The Company You Keep
This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 8 edition of the DPR Newsletter.
A culture of inclusion is the foundation of a collaborative team, but it needs to be intentionally planned for at the start of a project. At the Hanna Avenue project in Tampa, FL, DPR teamed up with more than 20 minority- and women-owned companies to build a "new home" for the City.
DPR partnering with DuCon and Strategist expanded the number of both diverse and local trade partners and allowed the team to meet the demand for skilled labor and qualified contractors.
Over the past decade, workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts have ramped up significantly, according to the Los Angeles Times that reported that 83% of U.S. organizations have implemented DEI initiatives. However, there’s a difference between simply riding the wave and taking meaningful action. The push for DEI in business goes beyond being the right thing to do; it also has a positive effect on organizations. Statistically, diversity practices and inclusion relate positively to employee engagement and trust, according to another study from Deloitte.
OT Delancy, managing principal of Strategist Project Support Services, goes further. “Companies that employ diversity and inclusion have outperformed companies that ignore it,” said Delancy. He started his firm, a Black Business Enterprise (BBE) certified organization, in 2013. “When you read these studies, you learn they have better reach. They have better connectivity,” he said. Findings from McKinsey indicate that companies in the top quartile of racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to outperform respective industry financial returns.
The construction industry is changing; building designs grow more complex, technology enables better integration and efficiency, and demand for speed-to-market is on the rise. Yet, the industry is still driven by people—and an organization that is focused on taking care of its people thrives.
“Construction is still one of the most intensive industries in terms of human capital,” notes Ernest DuBose, CEO of DuCon LLC, a BBE certified construction management firm based in Tampa. “The nature of our industry is to be focused. Construction is tough and it requires risk.”
Building an inclusive organizational culture that embraces and encourages diversity in thought and experience creates opportunities for connection and understanding. On projects, diverse teams working in an inclusive environment enable collaboration that can tackle the most complex technical challenges.
“You can bring diverse experiences together, but if you don't create an environment where people feel included, where they feel they can share in the process, diversity will leave. They will go somewhere else,” said George Pfeffer, who serves as DPR’s CEO.
In fact, according to the World Economic Forum, an inclusive workplace culture is a key driver of employee engagement, well-being and retention. “You have to start with a base of inclusivity and build that culture. If you focus on diversity only and not on changing the behaviors and the mindset, you’re creating a false environment,” said Pfeffer.
In an effort to change behaviors and mindsets, DPR, along with others in the construction industry, has implemented specific programs aimed at building this capacity.
These actions stem from a firm belief that such efforts make organizations better and more equipped to make a distinctive impact in the world—and ultimately deliver superior results for customers.
Each year, thousands of construction-related organizations take part in Construction Inclusion Week, the aim of which is to improve diversity and inclusion in the construction industry. DPR events have included table talks on building belonging that aim to have participants broaden perspectives and augment bias training. Organizations have also hosted events on supplier diversity with activities meant to help celebrate cultural diversity and reinforce the significance of supplier diversity. Typical discussions throughout the week ask participants to think deeply and talk about what inclusion in the workplace means to them. These types of endeavors help keep DEI top of mind and extend far beyond a single week.
In addition to implementing bias training across the company starting in 2020, DPR has hired and invested in expanding its supplier diversity team—whose focus is to expand DPR’s capacity to work with certified Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) on projects across the U.S. In the last couple of years, efforts have ramped up to identify and support diverse businesses with the certification process and get them pre-qualified to work on projects with DPR.
As with all key project outcomes (including schedule, cost, safety and quality), planning for diversity needs to be intentional. Working with organizations that share diversity and inclusion goals facilitates process improvement and ultimately sets an example for others to follow. DPR's partnership with the City of Tampa, which is deeply committed to workplace DEI, offers a best-in-class example in action.
Working with this shared goal, project partners put a plan into action at The City Center at Hanna Avenue in Tampa, FL, where the project team—inclusive of DPR, DuCon and Strategist, among others—is helping transform a vacant property into an environmentally-friendly, 161,000-sq.-ft. civic complex on an 11-acre site. The plan for the new City Center has been percolating for two years, with advisory teams landing on the idea of bringing government closer to neighborhoods and the people it serves. Upon completion, the center will essentially be a home for the City of Tampa, serving as a gathering space for neighborhood residents and housing several City departments and divisions to increase efficiency of operations.
