McCarthy Building Companies Inc., a nationally known commercial construction company based in St. Louis, Missouri, has been in business for 150 years. The company and its staff are recognized for their commitment to quality and customer satisfaction. But fulfillment of its clients’ needs is not their only focus. McCarthy has also made recent investments in the success of its workforce. Recognizing that representation of and respect for a wide variety of cultures, backgrounds and opinions is important to the longevity of the industry, McCarthy recently appointed Kamecia Mason as vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).
As Mason builds upon McCarthy’s existing DE&I efforts to evolve the firm’s internal and external strategy and implementation, she also gains industry support. Prior to joining McCarthy, Mason developed a reputation for leadership focused on enhancing inclusive cultures, supporting community engagement, and increasing diversity investments. In her role, Mason aims to increase awareness of DE&I not only at McCarthy, but also across the industry as a whole.
According to Mason, successful DE&I efforts begin with the community. “Construction is a service- and community-based business,” she said. “We work in the middle of where everyone lives, works and plays. The more connected you are to your community, the more support you are likely to receive.” Mason says this plays out not only in the way construction crews are perceived on the jobsite, but also in supplier diversity. “Bringing together a focus on the community in the construction space gives us a team made of the actual community. The more often local folks are employed, the more often that money goes back into the community,” said Mason. “Every construction jobsite provides opportunities to be centered on inclusion and diversity to benefit the actual community.”
McCarthy isn’t the only construction organization finding a renewed focus on diversity and equity in the built world. HNTB, an employee-owned infrastructure firm serving public and private owners and contractors, named Diana Mendes corporate president of infrastructure and mobility equity. With her history of representing social justice and equity issues tied to infrastructure investments, Mendes is focused on shaping transportation and mobility equity policy through collaboration with federal, state and local agency leaders.
The Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA), a nonprofit serving the educational needs of construction financial professionals, recently appointed Bruce Orr as chair of the association’s new diversity and inclusion committee. Orr, the founder and chief data scientist at ProNovos, a software company focused on intelligent software solutions for the construction industry, leads the committee and authors articles addressing DE&I problems throughout the industry, including some of his own difficult experiences as a person of color in construction.
As the industry’s understanding of the need for DE&I initiatives continues to deepen, there is growing support from business leaders who recognize it must become an integral part an organization. With the investment of time and effort on the front end, establishing DE&I initiatives can provide businesses with diverse and equitable teams and opportunities that support respect and success for everyone working in the industry.
The communal and workplace benefits of a diverse workforce is becoming a science of its own — and one that is delivering results. Studies from Harvard Business Review, McKinsey & Company and Credit Suisse all point to diversity, equity and inclusion as key factors of business success. These reports provide a glimpse into the benefits of representation in the workplace:
- Gender diversity can predict positive financial performance
- A diverse board can deliver a 95% higher return on equity than companies with homogenous boards or councils
- Companies that actively utilize a diversity program are 70% more likely to enter a new market
- Companies that score poorly on diversity are 29% less likely to achieve above-average profitability
- Retention and employee loyalty is 19% higher at companies ranked highly for diversity and inclusion efforts
According to Mason, “Diversity in general — when you have a good mix of people involved — can offer so many experiences and perspectives that would otherwise be missed. This can drive some outstanding business outcomes. It’s also important to recognize how comfortable a workplace feels to those working in it. Having a person there to relate to or feel comfortable with makes you more likely to stay with the company.”
Supported by the data from various studies that encourage the creation of job roles like hers, Mason says reaching the highest level of success is most likely to happen when DE&I efforts are included in the foundation of a company.
“The research shows that more diverse workforces perform better. If your business is welcoming to DE&I, you can overcome hurdles earlier and have a team that is a more reflective of the kind of clients you are targeting. It gives you a leg up on the competition, who may have to play catch up later,” she said.
However, this is not to say that DE&I shouldn’t also be a consideration for more established or already successful businesses. “You need this to make your business work,” said Mason. While existing companies might have more adjustments to make than those just starting out, Mason says making the effort is a continuum. “Year after year, planning is required. Be thoughtful and patient. Don’t overtax your partners with change,” she said.
