Advancing Inclusion in Construction

A group of workers lays concrete at a project in Sacramento, CA.
More of DPR's customers are requiring a diverse supply chain, and with hundreds of active projects, the opportunity to work with small and minority-owned businesses continues to grow. Courtesy of Chip Allen Photography

More than 31 million businesses in the United States qualify under the definition of “small business.” They employ 59 million people in the U.S., nearly half of the country’s private workforce. Small and minority-owned businesses are a significant contributor to the global economy and national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

DPR Construction has seen an uptick in customers requiring a diverse supply chain across a variety of markets, and with hundreds of active projects, the opportunity to work with small and minority-owned businesses continues to grow.

“Our goal is to reinforce that this is the right thing to do for our business, regardless of whether the customer asked for it or not,” said Patrice G. Haley, who leads supplier diversity for DPR. Along with Haley, Sharon Rheinhart and Lauren Hickman advance DPR’s efforts toward building relationships with a more inclusive and diverse group of suppliers.

After crunching some numbers, the supplier diversity team concluded that DPR spends approximately $2.3 billion working with diverse suppliers, which is about 12% of the company's spending. However, the average spend on supplier diversity for the top 50 companies is more than 23%. DPR is working to reach that same commitment.

“We're doing a small part in setting the stage to help build a pipeline for diverse construction professionals in particular, who can help us with our work, because our backlog is significant,” added Haley. “Our industry can't afford to turn down viable trade partners.”

Challenges and Buy In

Historically, supplier diversity efforts have been primarily driven by local governments, as was the case in Richmond, VA, when DPR first started building on the east coast in the 1990s. And though DPR’s first project in the Northeast didn’t have government or owner mandated goals, DPR hired a consultant to monitor and track efforts.

“The main challenges at that time were developing relationships [with diverse businesses] and establishing buy-in. For the most part, general contractors and contract managers were only putting efforts in place on City and government projects, and only doing it because they were told to,” said Rheinhart, who focuses on DPR’s supplier diversity efforts in Virginia and other parts of the Northeast. “It was unclear whether real relationships were being built with diverse contractors. I am thrilled that the DPR supplier diversity program is being created with an intentional focus on establishing internal buy-in within DPR, creating a meaningful relationship with diverse businesses that is sustainable and that grows its capacity.”

A group of three workers pose for a photo on a jobsite in Europe.
One goal for DPR’s supplier diversity team is to be more intentional about working with diverse suppliers and vendors as a company. Courtesy of Axel Favillier

Efforts to be more intentional about working with diverse suppliers and vendors begin in Preconstruction with outreach to the diverse business community to attract and prequalify more diverse bidders.

Diverse businesses are often unfamiliar with the process for accessing DPR’s bidding opportunities. DPR’s three-person supplier diversity team helping support DPR business units as they seek to grow a diverse bidder pool and build trust within local communities.

Currently, supplier diversity efforts are largely being managed by project teams, mainly because it’s easier to work with teams and vendors that project teams are already familiar with.

“Across the industry, project managers or preconstruction managers typically build jobs with the trade partners they know already. The supplier diversity team wants to partner with precon and project managers to invite new qualified businesses to our projects and guide everyone through the ‘getting-to-know-you’ period successfully,” said Haley.

Supporting Small Businesses

To address these challenges and grow the supplier diversity program at DPR, the team relies on relationship building and stakeholder feedback. One core goal of the supplier diversity team is to take the concentrated efforts it has started in cities like Richmond and scale that up to apply to all business units across the country.

“The quality of relationship building is critical to our long-term supplier diversity efforts and determines the kind of impact diverse businesses can have on their community,” said Rheinhart.

That is part of what is so vital for DPR, according to Hickman.

“When you hear the words diverse trade partner, some people may think they're too small and not as qualified,” said Hickman. “We have to change that perception and objectively examine if the diverse trade partner is just as qualified as someone that we've been using for 10 years. You just don't know about them yet.”

That effort has introduced small businesses to DPR and given them the chance to bid and win work on large-scale projects, including Antonio Wallace, chief executive officer of GP Supply Company, a pipe, valve and fittings distribution company who was introduced to DPR through Haley, with whom he had a long working history.

“[Haley] spent three hours with me first understanding my business, taking the time to understand what I do and how I'm structured,” Wallace explained. “Then she focused on helping me to understand the construction industry. Then she helped me think through how to build my network, the advocacy and support I would need to bid and win on these large-scale projects.”

Wallace agrees that the advice he received from Haley on how to build his business’s network to compete with larger vendors has been vital to his success.

“I have definitely had a lot of success partnering with general contractors, having them fully understand who I am, so that when I win a large project, they can play that advocate role. And help me make more of those introductions.”

Patrice Haley and DPR team members sit around a table looking at an ipad.
To address these challenges and grow the supplier diversity program at DPR, Patrice Haley (left) and the supplier diversity team relies on relationship building and stakeholder feedback. Courtesy of Amy Benito

Breaking into New Markets

At the end of October, the team traveled to Nashville, TN to showcase the benefits of supplier diversity to both the DPR business unit in Nashville and local businesses. It included four days of speaking at schools and local industry groups, meeting with small and minority-owned businesses and making connections between DPR and local industry leaders.

“A lot of what we do is just putting faces with names. And that's so we can do a lot more follow up. It's also letting the business unit, the people within each business unit know, what we do as a supplier diversity team, how we're here as a resource for them in the pursuit of work,” says Haley.

The goal is to build connections across the city so that when DPR is looking for project vendors in the area, it already has a long list of diverse suppliers that DPR has taken the time to get to know and trust.

“We got to do what most diversity professionals like doing the most, which is getting out and meeting the diverse businesses in an area. We really like connecting with individuals who also want to better the world,” said Hickman. “We connect, we build trust, but then follow up with actual opportunities to bid, as well.”

Two DPR employees in full safety gear take part in a morning meeting before the beginning of the workday.
The supplier diversity team is ramping up efforts to reach out to other DPR business units, and continuing to cultivate the relationships. Courtesy of Matt Pranzo

So what’s next for the small supplier diversity team? They are ramping up efforts to reach out to other DPR business units, like the recent effort in Nashville, and continuing to cultivate the relationships they’ve made through industry events, experience and face-to-face meeting time between DPR and business leaders.

With robust operations currently in cities like Baltimore, Richmond and Atlanta, DPR’s supplier diversity team, while small, has a lot of experience and a strong commitment to supplier diversity.

“Every city has a diverse history and business community helping to shape it,” said Haley. “We’re here to share the stories from those diverse communities with the entire DPR family and create opportunities for DPR and its trade partners to grow together.