DPR's Vested Interest in the Workforce

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 2 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

DPR's Elke O'Neill and Joe Garza sat down with us to discuss the new adjustable fit PPE vest and the role it plays in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at DPR

Name: Elke O’Neill

Role at DPR: Preconstruction Manager for Northwest, Bay Area Women Who Build Steering Committee Member, D&I Task Force

Name: Joe Garza

Role at DPR: Regional Safety Manager for Central, Safety Leadership Team, D&I Task Force

Elke O’Neill began her professional journey with DPR Construction 18 years ago and now serves as a preconstruction manager in the Bay Area. Throughout her career and time spent as a project manager, she has carefully studied various aspects of the industry and sought opportunities to create a more equitable environment for women in construction. Elke utilized her experience to redefine, create and manufacture an adjustable fit PPE Vest to play a key role in furthering the conversation surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion at DPR and within the construction industry at large.

Joe Garza has spent a total of 25 years in the construction industry and has built a 17-year career at DPR. Currently, Joe is the face of regional safety for the Central region as well as a part of the Safety Leadership team and Diversity & Inclusion steering committee at DPR. With the ever-changing nature of construction, Joe wholehearted believes that one day the industry will be looking to DPR for ways to improve within the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion space. He believes we will be industry champions and leaders in the D&I conversation.

Question: What events or experiences inspired you to create a new PPE vest option?

Elke: I was inspired to look into a more customizable vest option for women several years ago when I was working on-site as a project manager. I tried to find a vest that me fit better and wasn’t as baggy than what was available, and it simply didn’t exist. I decided to reach out to different vest manufacturers to see if there were any vests out there that had the same features being offered in a men’s vest, but in a smaller size, and I couldn’t find any.

Question: What does Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on a jobsite mean to you? Do Safety and DE&I work hand in hand?

Joe: It means an equal playing field for everybody and nobody having to change themselves because a group or person walked into the room—we want everyone to be authentic to who they are. When a problem arises, we want to solve it with a variety of people and perspectives. Look at any of our jobsite gates and you will see a community; how they interact is the same way DPR should operate with our teams. We also have to consider psychological safety: setting people up to think and feel that they have the freedom to be themselves. Over time, safety has been shown to be a gateway to DE&I and to creating a safe space and culture to speak up, especially when we look for those diverse ideas and different points of view.

Question: Explain the process you took to design and manufacture a new vest.

Elke: This process started in 2018 after talking to a manufacturer to see if there was a smaller vest option available—there wasn’t. I partnered with a former DPR employee – Sandy Grayson – who previously ran the DPR store, and worked with her connections to create a custom adjustable vest for everyone in the field. We incorporated all the safety features, sewed an initial vest type for fit and brought it to where we are now. The overall timing took about a year and a half from concept to creating the first vest prototype, but we wanted to make sure we took the time to produce a quality product. We also utilized feedback from women in the industry. We made changes based on their comments.

Question: Who do you think this adjustable fit PPE vest will affect the most?

Joe: I had the opportunity to try it on and think it’s an amazing product. The ripple effect of this vest is giving the user the ability to feel included. It’s the notion that before I walked into a room, someone thought about me and how I wanted to feel—not just that I would be given what is available, but that what I was given would fit me. I’m a medium size, but most jobsites only have XL or XXL available, and that tends to slouch on my body. You start to feel underappreciated and diminished. Having a vest that fits to your body makes you feel comfortable and allows you to put forth your best self on a jobsite.

Question: What has the reaction been so far after announcing the rollout of this new vest?

Elke: The reactions to the new vest have been overwhelmingly positive - people can't wait to get their hands on one. I recently showed the vest to some of DPR's female field and craft team members in Austin, and they were visibly excited about having their own adjustable vests to wear on site.

Question: Where do you see the future of DE&I going at DPR? How do you think our stance will affect the industry?

Joe: The reality is we are being very intentional about how we are growing for our new employees, how we work with our hiring managers, and the way these changes will impact our teams. When you make DE&I top of mind, it creates unique filters to ensure we are really taking care of our people. I hope we get to the point where the industry looks to us for inspiration because of how well we have embedded DE&I into our culture.

To watch the new adjustable fit PPE vest in action, please visit our Video section on the website or watch here.