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Elevating Black Voices

An interview with team members from HITT's Black Leadership Network employee resource group

 

Members of HITT's Black Leadership Network

 

Racial injustices have defined many aspects of the past year for Americans. HITT believes we can create a brighter future by fostering a more vibrant and inclusive workplace through intentional commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). Employee resource groups like our Black Leadership Network (BLN) are a critical part of our formal DE&I plan.

We interviewed some of our BLN members who shared their perspectives and personal experiences as Black construction professionals.

Contributors:

  • Rickey McCombs, III – Assistant Project Manager, Fort Lauderdale
  • Kelsey McWilliams – Assistant Project Manager, Technology
  • Christopher Phelps – MEP Superintendent, Site Operations
  • Jacob Aboudou – Senior Associate, Virtual Construction
  • Peter Adediran – Assistant Superintendent, Atlanta
  • Emelia Boateng – Project Manager, Healthcare
  • Jason Reynolds – Superintendent, Headquarters

Black Leadership Network Team Members

Q: From your perspective, has the workforce—within the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry particularly—changed over the years for Black team members? If so, how? If not, how can we improve?

Kelsey: I’ve noticed more Black women are joining the construction industry. While this is positive, we still face prejudice that comes from being Black and female. Personally, I think our industry still has catching up to do.

Peter: I often hear “I’m proud of you brother!” or “Wow!” from subcontractors who aren’t used to seeing a Black superintendent. Construction is a unique industry because people from many different cultures and identities come together to bring a project to fruition. On any given project, languages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds converge onsite every day to get the job done. We have to leave our preconceived notions at home and continue to learn from and appreciate one another.

Jason: Today, I see a lot more people of color at HITT than when I first started. I think the company’s efforts to recruit from HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) are helping to bring in more diversity.  

Q: What are topical issues that we should be aware of today as it relates to the Black community?

Rickey: White privilege is real. Rather than being offended by that statement, take the time to research and learn about the history of systemic racism. If you see a police car when you’re driving, do you think twice? As a Black man, I experience an immediate feeling of anxiety and worry, not because I’m guilty or have done anything wrong, but because I’ve seen people who look like me murdered by police officers too frequently. This is just one example of white privilege. 

Kelsey: One of the biggest issues is the “not me” mentality. I know many people who believe because they have Black friends and co-workers, that they aren’t racist and/or don’t participate in racist behaviors. Racism is so ingrained in our daily lives that most people don’t even notice it. It is not enough to not be racist; you must be actively anti-racist. Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” 

Christopher: Some potential issues Black people encounter at work are lack of mentors, resources, training, and getting pigeonholed into doing menial tasks. Over my time in the industry, I have experienced team members not sharing their knowledge or refusing to offer me the same coaching or help that they give others who look like them. This can make you feel like an outsider and cause trust issues, which can make it harder to be successful. 

Jacob: People of color are exhausted by the presumed responsibility to explain the challenges we face and the culture of privilege that prevails in our society and the construction industry. We have to recognize the critical need for diversity in our company. It will take a collective commitment to ensure that the future leadership more accurately represents the diverse population of our country.

Q: How can someone be an ally to their Black co-workers?

Kelsey: The best way to be an ally is by speaking up when you see prejudice. Black Americans experience microaggressions every day. Racist comments are often disguised as “jokes” or as “borderline racism.” We cannot tolerate this or any other type of casual racism. Real allies will call out intolerance, directly and in the moment. 

Emelia: Acknowledge, listen, and act upon racism. Take the time and effort to gain knowledge and learn about racism. Don’t always expect Black colleagues to provide answers or insights.

Our Black Leadership Network has influenced and contributed to the development of HITT’s DE&I plan. We’re grateful to our team members for sharing their insights with us for Celebrate Diversity Month. To learn more about the employee experience at HITT, visit our Careers page. Read more about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at HITT here.


Follow along as we continue to share HITT team members' stories all month.

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