In line with the City of Tampa’s goal of 35% MBE participation, DPR is partnering with 23 minority- and women-owned construction companies (as defined by the City of Tampa) to build a diverse project environment. Metrics include establishing and maintaining partnerships with minority business firms and small local businesses. Brandon Facini, one of DPR’s project managers at Hanna Avenue, notes that “the Southeast, and specifically Florida, currently has an increased demand for skilled trades—both individuals and contractors. Providing opportunities to diverse and small/local contractors will help expand the industry and help solve the demand.”
DPR Project Manager Zack Cruz notes, “Everyone, including DuCon and Strategist, are in the jobsite field office together under one roof. Like our SPW teams, this helps strengthen camaraderie and morale, especially when we face challenges together and need to make critical decisions throughout the project. The team starts to develop chemistry quicker and is willing to be more collaborative with each other because trust starts to form. I believe this is key to having a high-performing team.”
For DuCon, the project is significant for many reasons. Their construction management services include preconstruction, scoping and leveling trade partner bids, value engineering, procurement, scheduling and coordination of construction activities. “We're serving as a second-tier construction management firm, managing two buildings from the overall scope. One is a fleet building where the city vehicles will be serviced and housed, and the other will house the facilities and maintenance department,” explained DuBose.
“It will be the largest single project that we’ve construction managed to date. It’s a capacity grower.” DuBose is excited to extend his organization’s reach and experience, not only with this project but in the future as well. “What makes it special is we'll get the experience of being the construction manager, but we also have the support and resources of DPR and the City of Tampa. It’s literally a history-making project in the city of Tampa.”
“This project has several building components and structures, such as vehicle fleet & facilities management buildings, fuel station, parking garage, main administrative building and a large outdoor plaza, all of which are being constructed in both phased and concurrent sequences. This requires a large, skilled workforce,” said Facini. “Partnering with DuCon and Strategist on these various components allowed the project to pull from an expanded group of trade partners. In return, the expanded number of both diverse and local trade partners allowed the team to combat the current demand for skilled labor and qualified contractors in our region.”
Strong connections and relationships are steppingstones to cultivating high engagement and trust. They also provide common ground.
As for employees, the same is true for partners. “We’re folks who value chemistry. We value trust,” said DuBose. For DuCon, part of it is finding partners who also want to build relationships with, and develop, other small minority companies. To date, the firm has awarded tens of millions of dollars to local minority-owned subcontractors over the last several years, according to DuBose. “We’re very careful about who we partner with,” he said. “We work hard. We’re very intentional and we go above and beyond to bring along other companies to make sure they have opportunities.”
Lauren Hickman, who serves as a supplier diversity leader at DPR, says Hanna Avenue differs from other projects she’s seen in the way its partnerships operate. To her, the team is not just checking a box. “Often with projects of this size, there will be diverse GC partners with maybe one project engineer and two or three people in total, but with this project we’re involving the entire organization. For instance, with Delancy’s GC firm, he’s hired five additional people to really expand his organization,” said Hickman. “One of the project aims is to really hone in and address the very real disparity with minority owned construction companies in Tampa. We’re already seeing other firms replicating the work we’re doing here. The project is helping to lay the groundwork for something monumental across the region.”
Hickman stresses that it’s not just about the project, either. It’s about the community. The team is making every effort to hire its workforce locally, with DuCon and DPR hosting local hiring fairs, and bringing local interns and apprentices on board. DPR has also built relationships with local organizations such as the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, the Urban League of Hillsborough County and the NAACP. “We’re trying to make an impact on the community—it’s more of an economic impact project than just meeting a workforce inclusion goal, to truly change people’s lives,” noted Hickman.
Hickman also echoes that it’s not enough to aim for diversity on teams; team members must feel included and empowered to make decisions. “Diversity is like being invited to a party. I can be invited but absolutely hate the music. Being able to adjust the playlist is true inclusion,” said Hickman. The ability to make connections with other team members and bring your authentic self to an organization is key. This creates a level of safety and trust that inevitably leads to collaboration.
High collaboration leads to more successful project outcomes, greater enjoyment on the job, and ultimately provides a pathway to being the best in the industry. Blair Calhoun, who serves as a project executive and MEP leader at DPR, said, “If it helps us as an organization, then, by definition, it helps the project teams. If we have an engaged, mentally healthy workforce, projects will be better. Being able to see different viewpoints on display on a regular basis, that improves the person. We don’t just build great projects; we’re trying to build great people.”
Photos: Kerrick Williams, Matt Pranzo and Skyler Herring.
Posted on February 24, 2023
Last Updated February 27, 2023