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We Built Trust into Everything We Did

by | Apr 7, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

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At the heart of advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives lies a fundamental truth: trust is a non-negotiable. This client spotlight tells the story of the impactful collaboration between our culture change firm Construct the Present and Acme Construction Supply.

From the outset, this partnership has been characterized by an investment in creating an inclusive workplace and a commitment to driving equitable change. The sustained support by leadership demonstrated the commitment to justice over the fear of discomfort.

This blog highlights the profound impact that a long-term DEI commitment, coupled with visionary leadership, can have on organizational culture, employee engagement, and overall success. 

Join us in exploring the tangible outcomes of a four-year DEI partnership—a commitment that goes beyond checking checkboxes.

How We Got Here 

The brutal murder of George Floyd in 2020 triggered a shift in societal consciousness, prompting companies worldwide to reassess their values, policies, and commitments to social justice. CTP often refers to this as The Great White Awakening. 

Floyd’s murder not only ignited a global outcry against racial injustice but also served as a catalyst for organizations to confront systemic issues within their own structures.  Many companies responded by acknowledging the need for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within their ranks. 

2020 was also the year that Construct the Present (CTP) was transforming from a solo project by Alexis Braly James, into a company that would grow to serve thousands of people through for-profits, nonprofits, and government agencies. Acme Construction Supply was one of the clients that influenced the vision of CTP’s impact.

Following the murder of George Floyd, President of Acme, Jordan Bader, felt the responsibility as a leader to take action. Struck by the urgency to contribute to this transformation, Bader decided to invest in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives within Acme. Bader’s commitment is not just a reaction to a moment in time, but a values-driven move towards creating lasting organizational change and contributing to the broader societal shift towards justice.

“During the pandemic we had time to reflect. Our business was in a different place than it had been in a long time. It felt like certain things were highlighted at the time… Things that were happening were super visible. I always had an interest in trying to change the landscape of Acme… In 2020, the murder of George Floyd and all the racial tension became super visible. Given that I had a lot of time to reflect, I thought, now is the time to focus on what we do as a company.”

President and E-team, Jordan Bader

Who is Acme Construction Supply? 

Acme is a West Coast commercial and industrial construction supply distributor, they serve significant metropolitan markets, including Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Their focus lies in facilitating the efficient transportation of manufactured products to job sites, ensuring a seamless logistical process.

What sets them apart is their dedication to employing and training industry experts, establishing a distinctive position in the market. Their commitment to innovation and high-trust relationships with customers reflects their mission to help clients achieve their goals in the construction and industrial sectors.

Their mission is, “To build trust in everything we do. Trust isn’t just about being there when our customers need us. Deeper, more instinctual trust comes from knowing we are there for them even when they don’t need us. It grows from thinking about our customers’ challenges and taking care of things they haven’t thought of without ever being asked.”

Their values are

  •  1. We run our organization from bottom-up not top-down
  • 2. We move in a way that’s proactive, not reactive
  • 3. We seek partnership over customer service
  • 4. We prioritize innovation over maintenance
  • 5. We value curiosity over perfection

“We are very selective about who we bring into our culture. You know Acme pretty well by now, if we brought in a company that was super stuffy, and did not have that social awareness of our team, it wouldn’t have worked. People did not feel judged for the opinions they brought in.”

-Project Team, Vice President of Human Resources Maghen White

Constructing the Path Forward 

Our contract with Acme began in 2020 kicking off with an Internal Equity Assessment.  This is where trust of CTP and the process was first established. 

Starting a DEI contract with an internal equity assessment is key for organizations’ commitment to planning for a truly inclusive and equitable workplace. This process serves as a diagnostic tool, providing an understanding of the existing DEI landscape within the company. By identifying disparities in representation, opportunities, and experiences, the assessment forms the basis for targeted and informed decision-making. 

Through this process, CTP engaged stakeholders in conversations, collected information on inclusion and belonging, reviewed foundational documents, and created a data-driven report that would outline the following year of intentional work.

The outcomes of the assessment resulted in the following work plan: 

  • Monthly leadership training 
  • Monthly HR support
  • Foundational All staff training 
  • E-Team Development 
  • 1-on-1 President Coaching
  • Monthly Project Team Meetings 

Acme gave CTP the trust and confidence to develop a plan and hit the ground running, and we did. 

Our team began implementing strategies and seeing immediate results. 

The success of any DEI initiative is dependent on the buy-in of the leadership team. While the President of the company was driving this change, there was still apprehension about the term “DEI.”  It was reasonable that leaders who had been with the company for a significant part of their careers might be concerned about how these changes would affect them. 

The transformation we witnessed within months of the partnership was notable. Older white men with traditional corporate values were diving into vulnerable conversations with us in ways they are not stereotypically known for. We were breaking barriers strategically through trauma-informed, compassionate, yet challenging adult learning theory practices.

“You have to have heart to make real change. If you get the right people involved you can make real change. But you have to be open to do some soul work and be open minded to change.”

