Construction firms across the country are responding to recent protests against police brutality and racial injustice with statements calling for an end to inequity and with programs to attract and retain diverse team members.
Turner Construction has posted messages of support on its websites and on social media. "Recent events are a stark and painful reminder of the consequences of on-going, undeniable racism that exists in our communities," wrote Turner CEO Peter Davoren.
Daniel L. Johnson, CEO, and David C. Mortenson, chairman, of Minneapolis-based Mortenson, signed a statement from 29 Minnesota-based companies calling for an end to racial inequities that led to the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
“These acts are painful and traumatic for our entire community, especially our communities of color,” they wrote. “The repeated occurrence of racially charged events of this nature are contrary to the close-knit employment and residential communities we desire to have in Minnesota.”
One hundred and eleven companies so far have joined the Associated General Contractors' newly formed Culture of CARE program designed to help contractors create more welcoming workplace environments for staff, particularly those from diverse demographic backgrounds. These companies — including Hensel Phelps, PCL and Granite Construction — have taken a pledge to ensure their workplaces are free from harassment, hazing and bullying.
As part of the program, the AGC is offering training designed to establish more inclusive workplaces. There are also broader educational materials available from the Culture of CARE program, including sample HR policies, toolbox talks, jobsite posters and hardhat stickers.
The George Floyd murder and subsequent public outcry has renewed the conversation around race in the construction industry, according to Brynn Huneke, AGC director of diversity and inclusion.
"While there are lots of companies in the construction industry that have diversity and inclusion efforts and have had them for a long time, I think this has reignited their desire to continue to grow and push and examine their own cultures and policies and practices and look at them through a diversity and inclusion lens," she said.
The numbers show there is still much work to be done in order to diversify the industry. For instance, African-American workers represent 12% of the total U.S. workforce but only 6% of the construction workforce, AGC Vice President of Public Affairs and Strategic Initiatives Brian Turmail said, and women are more than half of the U.S. workforce but make up only 3% of craft construction workers and 9% of the total construction workforce.
To help raise those numbers, the Associated General Contractors of San Diego announced last week that it has signed a memorandum of agreement with the Black Contractors Association of San Diego to expand and strengthen training programs for African Americans and other underrepresented groups in the city.
The organization’s aim is to build a regional construction workforce that is representative of San Diego’s diverse community, said Bill Haithcock, president of AGC San Diego, in a statement announcing the partnership.
Abdur-Rahim Hameed, president of the Black Contractors Association, said that the agreement is a “huge step in the right direction” and will more than double the number of apprenticeship positions, such as carpenters and drywallers, at local jobsites.
While standing against racial equality is the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense, Turmail told Construction Dive. Corporations as varied as Coca-Cola, Target, TD Bank and the NFL have all taken a stand with protestors responding to Floyd's killing.
Construction companies are often asked about their inclusiveness during major construction projects or on state or federal jobs and recent incidents will increase this awareness by owners, he said.
“Companies want to make sure they are doing business with firms that are inclusive and doing their best to make sure they reflect the culture of the communities where they operate,” he said.
A recent AGC white paper highlights that an emphasis on diversity and inclusion can positively impact company profitability by improving employee productivity, recruiting and retaining top talent, increasing innovation and creating a safer workplace. Furthermore, collaborative partnerships with diverse entities provide opportunities to expand market share.
It’s also important for organization leaders to acknowledge how employees are affected by the issue, according to J. Christopher Hamilton, an attorney and assistant professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
As many organizations are operating in a telework environment amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a companywide virtual town hall is the best method for a CEO to "express that they stand on the side of justice," Hamilton told HR Dive, our sister publication. The meeting will create the right atmosphere and supportive environment, providing a conduit to express concerns, he said.
Leaders should affirm that they "stand behind the organization's antidiscrimination policies, and will continue to operate in accordance with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [EEOC] guidelines and regulations," he said.
Surveys can be helpful for identifying potentially disruptive issues within an organization. This method provides an opportunity for organizations that are trying to be "progressive, thoughtful and effective in their management," as well as those trying to create "an environment of inclusivity within the organization," Hamilton said.
Research shows that employers can boost retention by showing employees empathy.
"If you don't acknowledge the emotional and psychological impact on your staff during a national crisis," Hamilton said, "then you will not be prepared to address the implications that has for your bottom line."