BALFOUR BEATTY’S PEOPLE-FIRST CULTURE EMBRACES AND ENCOURAGES DIVERSITY IN THE WORKPLACE
In 2020, the nation saw a wave of unprecedented events that paved the way for necessary growth and change business, communities and the industry. In particular, the unjustified killing of George Floyd and the protests against police brutality, triggered critical conversations across the country about the dangerous effect of systemic racism on every facet of society, including the construction industry. In the wake of this national awakening to the historic and contemporary plight of African Americans, it was incumbent on Balfour Beatty, a member of multiple AGC chapters, to take meaningful action to ensure its African American teammates felt valued, heard and respected within the company.
As vice president of legal for Balfour Beatty’s southeast division, Earnest De Loach Jr. is an integral member of the leadership team. In this role, he is responsible for management and execution of all legal affairs as well as ethics and compliance training and enforcement. He also serves as a national legal advisor to the company’s strategic procurement team, negotiating supply and service agreements with national commercial partners.
Beyond these responsibilities, Earnest is the co-founder/co-lead of the company’s national Network of Black Leaders and Executives (NOBLE) affinity group. They provide valuable leadership and support for the company’s national DE&I initiatives, including policy and programming development, training, recruiting and retention.
In this Q&A, Earnest talks about the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace and the efforts Balfour Beatty makes to put its people first.
Q: WHAT DOES DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION MEAN TO BALFOUR BEATTY? HOW IMPORTANT IS A DE&I STRATEGY TO A COMPANY AND THE INDUSTRY OVERALL?
Earnest: As an industry leader, Balfour Beatty recognizes its responsibility in creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace with the same tenacity and accountability we hold for other company objectives such as safety or operational excellence. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a part of our company’s people-first culture that celebrates our diverse mix of employees each with unique talents, perspectives, personalities and identities. These diverse traits that make up our teams are what make Balfour Beatty and the construction industry strong, innovative and successful.
Consistent with that spirit and in recognition of the tragic examples of racially motivated violence that erupted this past year, the foundation of Balfour Beatty’s DE&I philosophy is the physical and emotional well-being of its team members. Balfour Beatty has a zero tolerance for discriminatory or harassing behavior in the workplace – whether by employees, clients or commercial trade partners. All Balfour Beatty team members are encouraged and empowered to call out and report any acts or conduct that violates our policy, with the understanding that it will be quickly addressed with rehabilitative education where possible and more serious measures when appropriate.
Committing to a culture of safety and acceptance provides diverse individuals the opportunity to bring their authentic and unique life experiences and perspectives to the table, creating an inclusive workplace where everyone’s voice matters. By embracing diversity in this manner, Balfour Beatty is a more competitive, innovative and successful company.
To further our commitment to our employees, we publicly signed AGC of America’s newly formed Culture of CARE pledge. The pledge is designed to create a more welcoming workplace environment for team members, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, and provide tools and resources to help establish a caring culture.
Q: THE INDUSTRY IS OFTEN SLOW TO ADOPT NEW PRACTICES (IN MANY AREAS). WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS? AND, WHEN DID YOU START TO SEE A SHIFT IN ATTITUDE IN CONSTRUCTION TOWARD DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION?
Earnest: Construction approaches change carefully. From thin margins and schedule pressures to cost overruns and human safety, our industry faces critical risks that can make adapting to adversity a challenge.
Though our company’s DE&I strategy was formed and implemented prior to these events, the events described above gave our business the opportunity to reinforce these initiatives and improve our efforts in creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace for all. In addition, we have seen a ripple impact that has bolstered the awareness of and participation in our other affinity groups like Connecting Women (focused on issues unique to women in our industry) and Building PRIDE (focused on issues impacting our LBGTQ+ community).
Q: TALK ABOUT BALFOUR BEATTY’S HISTORY IN ADOPTING DE&I INITIATIVES AND STRATEGIES. HOW DID YOUR DE&I INITIATIVES AND STRATEGIES GET STARTED AND HOW HAVE THEY EVOLVED? WHAT WERE SOME OF THE TAKEAWAYS FOR BALFOUR FROM ITS RECENT DIVERSITY, EQUITY AND INCLUSION SUMMIT?
Earnest: Our strategies and initiatives include recruiting, hiring and retaining individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences, along with partnering with minority- and women-owned local businesses and supporting diverse community organizations.
Our company encourages ongoing learning opportunities for teammates to have vital conversations within a safe, respectful space and providing resources for teammates to further educate themselves on diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Our company supported our diverse employees with the formation of several employee affinity groups to provide a safe space for employees’ self-definition, connection and interaction. These affinity groups add to the richness of our vibrant people-first culture by hosting crucial conversations, cultural commemorations and volunteer activities to further the company’s investment in professional development and success of our diverse teammates.
Our 2020 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Together Allies Summit consisted of Balfour Beatty teammates across the nation tuning in virtually to nearly 11 hours of DE&I dedicated conversations and programming that was open to all teammates. The summit provided meaningful peer-to-peer discussions led by our affinity groups.
The topics included learning opportunities surrounding intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality in the workplace, professional development for women in the construction industry, microaggressions, unconscious bias and much more. These topics provided a solid foundation for understanding how to be an ally to underrepresented groups not only within our organization but in our day-to-day lives.
In addition to the peer-to-peer discussions, the summit hosted highly-regarded keynote speakers included Rep. Val Demings, Florida congresswoman, and retired Vice Adm. David L. Brewer III, president and chief executive officer of The Brewer Leadership Group, LLC, and Deborah Elam, former General Electric (GE) chief of diversity and GE Foundation president. They spoke to various topics and ideas to help the business move forward, like holding leadership accountable and reverse mentoring as well as shared life and work experiences they had faced.
Q: HOW CAN A COMPANY STRENGTHEN ITS HIRING PIPELINE? WHAT PROGRAMS OR INITIATIVES SHOULD A COMPANY EMPLOY TO FOSTER A MORE INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT AND BOLSTER EMPLOYEE RETENTION?
Earnest: In support of diverse cultures and ongoing commitments to provide safe and inclusive workplaces, companies can formulate a recruitment and retention plan that outlines steps that will attract and retain top talent from diverse candidate pools and key strategies to engage and support teammates in their career development.
Balfour Beatty’s formal diversity recruitment and retention plan applies sourcing and recruiting to broaden our outreach and engagement efforts to ensure our company is recruiting talent from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), military job fairs and career conferences, job fairs hosted by industry organizations, high schools via STEM fairs/career days and strategic focused recruitment campaigns through online job boards.
Our diversity recruitment and retention plan includes strategies around development and coaching, empowering our managers to provide performance feedback and developmental coaching tailored to each employee’s diverse talents and skill sets.
Additionally, this plan encourages support and advocacy that increases promotion, retention and engagement of diverse employees through mentorship programs, interview panels for promotions to director, executive and officer positions, and affinity and resource groups integration.
Q: ARE THERE FUTURE INITIATIVES PLANNED FOR BALFOUR BEATTY TO KEEP MOVING THE NEEDLE TOWARD A MORE INCLUSIVE WORK ENVIRONMENT?
Earnest: Our work to further our diversity, equity and inclusion will be an ongoing effort at Balfour Beatty. Our DE&I strategy is committed to supporting our diverse team members and providing our workforce with an array of resources to continue vital conversations across our business. We look forward to working with our executive leadership team, our affinity groups and employees to continue an open dialogue to determine the needs of our diverse employees and together craft strategies and solutions to enhance opportunities for growth and progression.