How to Create a Better Construction Industry for Black Employees

support black construction professionals better industry

Black individuals have made countless and incredible contributions to the construction industry. Still, they are drastically underrepresented in the industry. Today, Black people only comprise 6% of the U.S. construction workforce.

We all have the responsibility to create a stronger, more inclusive construction industry. But it takes more than just good intention. Companies can talk the talk, but it's due time they walk the walk when it comes to Black and person of color (POC) representation in the construction industry. 

The time has come to make diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives impactful and measurable. So, where can your firm start? We asked professionals to provide real and actionable tips for hiring, retaining, and promoting Black and POC individuals at construction firms. We’ve organized their insight by these three categories: 


tony taylor“The first and, in my opinion, most important step is to acknowledge there is a lack of diversity in your organization. The second is to make increasing diversity a company initiative. When it comes to increasing the candidate pool from which to hire Black professionals, one must post job ads with organizations focused on promoting the growth of Black professionals and Black-owned businesses such as the National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC) and National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Companies should also recruit graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and create partnerships to establish a candidate pipeline for the future.” - Dr. Anthony Taylor, President, Engineering Design Technologies Inc. (EDT)

“Increase the number of HBCU’s in their campus recruiting portfolio. Intentionally engage diverse communities on white majority campuses. Engage/participate with diverse professional associations. Require all talent acquisition professionals to have competency training on unconscious bias mitigation, hiring best practices, and cultural agility. Proactively build a diverse pipeline of candidates. Require a diverse candidate pool for key positions. Create belonging communities and leverage employee resource groups with incentives for employee referrals.  Improve the value proposition and employee experience narrative to attract diverse talent.” - Stacee Barkley, Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader, DPR, and Alison Trapp, National Talent Acquisition Lead, DPR

Cliff Cole, Director of Virtual Design and Construction at The PENTA Building Group“To improve Black representation in companies, CEO and Executive Leadership need to be invested and committed to enhancing Black/African American representation at their firms.  Change has to come from the top. Commitment from the C-Suite is the most important step!  Develop strategies and programs within your company and community that create impactful initiatives to improve Black representation. Do your research or hire an expert to help you down this journey.

HIRE: Expand your hiring and recruitment pool for qualified candidates. Partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to attend careers fairs and information sessions, provide internship opportunities and create educational empowerment opportunities such as scholarships or donations. Research the numerous associations that advocate for racial equality, such as the National Society of Black Engineers, National Association of Minority Contractors, and National Society of Minority Architects. These organizations typically have career centers or job boards, corporate scholarship opportunities, and national or local conferences with career fairs. Develop a diversity recruiting program.” - Cliff Cole, Director of Virtual Design and Construction, The PENTA Building Group

Don Hill-510_SM (1)“Here are a few strategies to recruit more Black Individuals and POC to the construction industry:

- Encourage and support company representation to sit on the Board of those industry organizations that promote diversity within the construction industry.

- Reach out to HBCUs (historically Black colleges or universities) to obtain career fair, co-op fair events to set up a booth for recruiting purposes. Set up meet and greet and information sessions at the HBCUs.

- When recruiting at a university, reach out to different organizations, such as Black Student Union, NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), NPHC (National Pan-Hellenic Council), SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers), to encourage participation at meet and greet and info sessions.” 

- Donald Hill, Project Manager, Hensel Phelps

vincent spencer“Two very impactful initiatives that companies can do this year to improve Black representation at their firms is to one, actively support and recruit from HBCUs.

Two is to get involved with schools (K-12) in areas with high demographics of POC.

Those initiatives do not imply that POC can not be found at other institutions but rather endorses the fact that HBCUs are a direct source of tremendous talent. It sends an intentional message that they are seeking out minority representation. 

These will assist in expanding educated, low to middle-class POC across the country, while inspiring the generations to come.” - Vincent J. Spencer, Architect – Associate Principal, AIA, LEED AP, CPTED-CPD, LS3P Associates Ltd.

“The idea that hiring a Black or Person of Color is more difficult than someone else is fundamentally flawed. The playbook on hiring talent is already simple; advertise where applicants are looking, go to where the talent is, and engage with the applicant. So if you want to hire qualified diverse members to your firm, meet them where they are… and HIRE them.  Students with non-construction related majors should be secondary to those with construction related majors. Yet, I’m sure each firm can attest to hiring interns for the summer who have no desire to enter the construction industry, where that opportunity could be slotted for a more diverse candidate that has dreamt of building and chose to focus their studies on that path.  That individual is your 6th round pick in the draft that will become the Hall of Famer because they are passionate and will work to hold on to that passion.  

