Two grads support UBC STEM outreach program, illuminating a novel path towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive engineering profession.
Though popular opinion warns against mixing business with friendship, the pages of entrepreneurial history will reveal a host of successful ventures that were founded by good friends.
For Joe Di Placito and Ziad Boustany, finding a like-minded BFF whose skillset complemented their own, proved to be the catalyst for a prosperous enterprise that has stood the test of time. And while the two became fast friends at university, they never imagined how their unique dynamic as fourth-year president and treasurer of the UBC Civil Engineering club would define 15-years of successful partnership as cofounders of RAM Consulting.
“Ziad still handles the finances as CFO,” says Di Placito, laughing as he notes the remarkable symmetry.
Reunited soon after graduation as project coordinators for the Canada Line, the pair would commit themselves to learning all they could about the construction industry while quietly hatching a plan to create the job of their dreams. Their objective was endearingly simple: find a way to keep working together.
“Our friendship was a big factor in why we started RAM. It can get serious and heavy at times, especially in a competitive field like ours, but at the end of the day you have to have fun. Working with friends makes it easy, keeps it light.”
Today, RAM Consulting is among the fastest growing companies in Canada. Breaking tradition from typical engineering firms focused on design, RAM deploys expert engineers specializing in both infrastructure design and construction management. But building an award-winning culture isn’t all fun and games; balancing lightness with the weight of a looming talent shortage, stoked by a persistent lack of diversity, has proved challenging. It’s no wonder the team at RAM is so committed to addressing the barriers that impede women and historically underrepresented groups from participating in their industry.
Maintaining close ties with their alma mater, Di Placito and Boustany have supported engineering students through informational seminars, speaking engagements, and co-op placements—a strategy that has paid dividends. “The calibre of engineers that are coming out of UBC is impressive. Their skills are highly sought after,” Di Placito adds, joking about running out of friends outside of RAM. “We’re always asking ourselves, ‘who else do we know?’”
Presented with the opportunity to take their support a step further, the two didn’t hesitate to make their first gift on UBC’s inaugural Giving Day. First to commit a matching gift for the faculty’s K-12 STEM outreach program, RAM hoped to amplify their impact with a donation that would inspire alumni to give. Why? Because Di Plato himself nearly missed out on a life-changing opportunity.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN: CHOICE OR CHANCE?
Looking back, Di Placito admits to knowing little about engineering. Were it not for a surprising bit of misdirection, things might have turned out differently.
“I actually wanted to become an architect, but was told that I needed an engineering degree to do that. I was encouraged to apply to SFU, which didn’t even have a civil engineering program!”
Recognizing his good fortune in having stumbled onto the right path, Di Placito understands how students lacking a good understanding of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) might be dropping these critical subjects too soon, consequently ruling out a whopping 70 per cent of jobs in the country.
“Making sure that kids understand what engineers do, and knowing all the opportunities (STEM education) can open up for them later in life, is a big part of why we’re so passionate about Geering Up.”
In keeping with its roots as a student-led initiative, UBC Geering Up Engineering Outreach employs post-secondary student-instructors to help kids and youth stay engaged in STEM. Beyond creating a dynamic hands-on environment that is inclusive to all learners, student-instructors serve as peer role-models—youth inspiring youth—helping to broaden students’ perceptions of their own potential.
CULTURE IS A TEAM SPORT: EQUITY, DIVERSITY, AND INCLUSION
With women now representing 45 per cent of technical engineers at RAM, the company has far surpassed the industry average, challenging the status quo and plodding pace towards achieving gender parity across the sector.
Ask anyone from RAM how they’ve have achieved this milestone, and they’ll happily tell you. Beyond cultivating a lighthearted and inclusive environment that is welcoming to professionals from diverse backgrounds, RAM continually invests in training, teambuilding and mentorship to support their high-performing teams. Demonstrating their leadership and action towards increasing the participation of women in both engineering and construction, RAM has received the Builder’s Code Champion award for three consecutive years in a row.
Reflecting on their ardent support for the industry-wide goal of raising the number of licensed female engineers to 30 per cent by 2030, Di Placito breaks composure in a moment of incredulity: “2030? My daughter will have graduated by that point and we’d still only be at 30 per cent. We need to do more.” A father of three young girls, it’s clear that Di Placito’s urgency is fueled in part by a great sense of personal responsibility to create a more diverse and inclusive culture within his own profession.
“Ultimately, I just want my daughters to be happy. If they end up in engineering, that would be great, but it’s up to us to create an environment where everyone feels welcome. Our support for Geering Up is, in a way, an extension of the things we’re doing at RAM—ensuring that young girls are exposed to women in engineering and can see a path forward for themselves in this field.”
Growing steadily since its founding in 1995, Geering Up is now one of the most impactful youth STEM programs in Canada, proudly engaging an average of 20,000 students across 51 communities each year. In order to keep pace with rising demand, Geering Up needs support from donors like RAM to help break through to the next stage of expansion, particularly in developing partnerships with new communities across the province.
Paving the way for others, RAM Consulting's support for Geering Up is a beacon for companies in search of ways to ramp up their diversity and inclusion efforts. Since their initial gift on Giving Day, the company has already made a second gift to Geering Up and now a third, returning once again with another matching gift for the upcoming UBC Giving Day on April 6, 2022.
Glancing at his watch, Di Placito realizes the time and takes a moment to share a few final words directed at his peers, “Diversity doesn’t just stop at supporting women. At RAM, we want to make sure that the teams we deploy out into the field represent the communities for whom our infrastructure projects are meant to benefit. Don’t do it just because it’s ‘on-trend.’ Do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
On this Di Placito and Boustany are aligned, their shared values serving as the bedrock on which RAM and its culture proudly stands. Perhaps therein lies the secret to successful ventures built on friendship. Differences and complexities aside, when business partners can agree on “the right thing to do,” at least in areas that matter most, the rest seems sure to follow. Celebrating 15 years and counting, the investments Di Placito and Boustany have made continue to illuminate a bright and promising future for our friends at RAM.
As part of our broader Women in Engineering (WiE) initiative, the faculty has raised female enrollment within UBC Engineering from 18 to 30 per cent. Geering Up represents just one of the many ways we are working to empower women and students from historically underrepresented groups to pursue engineering and other careers in STEM.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you and your organization can expand your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, please contact Lindsay Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 604.822.5854.