Project Team Member and Vice President of HR Maghen White

There was no lack of heart on the Executive team. Our team confirmed what we knew: people want to connect.  They don’t want to unintentionally cause harm to others. Through trust, we were able to break through quickly to the conversations that needed to be had for change to happen. We helped sharpen the skills that these leaders already had. 

“Probably the most important thing is that leadership has to dedicate a lot of their own personal time to see it through. That is not exclusive to DEI but it’s all change management.”

President and E-team Member, Jordan Bader

Following the Executive Team’s training, the regional managers followed a similar curriculum to continue education organization-wide. 

While leadership dedication and transformation hold significance, our enthusiasm lies in supporting the individuals impacted by these leadership decisions.

Equity Team

Our team was inspired by the outcome of the Equity Team, marking it as our most gratifying collaboration throughout this project. We observed a transformation within the team—from individuals eager to learn to proficient leaders who navigated the project with expertise and skill.

The Equity team is a group of staff members who are committed to implementing DEI strategies throughout the organization. President Jordan Bader, and VP of Human Resources Maghen White, would serve on the E-Team as a symbol of commitment. 

Our team guided the Project Team in recruiting interested team members to join the E-team. For 6-months, CTP designed and led the monthly 90-minute meetings with varying DEI learning and activities. We then co-created the content with the Project Team, preparing the project handoff of the E-Team to an internal team. 

In year 2, Maghen White, VP of HR, Project Team Member, and inaugural E-Team Chair took the reins. Her creativity and initiative led the E-Team into their impactful sophomore year.  Another member of the leadership team also joined with an effort to transition terms through all members of leadership. The impact the work made on Maghen was a welcomed surprise. 

“Being involved in this project forced me to walk the walk. I was vulnerable with you all about how uncomfortable I felt taking on the Chair role of the E-team. I felt imposter syndrome. Taking that on and trying to keep the content fresh was a proud moment.”

Project Team Member and Vice President of HR Maghen White

The continued E-Team has flourished into thought leaders who confront white supremacy, unpack bias, and represent Acme’s commitment to justice. Each year membership applications open and there is renewed interest from existing members as well as new members.

The E-Team is a powerful committee that upholds leadership positioning at Acme. Not only do they have a direct impact on the decisions made for the organization, but members who join the E-Team have a direct line and relationship to members of the leadership team. We witnessed warehouse workers who would not traditionally have access to those with power, develop a meaningful relationship, showcasing their leadership potential and promoting within the organization.

“I’ve been on the E-team since day 1, when Faaborg (Executive Team Member) joined, he said, ‘I had no idea that some people stay at Acme because the E-Team exists.’ The E-team is super important and it is so refreshing to do something that is so people centric. I made relationships with people I would have never met. I am excited to see how the dynamics change with new members this year. It is like a vortex. Once you are in it, you are in it. You can’t help but to dive in.”

Project Team Member and Vice President of HR Maghen White

All Staff Training 

Foundational training for staff was a part of Acme’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work plan. CTP and Acme rolled out a year-long plan for mandatory DEI 101 training.  

DEI 101 ensured that staff understood the connection of their work to the mission and vision of DEI at Acme. The course set staff up with foundational definitions while asking them to explore how their own identities showed up at work. DEI 102 followed with a focus on microaggressions and interrupting bias. Participants uncovered how microaggressions showed up in their own life and practiced how to interrupt them. 

Our partnership extended past the prescription that came from the internal audit. It was rooted in relationship building and collaboration. Through understanding Acme, we faced challenges that we would have to unpack together. 

Challenges and Solutions
Like any new initiative, there were a few bumps in the road. Our teams worked together to discuss and understand the root problems to the challenges we faced.

Challenge: Logistics. Logistically, we faced one major challenge. Acme has staff that works in warehouses, delivery drivers, and late night shifts. This is a common problem faced when trying to train across the organization.

Solution: Leadership and the Project Team approached DEI training as if it was equally as important and mandatory as a Safety training or a Sexual Harassment training. It was regarded as a necessary comprehension of the job. We adjusted the times we were available and Project Team member Kendra Moritz worked hard to schedule and ensure each and every team member at Acme was signed up and attended training. Kendra spent time making direct calls to managers and staff to remind them of the importance of training. By the end of 2023, the majority of staff had completed both training sessions.

Challenge: Bridging the gap for rural and urban staff.  We faced the challenge of reaching people at every demographic including physical location and cultures.
Solution: This challenge was not new to the CTP team. In Oregon, it is one of our most common challenges. By creating content that aims to reach every single person where they are at, we invite every person in. This is not to say we don’t address historical context, but instead, we welcome all voices and learn from each other. We also use examples in our educational content to highlight some of the challenges rural staff or urban staff may face. 

“I loved the way you all approached your training. It wasn’t about making one side feel like they did something wrong. Since the beginning we focused on education and that broke down a lot of barriers.”

