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What are the challenges in improving diversity in contracting?
Joshua Randall: Broadly speaking, people who are looking for opportunities cannot point to someone who actually went to a job fair and come out the other end with a job. And so, the challenge is, how do I know this is not a waste of my time? Because I can’t look to someone at my church, someone in my community, someone just broadly and say, you know, “John went over and he got a job. Maybe there’s an opportunity for me.” I don’t know what the answer is, but certainly, when I talk to folks in the community, that’s one of the things that they say to me is, “It’s not real.”
Josh, how did you become a leader in this industry?
Joshua Randall: Tony Thompson gave me the opportunity to, No. 1, join the organization that he founded. And at that point, it was up to me to take that opportunity and run with it. And so as we talk kind of broadly about diversity — it’s about opportunity. Whether you’re talking about minority-owned businesses or women-owned businesses having the opportunity, or you’re talking about the workforce individuals having the opportunity to participate in the process. And after being given the opportunity, it’s up to that individual to perform, but it’s also up to the system to not sabotage that opportunity for them. I think, John, you mentioned the public sector projects that were stacking up and kind of keeping companies going. I’m of the opinion that the public sector cannot solve this. It’s got to be public sector and private sector. And the private sector opportunities typically come down to relationships, and some relationships that are a century long. Great grandfathers doing business with great grandfathers, and grandfathers and fathers and sons. For us, as an organization, we’ve been around for 25 years now, and it has proven tough for us to crack that because in the private sector, you have those century-long relationships.
Josh, what advice would you give?
Joshua Randall: It has to be important to the individual at the top of the organization, and it has to permeate down through the rest of the organization. We do work across the country. And there are a lot of organizations across the country that have diversity programs, and they have a diversity program manager. And, oftentimes, that diversity program manager is essentially a gatekeeper. They are there to give the appearance that that organization is sincere about diversity, but essentially they put up one hurdle after another that a diverse organization has to jump through that a majority-owned organization does not have to jump through. And so somehow that whole paradigm has to shift where those individuals have authority and influence within their organization to make that program real and to support the minority-owned companies, women-owned companies in their workforce in order to improve their hiring practices and their purchasing practices. That individual has to have some juice, for lack of a better term, to push that in their organization.
Josh, do you have the problems with your workforce that the majority contractors have?
Joshua Randall: Our organization is a bit different in as much as we are a professional organization. So we are hiring engineers; we’re hiring architects. So when we talk about diversity for us, it comes down to a sustainability issue. In order for us to be able to sustain our organization, one of the commitments that we make is mentorship in St. Louis public schools. Those young men and women need to see folks who look like them who have, number one, put in the work, taken advantage of the opportunity. And then as a result of that, have some level of success. The challenge for a lot of young people, they think, “If it came easy for you, why is it not coming easy for me? And if it doesn’t come easy for me, then the hell with it.” And so as part of this mentorship program, it is making sure that these young people know that this did not come easy. There was a lot of work, a lot of sacrifices that went into me being where I am today. And you have to be willing to put in that work.
From each of your perspectives, what do the next three to five years look like in terms of resources and the collaboration that’s needed?
Joshua Randall: The reality is, small businesses, large businesses, minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, we all need the same thing and that’s more business. And so when we talk about encouraging companies to move to St. Louis, I’m of the opinion that that’s pushing a rock up a hill. What we need to do is focus on taking advantage of the quality organizations that we have in St. Louis, putting them to use. It just frustrates me so much when we look to the coasts for expertise as opposed to looking in our backyard at the expertise that we have here and using that as a platform to spring forward the St. Louis region.
St. Louis Business Journal ©February 2016