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Noteworthy News

Partners in Pride

by Balfour Beatty

Em Chong and Manya Sankaran are truly two sides of the same coin. The pair have been friends for years, and both are now senior project engineers on a confidential federal project in Falls Church, Virginia. Em, who uses she/her pronouns, manages electrical on the project. Manya, who uses she/they pronouns, manages mechanical.

Em began as an intern with Balfour Beatty, joining the company full-time in the Spring of 2022. Manya came onboard about a year later in Spring of 2023. Both are active members of our LGBTQ+ employee affinity group, Building PRIDE (People Respecting Inclusivity, Diversity and Equality), Manya as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and Em as an ally.

In honor of Pride Month, Em and Manya participated in a Q&A, discussing how their similarities and differences combine to make them excellent collaborators and the vital importance of building inclusive workplaces.

Q: You two work very closely, both by the nature of your roles and the physical proximity of working just a few feet away from each other. What does it mean to you to embrace each other’s diverse perspectives and backgrounds?

Em Chong: We had the advantage of being friends before we started at Balfour Beatty, so we already had a relationship and a foundation of respect to build upon. Working together, we’re always looking for the other’s opinion on issues we run into. We’re able to talk through our problems and work together to come up with solutions that move our team and project forward.

Manya Sankaran: We’re very similar in a lot of ways but we both bring different things to the table and our unique perspectives help us see problems from different points of view. I think we’ve also built a great culture of respect among our larger team. Specifically, with those of us on the mechanical, electrical and plumbing side of the project, we’ve got a great bond among us that has been vital to the project’s success.

Q: Tell me a little about your experience with Building PRIDE. Did you know you wanted to join the group as soon as you started with Balfour Beatty?

Em: I didn’t – I was part of our Connecting Women employee affinity group when I was an intern, but when I came on full-time, a coworker told me about Building PRIDE. I’m passionate about making the workplace more inclusive and elevating voices of the LGBTQ+ community as an ally, so I joined pretty quickly.

Manya: Em was actually the one to tell me about the group. I joined just after I started and really fell in love with their mission of encouraging respect for everyone in the workplace as well as how welcoming and open the group was when I first joined.

Q: Building PRIDE has designated, “Information, Affirmation, Inclusion,” as their theme for Pride Month this year. How do you stay informed on LGBTQ+ issues and how do you recommend others stay informed as well?

Em: A big tool for me has been social media. While you have to make sure the information you get is correct, I think social media is a great place to get connected and hear different points of view and perspectives.

Manya: I gravitate toward social media as well. My friends and I also regularly talk about our experiences in the LGBTQ+ community. Sharing our experiences keeps me informed and makes me feel less alone.

Q: How do you feel that your unique identity is affirmed in the workplace?

Em: To me, it really comes down to respect. Everyone has something to bring to the table, and I think having a baseline of respect – no matter who you are or where you’re from – really helps people feel affirmed in their identities. Diversity brings in different ideas and backgrounds, which is how you get the best solutions. I think it’s vital that we cultivate an environment where those differences are celebrated.

Manya: I think it’s also about understanding. Recognizing that everyone’s backgrounds are different, everyone’s views are going to be different and you’re not going to have the same opinions as everyone in the room. We all have biases, but I think it’s important to challenge them and be willing to learn from others. At the end of the day, we’re a team and we need to work together. And ultimately, we are all better because of each person’s unique experience.

Q: How do we make our industry more inclusive? And how do we specifically recruit members of the LGBTQ+ community and make sure everyone knows that Balfour Beatty is a safe space for them?

Em: I think it really starts with community outreach. Reaching the future of our industry sooner and getting them interested in STEM fields through career mentorship. And then, of course, maintaining those contacts and encouraging people to stick with it.

Manya: And once they do join our business, ensuring that their voices are heard. I think our employee affinity groups are a great way to accomplish that by making sure that everyone has a place to come together and have conversations addressing the issues that minorities in the industry are facing.

Q: Em, how do you support Manya’s identity in the workplace?

Em: I think the best thing I can do is speak up when I feel something is wrong. I’m not afraid to call out language or behavior that isn’t uplifting and I hope that by doing that, I am creating a safer space for everyone.

Q: And Manya, how do you wish to be supported as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?

Manya: Like we’ve discussed, I think building relationships based on respect is vital. When Em and I met, she respected my pronouns and asked questions to make sure that I felt comfortable and affirmed. I think our mutual openness – her willingness to ask tough questions and my willingness to answer – is why our relationship is as strong as it is today. We’ve been able to grow and learn together.