  1. Stop hiring interns/co-ops without construction related degrees over Black and POC students. Minority students are going into debt studying engineering and building construction to be a part of the construction industry. These same students are met with “lack of experience” responses at their Senior year career fairs, following countless rejections during their Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years for the same reason they could not get an internship.  
  2. Place people of color in your recruitment team. It’s one thing to have marketing material that shows your firm's diversity, but nothing is better than face-to-face personal representation. Team members should include someone from operations, and if you can’t find one, then the writing is on the wall why you need to diversify. Include team members who have a passion for construction and are in a position in your firm to become future mentors. 
  3. Stop assuming HBCUs don’t have construction related degree programs. The ignorance of assuming accredited state funded universities would not garner the same level of education and offerings is ridiculous, but I’ve heard it more than I can count. Construction firms should look closer at these universities, and I’m sure they will find more than enough qualified talent.  
  4. 50% of future employee candidates need to be from a diverse pool.  
  5. Stop hiring Blacks for temporary labor. I’m not saying there is no need for temp labor on a construction project or that Black temporary labor is useless. Just look at where Blacks are in the field; most are in a labor pool with no upward movement. Instead of temporary, hire them as permanent assistant superintendents or field engineers. A good majority of Project Superintendents running the field operations of multi-million dollar projects started out pushing a broom, running materials, and light carpentry but were employees and not temporary labor. They were guided on a path toward future field management.
  6. Create outreach to Black organizations that are conduits to young Black talent.  INROADS, NSBE, NOMA.”

- Dwayne Sellars, Senior VDC Manager, W. M. Jordan Company


Regine Cooper“One important action item would be to create opportunities for people of color and by trying to hit a measurable diversity quota every year. Start small and every year - you gradually increase your percent of POC, veterans, & women. At the same time, there needs to be  additional support plans, training, and initiatives to support POC once you hire them. Diversity should not just exist in the masses but also in the leadership that ultimately reflects the individuals they hire. 

Also, training leaders how to be great leaders by embracing one's strength could be a perfect tool to use without directly pointing it to diversity initiatives- but instead directly empowering diversity.” - Regine Cooper, Project Engineer, Suffolk Construction

Don Hill-510_SM (1)“To retain Black Individuals and POC at your firm, focus on the following actions:

- The Black Individuals and POC that are part of their team. It’s essential to ask for their input and listen to what they have to say.

- Conduct diversity and inclusion training at your firm. Reach out to companies who specialize in this training and implement continuous company-wide mandatory training that enforces individuals to attend.” 

- Donald Hill, Project Manager, Hensel Phelps

“Retention is not the biggest issue or even the root cause of lack of diversity in the construction industry. Employees will decide to leave a job for a host of reasons, positive and negative, regardless of their demographic. However, construction firms should look at their history of who left their firm and what their reasoning was. The one Black employee that left your firm in pursuit of opportunity isn’t the issue; it’s having only one in that position in the first place.  

  1. Provide each Black leader in your firm with a Black mentee.  
  2. Blacks leave for money and opportunity just like everyone else. I know more Blacks who own their own construction firm or trade partner business than I do Blacks in leadership of white-owned construction firms. At some point, the opportunity to be great at what you love and chose as a career is limited by the opportunities you see in your career path at a firm. It’s why ownership is more appealing for the most talented and hardworking; however, everyone is not destined to be a business owner.   
  3. Hire Blacks knowing they will leave. Construction firms everyday hire non-Black candidates in the hope they will work out. These candidates may be recommended by current employees, friends/relatives, or just “fit the culture,” so a risk is taken to hire them. When they leave the company, there’s no surprise; everyone says they were not a good fit for a host of reasons, and the cycle repeats.
  4. Provide a seat at the table. Career development plans are needed for all employees and should include growth opportunities. To prevent someone from leaving your firm for the most common reason, better opportunity, you should make a better effort to set a plan in place that shows the potential for growth in your firm. If this is not being done, then shame on you for losing great talent.”

- Dwayne Sellars, Senior VDC Manager, W. M. Jordan Company

“Hold listening sessions. It is important that you engage in critical conversations across the board. These sessions should consist of open dialogue amongst your Black / African American employees and your leaders. In order for these to be productive, you must create a safe space for people to express their thoughts and feelings without repercussion. 

