If you ask folks in the construction industry, diversity, equity, and inclusion are situated at the cornerstones of most modern business plans. The arc of history is bending toward a deeper understanding of historical failures and oversights and now companies worldwide are doing the hard work of building a bridge between their industry and the wider community.
Those efforts are paying off. But it takes resources and time.
For example, at prominent Kansas City construction firm McCownGordon, Willy Pegues, is helping the company bring DE&I to the forefront. JOBSITE recently spoke with Pegues, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, to discuss his plans at McCownGordon and what it takes to build a long-lasting DE&I strategy to make a meaningful impact across their organization and the communities they serve.
JOBSITE: Tell us about yourself. What’s your background in the industry?
Pegues: I joined McCownGordon in October 2020 as the Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Though I am new to the construction industry, I have worked in DE&I across the military and healthcare spaces. Prior to the creation of the VP role at McCownGordon, the company had already started some efforts related to DEI, for example, an Inclusion committee, a Women In Leadership Committee, and active participation in community DE&I initiatives such as Hispanic Chamber, Go Red for Women, and Mountain Plains Minority Supplier. As VP, I’m building on those efforts to create a bona fide strategic plan for the organization, including metrics, so we can continuously assess ourselves.
J: So the company has been headed in that direction. What are you doing to build that plan out further?
P: I just introduced a strategic plan for 2021 that pulls from a multitude of approaches that can bolster DE&I awareness both internally and externally for McCownGordon. For example, internally, we participated in a DE&I survey that was conducted by a third party. The results helped shape and identify improvement efforts we can implement, such as DEI training specific to leadership and staff. We currently have small and large group discussions and self-paced learning so we can increase understanding of the value of collaborating with people of different cultures, races, genders, ethnicities, beliefs, experiences, and ideas. Some DEI training can be uncomfortable, and that’s when it’s really important to be willing to lean into the conversation. The meaningful experiences that come from these exchanges is often where the growth happens.
J: Where does the discomfort come from?
P: Think about a favorite vacation spot.
J: Ocean City, Maryland.
P: Now you have pleasant memories of Ocean City because you’ve experienced it. Given someone who hasn’t experienced it, they could probably care less about Ocean City or even the beach. Right? So, an increase in awareness not only is about establishing awareness, creating awareness, but it’s also inviting people in to establish a shared understanding because we all interpret the world through different lenses. Those lenses are shaped by our experiences. And a lot of times people don’t understand, not for the fact that they don’t want to understand, they just haven’t experienced it.
J: What are you doing at the company to improve inclusion?
P: In regard to improving DE&I awareness externally, we focus a lot on our Minority, Women, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (MWDBE) trade partners. It’s imperative to look at inclusivity within local communities. Promoting MWDBE businesses is essential because our mission is to improve lives, and our trade partners live in the communities that we serve. Not only is it important to help develop those trade partners, but also to help them become self-sufficient. Their growth then goes back to their communities which subsequently contributes to inclusive prosperity.
One MWDBE initiative that we are working on is to create a platform to assist in trade partner development at McCownGordon. This platform will be a place to share tools and solutions that can help businesses to be more effective. There are solutions out there that focus on back-office operations such as HR, payroll, and other needs for the smaller trade partners. We’re also inviting those organizations to the platform to promote their products. At the end of the day, our goal is for our trade partners to leave with something meaningful they can immediately apply to their businesses to make them more effective.
J: What are some ways to help other businesses expand their inclusion efforts with trade partners?
P: It starts by providing a platform where trade partners can have the opportunity to continue to get better. We have a mentor-protégé partnership with a minority-women-owned business enterprise general contractor (MWBE). At the beginning, we talked about expectations and goals that they want out of this partnership. And then with that, we just help them along the way. And what’s really great about that is it’s a meaningful relationship, it’s not transactional.
We want the relationship to be intimate. When something is going wrong, we want to be there to help out, we want to partner with them to take them to the next level. We want to help them in the ways we agreed upon and get them to the next level. And again, that goes back to creating an inclusive prosperity in the community. And we just don’t want to have one trade partner that we’re doing that with. We want to have multiples. We want to be able to tell the story that we are committed to working with our MWDBE trade partners and developing them. That takes a lot of resources, but we are committed to DE&I.
Two key best practices are communication and transparency. With proactive and transparent communication, we are able to address challenges. At the end of a project, we have an after-action review on how things went and allow the trade partner to provide feedback on what we can do better. And that sets us up for success for the next project.
J: Do you ever get frustrated?
P: Just like everyone, I get frustrated sometimes. There are going to be situations where it appears we’ve made two steps forward, but then something happens that makes us feel we’re taking five steps back. You have to stay the course. What helps is having support from the CEO and on down. And I feel really fortunate I have that at McCownGordon. The CEO is really invested in promoting and embracing DE&I across the organization. He is driving it from the top. That’s important.
One last thing I will leave you with is when organizations talk about DE&I as a priority they are wrong. And the reason I say that is because priorities change. DE&I should be a value. Values don’t change.