Integrate With Integrity
As a best practice, those looking to develop a DE&I strategy should take steps to ensure DE&I is integrated into every business function. Business owners should consider how this integration impacts all the varied functions and departments within a company.
“It has to be a core imperative or it’s not part of your business strategy,” said Mason. “Make sure to include your employees in the process — if you are unable to hire a full-time resource, recognize that your staff needs to be compensated for their time spent on any internal research or committee work that go toward your DE&I goals. Don’t let the program become a way to just ‘check the box’ for diversity. Make sure you are actually increasing representation and engaging the community,” Mason added.
In addition to her primary role at McCarthy, Mason is leading McCarthy’s Capacity Building program, where she mentors minority- and women-owned businesses. The program currently includes 31 women- and minority-owned construction organizations, helping them to shore up their construction skills. After these companies graduate from the program, they are qualified to bid on McCarthy projects, providing an opportunity to work on larger projects and grow their place in the industry.
“The intention is to help businesses work with McCarthy and expand their technical capacity,” said Mason. It’s important to note that the biggest factor in the success of participating organizations is initial support from their leadership teams. “The chief executive officer must be committed to participation in order for the organization to succeed,” said Mason. “We want that knowledge to be transferrable all the way to the top. We want each class to give the business something to apply to their work.”
The program also helps companies to develop their marketing and branding to build recognition, representation and continued growth in work outside of McCarthy.
Intersection With Health & Safety
Engraining these values and practices into company culture is the next step, especially as it relates to employee health and safety.
“We have to get really intentional. There are intersections between both inclusion and equity in the workplace and the actual safety and well-being of our employees,” said Mason. “Suicide rates are higher in construction than elsewhere, and we need to put an effort into approaching mental health and how it intersects with DE&I.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), construction has the highest suicide rate across all industries. The suicide rate in construction is about four times greater than the national average, and five times greater than that of all other construction fatalities combined — more lives are lost per day from suicide than from all of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Focus Four hazards combined.
The demographics of the construction workforce falling into the highest risk categories may be a driving factor in these numbers. According to CFMA, some of the factors driving this statistic are related to the industry’s reputation:
- Stoic, old-school and tough-guy culture
- Fearless and thrill-seeking
- Promotes advancement without leadership training
- Travel-related separation and isolation from family
- Chronic pain and sleep deprivation
- Seasonal layoffs and end-of-project furloughs
- Tolerant of alcohol and substance use
- The highest use of prescription opioids of any industry
- Performance pressure (schedule, budget and quality)
- Access to lethal means
Many of these factors drive home the need for DE&I that goes beyond gender and race to include sexual orientation, gender identity, neurodivergence and personality types.
CSDZ, a company supplying risk management and safety services to the construction industry, has developed a program dedicated to worker well-being and suicide prevention.
“Suicide is a complex issue and there is not a simple solution. DE&I is a hallmark of healthy workplace culture. Mental health helps address each aspect of DE&I. Employees experiencing psychological safety at work feel more trust and belonging. In this way, effective DE&I initiatives can lead to employees accepting resources and seeking care to address underlying mental health and life/work stress,” said Cal Beyer, CSDZ vice president of workforce risk and worker well-being. Beyer also heads an initiative focused on mental health and safety in the industry called Hardhat Health.
Beyer says workplaces that are truly committed to DE&I seek to foster a climate of psychological safety among all workers. “Psychological safety is the outcome of an organization’s commitment to building a culture of care based on a respectful workplace. Programs, policies, procedures and practices that promote DE&I also reinforce the mental health and well-being of workers.” Beyer says.
The major challenge is reducing the stigma mental health carries, and incorporating it into safety, health and wellness culture. “Important steps business owners can take include actively demonstrating care, concern, empathy and flexibility toward employees. “This is especially true as the number of workers returning to workplaces. Sharing information about employee assistance programs, employee health benefits, community-based social service agencies and crisis hotlines reinforces to employees that their employer recognizes how important mental health is to their well-being,” said Beyer.
Launching a DE&I program and providing mental health support might sound like a tall order to some, but according to Mason, there is no challenge too great: “The construction industry knows how to solve complex problems, it’s what we do every day.”