To increase retention, companies can implement internal mentoring programs. Have your leaders mentor the entry-level guys and teach them how to align themselves for success.” - Eli Youmans, Project Engineer, JE Dunn Construction

Cliff Cole, Director of Virtual Design and Construction at The PENTA Building Group“RETENTION: Develop a formal diversity retention program that focuses on inclusion and growth. Make executives aware of the business reasons why diversity retention programs are essential. The diversity retention program can help establish an Employee Resource Groups (ERG), formal mentorship program, and diversity training such as unconscious biases training.  Empower and support your Black employees to engage with minority associations within your community or local region. Increase engagement between supervisor and Black employees by establishing a periodical meeting to engage in conversation, being aware of any issues, and showing support for their career growth.” - Cliff Cole, Director of Virtual Design and Construction, The PENTA Building Group

tony taylor“Black employee retention and promotion are both a function of the relationship dynamic between the employee and the supervisor. Senior management must be willing to intervene where and if necessary, to ensure the company initiative is being carried out in a fair, transparent and equitable manner.” - Dr. Anthony Taylor, President, Engineering Design Technologies Inc. (EDT)


  1. “You can’t promote diverse employees that you don’t have. For the most part, promotions are earned by an employee showing that they deserve recognition for their efforts or have mastered their craft and can take on more responsibility. Firms should look deep at their roster and see if there are people of color in lower ranks that can work toward promotions. Often there is no one in the lower ranks to promote because they were never hired to fill the roster. So, as a result, the leadership stays demographically one-sided. 
  2. Place Blacks in the path toward leadership. The path must include management training, exposure to meetings where decisions are being made, “The room where it happened,” invites to extra-curricular outings to network, and assignments that challenge and have room for mistakes to be made. Generationally, to grow diversity, you have to grow leadership within a demographic and give those leaders a platform to be seen by those that come behind them. The effort to increase diversity in 2021 doesn’t mean anything unless those who are promoted see a path for a successor that looks like them. James Brown’s song “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing” sums it up for me, open up the door I’ll get it myself.  
  3. Take a risk on a Black Manager. The Black employee you have in your firm that comes to work and performs their tasks, makes money, and doesn’t ask for a promotion, is the one you should be promoting. After promoting them, make sure to provide support in their new role and don’t leave them out on a limb.” 

Key actions: 

  1. Evaluate every Region, Office, and Department within the company and establish the metric on diversity as a baseline. What percentages of each demographic make up your firm.
  2. Review future hiring needs for each Region, Office, and Department and commit to fill 50% of those with POC over the next 10 years.
  3. 50% or more of intern/Co-op for 2021 and 2022 should be Black.  
  4. Place Blacks in a Leadership path purposefully.
  5. Openly support Black industry organizations such as NOMA, NSBE, INROADS, NACME etc., financially and in programming to continue to program and mentor the next generation of Black construction leaders. 

- Dwayne Sellars, Senior VDC Manager, W. M. Jordan Company

Rotimi Seriki (1)“The most fundamental thing I find lacking when it comes to Black and POC representation in AEC is the lack of Black and POC leadership at major AEC firms. Most aspiring Black and POC looking to join the industry often find it difficult to imagine themselves reaching the highest level possible because those positions are often occupied by mostly white men. We need better representation in leadership roles in the AEC industry.

Another critical area would be that of outreach. AEC firms need to be more active in POC and Black communities through mentoring programs and community outreach. This will also create more opportunity for POC and Black people in the AEC industry.” - Rotimi Seriki, Visualization Manager, HOK

Don Hill-510_SM (1)“Promote Black Individuals and POC with the following strategies:

  • Ensure Black Individuals and POC sit on the Board of your firm and hold key leadership positions.
  • Focus on company-wide and visible recognition for Black Individuals and POC through mediums like company-wide newsletters, batter boards, etc.
  • Encourage and support Black Individuals and POC to take leadership roles in industry organizations.”

- Donald Hill, Project Manager, Hensel Phelps

Cliff Cole, Director of Virtual Design and Construction at The PENTA Building Group“PROMOTE: Publish a report (internally) on the minority representation in your company.  Develop a plan, set goals, and track metrics to increase Black employees' representation at all levels of the company. Develop leadership and career growth programs that will promote Blacks' to executive leadership and senior management positions. Improving diversity at the top of the ladder will make your company stronger and provide role models for the next generation.” - Cliff Cole, Director of Virtual Design and Construction, The PENTA Building Group

Alyssa Jaber

As Manager of Customer Marketing at Autodesk, Alyssa Jaber has been partnering with Autodesk customers in the construction space for 5+ years to build their brands and powerfully tell their stories. Alyssa is a human-first leader who supports a team of talented individuals who always put the customer experience first.