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Building Diversity and Community with Employee Resource Group BUILT

February 24, 2022      By Staff Writer

Tags: Culture, Our People

“The more diverse (race, gender, life experience) of a company we are, the better we’re able to serve the communities we live and work in.”

That quote from RS&H transportation engineer Jeremy Haywood eloquently summarizes why diversity, equity and inclusion are so important for all industries. But they are particularly important in architecture, engineering and consulting where our work directly impacts communities large and small.

RS&H associates recently came together to form the employee resource group BUILT: Black Professional Leadership Network.

The mission of BUILT is to support recruiting and retention while cultivating and promoting advancement opportunities for Black associates. The group’s goals are to create a welcoming environment that fosters a sense of community and connection through shared experiences, support professional development and career growth, and serve as a sounding board for decision-making. BUILT stands for:

  • Building relationships
  • Unifying associates
  • Inspiring one another
  • Leading the next generation
  • Transforming communities

We sat down with the 2022 BUILT leadership team to hear about some of their aspirations for this new professional network. These leaders represent different markets and disciplines of the firm, and they are:

  • Patricia Andre-Fadiran, RA, Project Architect
  • Marline Daceus, PE, Bridge Engineer
  • Janayjah Dunmore, Airfield Engineer
  • Vishanya Forbes-Howard, Transportation Planner
  • Jeremy Haywood, PE, PMP, ENV SP, LEED GA, Transportation Engineer
  • Daveitta Knight, PE, Atlanta Area Leader
  • Denisha Molina, Architect
  • Madelene Skinner, Senior Marketing Communications Leader

What are some ways we can increase diversity in the workplace? What will BUILT be doing to achieve this?

Jeremy Haywood: One vital step is setting the right framework for diversity to occur organically. The foundation of that framework is a clear understanding of why the company seeks diversity. Too often these initiatives focus on optics (i.e. we need more minorities in the company) instead of the reason behind why great companies have a mix of individuals with different viewpoints.

The”why” is important if not the most important behind diversity. The communities we serve are not homogenous. The more diverse (race, gender, life experience) of a company we are, the better we’re able to serve the communities we live and work in.

Daveitta Knight: For the growth and development piece, we’ll have programming that will be focused on topics that would assist someone throughout their career – early career, mid-career, and senior career. There’s also a mentoring component that we’ve thought about. So as the committee meets, we can flesh out some of these ideas. We’ll look at the short term as well as the long term, how we develop some of the programming and potential mentoring opportunities.

Denisha Molina: Some ways we can increase diversity in the workplace are as follows:

  • Increase recruitment from HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).
  • Partner with professional minority organizations to recruit diverse talent.
  • Encourage BUILT members to reach out to their network and recruit diverse talent.

BUILT’s primary objective is to provide a strong venue to share information, ideas, experiences, and resources. Why is having a venue like that so important and what do you hope it does for associates?

Vishanya Forbes-Howard: When people are comfortable in a space where they feel like they’re being heard, then the opportunity for growth and development is tremendous.

Denisha Molina: Having a venue like this is important because it helps the recipients learn, grow, and thrive within the company. My hope is that it will give associates the tools needed to achieve their goals.

Marline Daceus: A group like this not only allows you to share your experiences but also allows you to hear from others how they probably went through a very similar situation. They can give you feedback on how to handle, cope, or move on from the situation.

Daveitta Knight: Employee resource groups like this create community. They create connections. And when you have a sense of community and connection, you have an outlet to reach out to. If there’s something on a professional development level that you’d like to talk with someone about – but you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone in your office or talking with your supervisor about – you can create those connections where you have a resource that you can speak with.

How can we foster an environment where more leadership opportunities are afforded to Black professionals at RS&H and in the A/E/C industry as a whole?

Jeremy Haywood: Our efforts need to be long term in nature rather than a phase. It starts with opening up the possibility of engineering and exposing our industry to children who know very little about the STEM field.

As a Black associate, I want to receive the same opportunities as everyone else. Therefore, supervisors need to ensure that everyone is receiving mentorship, developmental opportunities, and assigned to “stretch” positions/projects that prepare them for leadership positions. This means allowing people the grace and latitude to make mistakes while growing.

Patricia Andre-Fadiran: I think that RS&H needs to be intentional about the opportunities that they give to all associates. If they believe that we need more diversity and inclusivity, then they need to actively target those goals and make sure that they’re reaching out to people who can help them make those decisions. We should set metrics and follow up with strategic planning to reach them. In addition, we can reach out to BUILT to ask their opinion about making decisions for the entire company.

For things of that nature, I feel like BUILT can be a sounding board for getting information about groups that they don’t necessarily have direct insight into.

Daveitta Knight: It’s a very complex question because there are a lot of things that need to happen. Recruitment of diverse talent at all levels, not just bringing in new college grads. We need to ask ourselves some questions:

  • How do we bring in those new college grads and advance them throughout their career?
  • How do we make sure people have training and development throughout all stages?
  • How are we advancing Black talent within the organization?
  • Are we looking at all levels to gauge our diversity at all levels across the organization?

Let’s pretend it is Black History Month in 2027, five years from now. What’s the most important thing you hope BUILT has achieved by then?

Jeremy Haywood: I hope that BUILT has formed a strong professional community that helps associates grow.

Madelene Skinner: It [BUILT] becomes a part of the company’s culture. I’m new to RS&H, and I know that culture is one of the biggest things here. But to have a more diverse, inclusive and belonging company, where we’re all participating… celebrating Black History Month becomes part of that culture.

Janayjah Dunmore: By then, I would hope that when a new person comes into the organization they say, “Oh, we have this resource group, this resource group and this resource group… and they all have a really strong feel,” so a new associate would come in feeling warm and welcomed.

Patricia Andre-Fadiran: I would say that maybe in five years we would have achieved all that we set out to do today and have set new and bigger goals.

We look forward to seeing how BUILT will help advance the visibility of Black professionals at all levels across RS&H and the A/E/C industry.

If you would like to be a part of our company and join BUILT, explore our current job opportunities in a wide spectrum of markets and locations.

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