The Why Behind DEI: Business Leaders in Action

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are at the forefront of workplace culture to help companies create welcoming and safe environments where employees from different social, cultural, racial, and economic backgrounds with diverse opinions, perspectives, and experiences can work together. This article discusses the perspectives of various company leaders as they work to integrate DEI initiatives into their company cultures.

The Business of DEI

In addition to being the right thing to do, DEI can help organizations financially. A 2015 study showed that diverse companies experience “2.3 times higher cash flow per employee over a three-year period.”1 And, according to the Associated General Contractors’ Diversity & Inclusion Council, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to be more profitable than the national industry average, while companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 33% more likely to be profitable.2

Companies with more diverse boards are also 43% more likely to see larger profits3 and 83% more likely to be more innovative4 and creative, leading to better results overall, happier employees, and an increase in company and employee performance. These companies are more likely to retain and recruit top talent, reduce turnover, increase employee productivity, and grow market share.5

Simeon O. Terry, Vice President of Diversity Affairs at Austin Commercial, has seen this firsthand. “When people feel included, they feel wanted, they feel needed, they feel valued — you see a total difference in body language and effort.

“When people feel included, you don’t have to ask them to come to work early. They’ll come to work early. They’ll stay late. They’ll work on the weekends. They’ll do the extra work needed, and you don’t have to beg them because they feel part of the team and feel like they matter. But when people don’t feel important or included, they’ll do just enough. When you have a resource that provides that support, you see the difference in the outcome, the output, and the productivity.”

Mel Jones, Director of Inclusion at Hoffman Construction Company, shares this view: “The work of true inclusion enhances a company’s culture. The better we know our work community, the more we know how to be mutually beneficial. This works better when we practice intentional inclusion and actively engage with our peers.”

These sentiments are mirrored by Sam Clark, CEO at Clark Construction Company, who says that, thanks to the company’s DEI initiatives, they’re listening to people who now feel like they can speak up and be heard, helping them to make better decisions. According to Clark, the company has hit growth goals that might not have happened without DEI.

At the same time, DEI efforts have helped reduce insurance risk, as insurance claims were reduced by at least half. Clark notes, “Focusing on DEI has impacted us in many different ways, but the most important way is that it created an open, inclusive environment where people can be heard.”

Development & First Steps

As with most initiatives, support for DEI must come from leadership. Clark Construction Company started with awareness training for white male leaders in the company and examined what their company culture was, what it meant to be a white man in the U.S., and how other people can have fundamentally different experiences.

Taking time to enhance their learning helped their senior leadership understand the value of DEI and see things they didn’t see before. Clark notes that he “always cared about diversity and wanted to have a more diverse company to better match the representation of our clients because it was the right thing to do. On top of that, it’s very good for business.”

DEI efforts should occur at every level of your company to foster a positive work environment that is welcoming to each employee, to help the company achieve its mission, and to allow employees to reach their full potential. As a first step, organizations should work to align their DEI strategies with the company’s goals, mission, and culture.

Willy Pegues, Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at McCownGordon, has worked to develop strategies to create an environment where everyone feels welcomed. “In order for DEI to succeed, it has to be a part of the organization’s culture and values,” explains Pegues. “People want to be a part of an organization that values individual differences as well as the things they have in common. Regardless of our differences, one of the most important messages is that DEI is for everybody.

Pegues also notes, “If your organization places DEI as a priority, that is the wrong approach, because priorities change. DEI should be a value of your organization because company values do not change.”

Next, listen to your employees; use surveys and focus groups to uncover challenges and suggestions as well as to give each employee a voice in shaping their workplace experience. Use this feedback to identify common themes and be sure to share overall insights with your leadership team.

Finally, continue to listen and learn by evaluating data. Collect and analyze your people data to assess the demographics of your organization. This reporting provides a clearer picture of where the company could be losing talent or where recruiting efforts may be needed.

Tapping Into Diverse Talent Pools

Leverage your company metrics to understand your talent pipeline and create intentional recruitment strategies. As women make up only 11% of all U.S. construction workers,6 companies like McCownGordon are focusing on promoting women in construction and people of color.

As Pegues shares, “It’s important to McCownGordon to build a diverse pipeline looking at gender and race/ethnicity for all roles in the organization from the front line to senior leadership. To attract associates from different backgrounds, it’s important they see other people who look like them throughout the organization, especially in leadership roles. Associates want to see they have an opportunity to grow in their organization.”

These largely untouched pools are a great opportunity for finding new talent. But before successful recruiting can occur, companies should take intentional actions to build a culture of inclusion and engagement among their current population so that when they do recruit, they’ll be able to retain their new employees.

For Clark Construction Company, creating an inclusive environment first and then adding diversity second has helped the word of mouth spread, and as a result, the company is seeing more diverse personnel at all levels of the organization. Laurelyn Hewitt, Vice President of Human Resources at Clark Construction, says, “That is tough to achieve in our industry, which is predominantly white males, so it’s great for us to see that.”


Now more than ever, DEI initiatives are front and center for many companies. Creating a safe, positive work environment that is welcoming to every employee can benefit the industry now and in the future.

CFMA has created resources to equip members to Listen, Learn, and Lead to help companies advance DEI within their own organizations. To learn more, visit 


  1. Bersin, Josh. “Why Diversity and Inclusion Has Become a Business Priority.” Josh Bersin Company. December 7, 2015.
  2. “The Business Case for Diversity & Inclusion in the Construction Industry.” AGC Diversity & Inclusion Council. Associated General Contractors of America. Report on Biz Case for D%26I FINAL.pdf.
  3. “Delivering through Diversity.” McKinsey & Company. January 2018. Functions/Organization/Our Insights/Delivering through diversity/Delivering-through-diversity_full-report.ashx.
  4. “Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance.” Deloitte Australia and Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. May 2013.
  5. “The Business Case for Diversity & Inclusion in the Construction Industry.” AGC Diversity & Inclusion Council. Associated General Contractors of America. Report on Biz Case for D%26I FINAL.pdf.
  6. “Employed persons by detailed industry, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2021.

Copyright © 2022 by the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA). All rights reserved. This article first appeared in May/June 2022 CFMA Building Profits magazine. 

About the Authors

Victor Sturgis

Victor L. Sturgis, CPA, CCIFP, is a Tax Senior Manager at Crowe LLP in Grand Rapids, MI.

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Rachel Hudson

Rachel Hudson works within HR as a Performance Success Manager at BKD CPAs & Advisors located in Rogers, AR.

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