How Construction Firms Can Reach Equity, Inclusion Goals

Feb 28, 2024

Reports of payment shortages and nonpayment to Black subcontractors on the Beecher Terrace redevelopment project in west Louisville are very unfortunate — and yet not surprising. Recent protests by subcontractors who have worked on the redevelopment effort brought to light the need for more engaged project management to ensure a level playing field for minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) so they not only get a chance to participate in substantial construction projects but come out whole in the process.

Beecher Terrace project manager Messer Construction Co. had good intentions and made earnest efforts to give MWBE subcontractors opportunities while striving to meet minority inclusion goals for the project. But anyone with experience working on publicly funded projects knows there is a great deal of complicated, detailed paperwork involved that must meet exacting standards of reporting before the general contractor, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors are issued their pay. So, yes, this project was a potential minefield for administrative confusion with the potential for backlogs in the payment process.

‘The glue’ leads to satisfactory outcomes

There is much work to be done in this arena to ensure minority-owned businesses have opportunities where they can meet expectations and succeed. Unfortunately, there have been way too many construction projects through the years where the efforts to achieve equity and inclusion goals have fallen short. That’s why we started The 7PM Group in 2017. Those of us who work at The 7PM Group understand the challenges involved and seek to work with project owners, general contractors and minority-owned businesses to prevent lamentable scenarios where all too often minority-owned businesses are left on the sidelines.

The 7PM Group, a minority-owned business itself, was formed with the intent of working mainly within the construction industry to serve as a connector, or “the glue” if you will, that assures satisfactory outcomes for project owners, general contractors and subcontractors. By their very nature those entities have their own ways of operating, so processes and communication often get lost in translation.

JCPS, 7PM Group succeed on diversity front

Short of giving away our secret sauce, we can attest that we apply our knowledge and experience so that construction project owners, general contractors and subcontractors all benefit. Just ask the leadership of Jefferson County Public Schools.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and John Marshall, JCPS chief equity officer, have made it clear to the general contractor community that MWBE contract goals (15% for MBEs and 10% for WBEs) at JCPS will be met. JCPS doesn’t just have goals — that is common project speak. Instead, JCPS has a commitment to reach or exceed equity and inclusion goals with data tracked to ensure that happens. Such a commitment is uncommon. Since 2019, The 7PM Group has worked with Marshall, Delquan Dorsey and others at JCPS on diversity and inclusion efforts on projects at many of the district’s 154 schools, including Ballard, Fairdale, Manual and Shawnee high schools. At Shawnee, The 7PM Group guided the diversity process that enabled JCPS to exceed its 15% minority-owned business participation goal by attaining 19% participation on that $36.4 million project.

The 7PM Group helps JCPS and general contractors find and manage MWBEs. We also provide MWBEs with support and advice they need to ensure they have proper licensing and insurance — and to make sure they get paid in a timely fashion.

JCPS and The 7PM Group were working together on equity and inclusion efforts long before events of last year sharpened the focus on the need to provide minority- owned businesses greater access to opportunities so they have an equal chance to succeed.

Varied experiences result in unique lens

Yes, the evolution of American culture on the racial equity front may have picked up speed last year, and many people now have new ways of thinking about race, gender, equity and inclusion. Belief and understanding are a great first step. The harder part comes next: application.

Because the combined business experiences of 7PM Group’s principals and staff are varied and wideranging, we can connect the dots. Our backgrounds give us a unique lens on project and process management in the business world. We have held executive and middle management positions at companies in industries including construction, engineering, technology, property management and marketing. We also have experience as entrepreneurs in those industries as well and have had the opportunity to work on numerous publicly funded efforts, one of which was the Ohio River Bridges Project.

Our work on the inclusion and diversity front with clients such as JCPS, Gray Construction Co., OneWest and The Plan Room, a recently launched resource for minority contractors, gives us a chance to ensure that minority-owned businesses get opportunities that never came their way previously.

We share the story of 7PM Group and its objective to “be the glue” among parties in the construction industry not for self-aggrandizement but to illustrate how it’s possible to ensure equity and inclusion goals are measured, managed and met. More efforts of this kind will lead our culture and our country to a realistic level playing field in business. We look forward to that day and plan to do our part to make it happen.