Author: Don Obrien

Building diversity in construction | Finance & Commerce

Golden Valley-based Mortenson Construction is part of a major push ramping up this fall to promote diversity in construction, an initiative inspired in part by the national reckoning following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Mortenson is a founding member of the Time for Change consortium, which aims to advance “diversity, equity and inclusion” in the industry and ensure that job sites are free of “harassment, hate or bigotry of any kind.”

The consortium boasts some of the biggest names in the U.S. construction industry. Besides Mortenson, founding members are Providence, Rhode Island-based Gilbane Building Co.; Redwood, California-based DPR Construction; New York-based Turner Construction Co.; St. Louis-based McCarthy Building Cos.; and Bethesda, Maryland-based Clark Construction Group.

Time for Change plans to launch its “Construction Inclusion Week” this fall. As part of the event, scheduled for Oct. 18-22, the group encourages all contractors to organize diversity-related activities and explore topics such as unconscious bias and job site culture.

Also up for discussion are themes that include “leadership commitment and accountability for diversity, equity and inclusion; supplier diversity; and community outreach,” according to the consortium.

Dan Johnson, president and CEO of Mortenson, said the group was formed last year after construction executives from across the country gathered to discuss an effort to attract young people to careers in building-related fields.

A seminal moment came after the CEO of Turner Construction pulled Johnson aside and said there was another topic he wanted to discuss.

“It was shortly after George Floyd’s murder,” Johnson said. “And the topic was, ‘What are we going to do as an industry to improve? How do we take the momentum that’s currently being created in society and apply it to our industry?”

Like most industries, construction “needs to advance in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Johnson added. “But I think construction in particular has some unique challenges in that area. And so, from that, we formed an alliance called Time for Change.”

Time for Change isn’t alone in calling for more diversity and inclusion in construction.

The Associated General Contractors of America went down a similar path with the recent launch of its Culture of CARE program, which aims to ensure that “every employee, from the CEO to the laborer, has the opportunity to feel valued, respected and heard.”

From the field to the boardroom, there’s a lot of work to be done.

According to AGC, people who identify has Black make up 12% of the total workforce, but only 6% of the construction labor pool. Women compose 47% of the overall workforce, but just 9% of construction workers, AGC says.

Real estate and development aren’t immune to the challenges. A 2020 report conducted by JOG Associates for LISC Twin Cities found that white males “dominate the real estate development industry” and that white business networks “tend to exclude” developers of color.

Asked how much progress he’s seeing in the building industry on the diversity front, Johnson said it depends on where you’re looking.

“If you walked in our lunch room, you would say, ‘You guys are making really good progress,’” Johnson said. “If you walked into a senior leadership meeting, you’d say, ‘You guys really need to get going.’

“But our senior leadership looks like the people we hired 20 and 30 years ago. So I think the dilemma for Mortensen and a lot of firms is, ‘How do we diversify our leadership while still respecting the people that are growing up inside our industry and inside our company?’

“That’s a challenge we all face.”

Each day of Construction Inclusion Week offers a theme related to specific challenges and opportunities.

In Mortenson’s case, the main topic is supplier diversity. Johnson said Mortenson has made a concerted effort to work with a diverse group of suppliers, including women- and minority-owned firms.

That applies to all of its projects, not just on public work, he said. Johnson added that it’s not enough to just have diversity outreach plans for big projects like U.S. Bank Stadium, which come with equity goals.

“You can’t have that [one large project] and then not do it again until the next public project, because you won’t create the capacity in the industry,” Johnson added. “And it’s just the wrong thing to do.

“We need to have diversity on every project to build that capacity to allow those firms to be sustainable.”

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Oliver Bolt

Oliver Bolt

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