Jim Fowler is CEO of Novo Construction, a minority business enterprise and commercial contractor based in Menlo Park, California. Opinions are the author’s own.
The construction industry is a cornerstone of the American economy, shaping the nation’s physical environment. Yet, it significantly lags in diversity, equity and inclusion.
Although some in the construction industry may overlook the significance of DEI, the business case is compelling. A 2020 McKinsey study highlighted that companies with diverse workforces are 35% more likely to financially outperform the national industry average. This is because diverse and inclusive companies excel in serving their workforce, communities and customers.
I’ve seen this truth firsthand. As the CEO of NOVO Construction — a certified minority business enterprise — I’ve leveraged my experiences as a first-generation Chinese-American to embed diversity into our company’s DNA.
Many merely pay lip service to inclusion. However, at NOVO, we point to it as a key driver of our growth. We started as a three-person team just as the dot-com bubble burst in March 2000. Today, we’re proud to employ over 300 individuals.
I truly believe the decision to pursue diversity among our leadership team, collaborate with community organizations that support DEI and champion diverse subcontractors are core reasons we now rank among the top construction firms in the greater Bay Area and the largest interior tenant improvement contractor.
The proactive approach isn’t easy. But, we’ve found the rewards far outweigh the effort when you employ the right strategies. Here are five suggestions that can help your company succeed in its own DEI efforts:
Articulate your purpose. Pursuing DEI is crucial for ethical and business growth reasons. My heritage shapes Novo Construction’s diversity strategy, which is rooted in relationships. After my father’s passing when I was 19, his colleagues mentored me, underscoring the power of fully utilizing individual talents in business and life. Articulating your "why" for DEI secures leadership support and effectively conveys its significance to the entire workforce.
Prioritize diverse collaborations. My journey to CEO was shaped by the unwavering support I received from others and the belief that fostering client relationships and community engagement are paramount. At NOVO, these principles drive our commitment to exceptional customer value and a vibrant, diverse work culture.
Prioritizing inclusive hiring is an essential element of our strategy. Thus, half of NOVO Construction’s leaders are women. Moreover, through our "NOVO for Change" initiative, we collaborate with organizations like Girls Garage, which aim to promote female representation in fields like ours. Embracing these diverse partnerships enriches our community and broadens our talent spectrum.
Champion education and responsibility. Diversity training and accountability are vital in addressing biases in the construction industry. My father taught me the value of taking a hands-on approach to leadership, and NOVO Construction's managers and executives are always ready to roll up their sleeves and do the work alongside their teams.
We offer continuous training on unconscious bias, cultural understanding and inclusivity. Ensuring accountability is crucial; without repercussions for inappropriate behavior, it will persist.
Leverage employee resource groups and mentorship. Mentorship plays a pivotal role in fostering unity among employees with shared experiences, informing leadership about minority needs and shaping impactful policies and events. My mentors’ insights and wisdom have been instrumental to my career. At NOVO Construction, our mentorship initiative, led by our DEI Director, Sarah Garcia, pairs underrepresented staff with seasoned leaders, facilitating their professional advancement.
Promote diversity beyond your immediate team. DEI extends beyond company leadership to encompass subcontractors, vendors and suppliers, forging a network of businesses with aligned values. Prioritize diversity in your supply chain by establishing clear selection criteria.
We’re auditing our subcontractor list to verify diverse partners and their certifications and, thanks to proactive outreach, have added over 100 diverse subcontractors to our supply chain. As an industry frontrunner, we support our diverse partners, ensuring they don't feel too small for prime projects. We offer mentorship and often segment bid packages, enabling smaller firms to participate effectively.
The construction industry stands at a crossroads, with an opportunity to reshape its future by embracing diversity, equity and inclusion. Remember, inclusion efforts should be ongoing and fully integrated into your company's values and practices. By embracing DEI not just in word, but in deed, the construction industry can unlock new growth opportunities, foster innovation and create a more resilient and prosperous future for all stakeholders.