A corporate culture driven by a diverse workforce.
“What differentiates us from our competitors is our mindset about diversity and inclusion. We believe it is a strength and not a troublesome program add-on. Our diversity initiatives focus on three pillars: marketplace, minority contractor development program, and commitment to community and organizations,” says Cherelle Cortez, Senior Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at JE Dunn Construction Group, the largest privately owned general commercial contractor in the United States, and one of the most celebrated in the diversity space.
Founded in 1924, JE Dunn is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, and services an array of market sectors, including healthcare, higher education, K-12, commercial, industrial, manufacturing, mission critical and aviation. The organization has 23 offices nationwide, with supplier diversity offices and staffs in four regions. Cortez leads efforts in the east region and has been instrumental in driving the company’s strategies around diversity and inclusion in the workplace and with suppliers. She leverages her influence within JE Dunn and her relationships with construction-related minority-owned firms to support the company’s efforts to achieve its MWBE contractor goals for each project.
JE Dunn gained the attention of supplier diversity advocacy groups and other major corporations when they partnered with minority contractors to work on a major multiyear airport expansion project in Atlanta, Georgia. Not only did the company meet its MWBE spend target, it exceeded it. “What gets measured, gets done. We would not know if we are making progress if we didn’t track our work. We take diversity seriously, it applies in all aspects of our business, including our commitment to the communities in which we operate and in our pursuit of diverse trade partners to help advance our mission of Enriching Lives Through Inspired People and Places,” Cortez says.
Consistent with one of the company’s guiding principles—Doing the Right Thing—all 3,000 employees always have a responsibility to treat others with dignity and respect, and to exhibit conduct that fosters inclusion. “Part of my job as D&I lead is to ensure that every employee feels welcome, that their voice is valued, and that they can bring their authentic true self to work. We’ve tracked key performance indicators such as Best People + Right Culture to ensure we eliminate biases and promote a sense of belonging.”
JE Dunn does not simply talk about diversity, it walks the talk, partnering with regional HBCUs and trade schools that have construction programs, to recruit apprentices and interns, many of whom are hired after graduation. The company has also won many awards for its Minority Contractor Development (MCD) program, which ensures that leaders and decision-makers work closely with minorities who are accepted into the eight-month experience, where the goal is to prepare the contractors to not only work with JE Dunn, but also with other major construction companies. The focus is on how to grow small and minority businesses, build capacity, and cultivate relationships as well as educate businesses on how to be competitive in the industry and how to win. The MCD program is unique as internal decision-makers and the supplier development team work together with the graduates for a year after they complete the formal development program.
When asked why it is important for JE Dunn to be a leader in diversity, Cortez says, “Diversity is our corporate culture. We live the values and our leaders are the drivers of this work. They understand the value of ensuring we have a diverse workforce and how it impacts our success. We not only want a diverse workforce, but we are investing in a strategy to ensure that our goals of a more diverse leadership team are achieved. We are truly committed to the success of our minority contractors and diverse partners because they provide economic impact to diverse communities.”
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