Growing up in a single parent household in an economically challenged community in New Jersey, life was not easy. I had very few role models as a young man, but I still always had a passion and vision for myself, and I aspired to do great things with my life.
I was one of only a handful of Black students in an accelerated program at my high school, which often left me feeling like an outsider. But I made friends with the mostly white students and their parents, who were doctors, engineers and PhDs. The experience exposed me to a world very different from the one from which I came, and I was inspired to overcome my upbringing and build a career that felt important and meaningful.
I applied for and won a full college scholarship to the School of Engineering at Rutgers University. But, in exchange for my scholarship, I was required to attend a bridge program. I realized later that because I was black, despite my excellent academic record, unlike white students, I had to prove that I was able to complete the program before receiving my scholarship funds. I got the message that the university did not expect me to succeed. But I accepted the challenge, did very well in the program, eventually changed my major, and after five years graduated with my degree in engineering.
While thrilled to start my career as an engineer at Bechtel, I quickly noticed a familiar pattern. Despite my credentials, with every new supervisor or project I sensed a lack of trust in my abilities. I was continuously asked to prove myself in a way that my white colleagues were not. That treatment inspired me to start working with students of color from my Alma Mater and other universities to help attract more diverse talent to Bechtel. I recruited several highly skilled, talented diverse people into jobs in engineering, project controls, and construction, giving them encouragement and sharing some of what I learned about navigating the environment as a person of color.
I knew that the only way I could change the belief that diverse professionals were somehow less qualified than their white colleagues would be to help increase people’s exposure to diverse and capable talent. I wanted to make it easier for other professionals from underrepresented groups to enter the workforce and immediately be viewed as qualified and capable as their white colleagues.
In 2018, I became Global Manager of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) to help lead the company’s effort to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive work culture. But our progress was slow, and I was often frustrated at the rate of change. Then, in 2020, came the death of George Floyd and the subsequent social and civil unrest, which seemed to refocus the world on the inequities that people of color face in society. It also revealed to Bechtel leadership that we had work to do address the issues faced by our underrepresented colleagues and advance fairness and equity in our own house.
This past June, I was proud to be elevated to Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer reporting into our President and COO Craig Albert, my team was expanded, and D&I now has a seat at the table and is considered critical to our continued success as an organization. Across the organization, we are working to ensure that all employees feel valued, respected, welcomed, and treated fairly. We are changing the way we recruit and hire, for example, requiring diverse candidate interview panels to minimize bias in decision making. We continue to invest in training designed to increase awareness and understanding for all employees about our individual and collective roles in fostering a fair and inclusive culture. We are revising our succession planning to ensure a more diverse pipeline of talent. We are expanding our mentoring program to be sure it addresses the needs of our underrepresented colleagues. We are launching a Diversity Advisory Board made up of both Bechtel colleagues and external professionals to help bring additional insights and ideas to support our D&I actions plan, and more.
The world’s demographics are changing. To continue serving our customers as the premiere engineering and construction firm we must continue developing a workforce of talented professionals who can bring new and innovative ideas and perspectives to the challenges the world faces and reflect the makeup of society and the communities where we live and work. Employees today are looking for “representation,” to see themselves in organizations, in the leadership, in the board room, and in the philanthropic endeavors. They also want to see a diverse workforce that includes people of all kinds, because, they know, like I learned in high school, that we can learn from people who are not like us and as a result, become better.
Last year, my wife and I attended our daughter’s medical school orientation. The dean offered a unique message, one very different from those my generation heard on our first day of college. In my day, the common speech was to “look left, look right, only one of you will be here in four years to graduate.“ Instead, his message was “look left, look right, these are the people you need to help and support you so you can all make it to graduation.” I thought this was an incredible message and really resonated with our work here at Bechtel in creating a fair and inclusive culture. D&I is an essential element of Bechtel’s long-term future and we are committed to working together to advance a fairer workplace culture that addresses the needs and concerns of our employees, customers, and the communities where we live and work.