and they’ve learned through construction different pathways to the top. So, diversity is also having those different ways that people look at a problem and how they solve a problem. Listening to those voices is key to being a good project manager.”
Lorraine agrees: “When you have problems, try to bring in as many points of view as you can look at. Bring in the contractor, the designer, the owner, the maintenance guy… You’re going to get better solutions. It’s diversity in background, in training, in race, in culture. There’re so many parts of it. And again, the more points of view you get, the better solutions you get.”
Such thoughts mirror Kalypso’s perspective. “How we understand diversity in construction has evolved from 20, 30 years ago,” she says. “Now diversity includes a whole spectrum of characteristics, considerations, and attributes, which is a good thing. Any industry, not just construction, needs that diversity to grow, excel, and evolve.”
Diversity for Personal Growth
For the panelists, diversity also makes a difference not only at the industry, organizational, or project level, but also for each individual project manager. For instance, Salem and Derrick discussed how at Hill diversity has contributed to their personal growth. “Diversity means a place contains a lot of knowledge and talent,” Salem explains. “When you go to work, and you know your workplace is a diverse place, you can visit every part of the world from your desk. It’s really amazing when you meet an American, an Italian, a Greek, people from all different nationalities, and you increase your knowledge in a massive way just by doing your job.”
“I applaud Hill for its diversity,” adds Derrick. “One thing I’ve come to appreciate at Hill are the two people that were my seniors who were both females. I’ve learned so much from them about the back-of-house management and scheduling and things like that. It’s the opportunities I’ve had to work with such super talented women here in Columbus that have helped me set really strong goals for myself and my career, just seeing the strength of what they’re doing and the command they have on their projects.”
Just as Derrick and Salem have been influenced and uplifted by the diversity around them, the panelists discussed the importance of shoring up diverse junior talent with diverse leaders. A diverse project management workforce provides a wide array of expertise and knowledge to up-and-coming project managers. That ensures new project management professionals are exposed to different ways to solve problems and help their projects succeed. Diverse senior project managers can also serve as role models to show new employees all have the opportunity to feel at home in the industry.
Our Diversity is Our Strength
Putting a spotlight on diversity’s own multiplicity was the point, says Tiffany. “As the panelists said, and as they evidence themselves, there are many ways to be diverse,” she concludes. “And before we can be inclusive and equitable, we must see and appreciate diversity in all aspects. Hill’s success relies on many different voices and perspectives—our diversity is our strength. By continuing to value diversity, we will only grow stronger. Thank you to Derrick, Salem, Lorraine, Marcus, and Kalypso for sharing your experiences and showcasing Hill’s own diversity, thank you to everyone at Hill who attended the panel, and thank you to the Community Partnership Sub-Committee for coordinating part one of this continuous panel series. Lastly, thank you to the IDEA Committee for your efforts to bring attention to DEI at Hill.”
To learn more about opportunities at Hill International visit https://www.hillintl.com/careers/. If you have any questions on the IDEA Committee or DEI at Hill, please visit https://www.hillintl.com/about-us/#half_image_section-5 or reach out to Tiffany Banks directly at [email protected] or (215) 309-7744.
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