-President and E-Team Member Jordan Bader

A notable moment for our team member: 

As DEI facilitators, we frequently engage in discussions about bias. While we strive to be experts in recognizing and addressing bias, we are also human. When Acme opened its Idaho location, our facilitator Liana Avendano (they/them), a Latine nonbinary young femme, initially worried that their identity would elicit potential pushback. However, their perspective shifted when a participant from Idaho openly shared experiences of microaggressions faced after moving from the South to the West Coast. This openness not only encouraged others to share but also provided a valuable learning experience for Liana, who had concerns about their reception.

Challenge: Securing organizational buy-in for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) There were many factors that affected buy-in to this process. Examples like: 

  • Staff Time and Capacity 
  • Personal beliefs
  • Prioritization 
  • Political Landscape 
  • And more. 

Solution: Having leadership support was crucial to securing buy-in. Members of the Executive Team engaged their teams by having direct conversations with managers and supervisors, having 1-on-1s with apprehensive staff, and being champions for the impact and outcomes of the work. The E-Team collaborated with the marketing team to create materials that would be displayed at each branch. The E-team not only served as ambassadors to the work but planned celebrations of a diverse representation of the staff with lunches, events, and more. The most important piece to the puzzle was including voices from every level, region, and demographic to have a hand in designing the DEI strategy.

There were countless wins our teams celebrated throughout this project. Watching the evolution of an organization was inspiring. 

Measuring Inclusion 

Notable areas of impact to Acme spread across the organization. Here are a few: 

  • 20% increase in acknowledgment that  bias exists from the 2020 survey to 2022
  • 4% increase in agreement that people from all backgrounds have equal opportunity to succeed at Acme  from 2020 survey to 2022
  • 4% increase in agreement that Acme has a positive reputation in the community  from 2020 survey to 2022
  • 10% increase in agreement that supervisors give frequent and positive constructive feedback  from 2020 survey to 2022
  • 12% increase in agreement that staff perspectives  are included in decision-making from 2020 survey to 2022
  • In 2023, the Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, Hillsboro, OR, San Francisco, CA, Sacramento,  CA, Mesa, AZ, Glendale, AZ, Hermiston, OR, branches were all at percentages higher than area demographics for Black, Indigenous, or people of color. 

“Sometimes you have employees that don’t feel comfortable sharing their experience with HR, management, or the Executive Team…so the more people you have involved in your DEI program, the more comfortability and understanding you bring to the process.”  

-Project Team and E-Team member Kendra Moritz

Because Acme conducted systemic Equity Audits 2 years apart, it was possible to observe how Acme was quantitatively increasing diversity and inclusion at the organization. 

Connecting for a Shared Goal

As noted above, trust was the foundation of this project. What drove the work was the ease with which our teams worked together. Acme led us in their expertise of the company, and we led with our expertise of DEI. Here are a few examples of what team collaboration looked like: 

  • Quality Time: CTP frequently worked from Acme headquarters. This allowed us to build relationships onsite with staff. Outside of project meetings, we gathered for lunch and shared moments connecting beyond work.
  • Monthly Meetings: Our team met a minimum of once a month. This way we always had time to check in, clarify, and set the next steps.  Reserving time on the calendar at the beginning of the year was key to securing the time that allowed our work to flow seamlessly. 
  • 1-on-1’s: CTP made it a goal to host 1-on-1’s with the Executive Team, Project Team members, E-team members, or staff whenever necessary. By being available for the staff, we were able to stay connected through challenges or celebrations. 

Looking Forward

It is always our intention to prepare our clients to continue the work of DEI without us. While we love long-term partnerships, our job is to provide resources, training, and a plan for embedded DEI. As we watch on from a distance, we are proud to note that Acme has: 

  • A fully autonomous and functional Equity Team
  • High levels of trust on their team 
  • A continued plan for DEI training 
  • A focus on improving and highlighting the experience of women in construction 
  • A commitment to consciousness-raising and knowledge around topics like LGBTQIA+, accessibility, and gender bias
  • A leader who is committed to making an impact in his community by serving on a non-profit board for youth of color
  • An overall commitment to embedding DEI in everything they do

“ I had to understand that I am not an expert in this. Just because I have passion around equity, I am not the end all be all, I am not that voice of that. It forced me to learn a lot more. I came from my passions around gender equality, and BIPOC equality and what I learned in the process is it is such a bigger issue than that. There is able body-ness, mental health, discrimination on neurodivergent brains. I had to learn about my own bias first.” 

-President and E-Team Member, Jordan Bader

Our Takeaway 

A successful relationship between a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm and a private company,  hinges on several key factors: resource commitment, trust building, time investment, and leadership buy-in. While the pursuit of equity and inclusion may seem daunting, this partnership is an example of the path toward the justice marginalized communities rightfully deserve.

With strategies tried and true and our newfound knowledge, we are committed to move through future partnerships with the same dedication and joy. Our gratitude for Acme Construction Supply extends beyond words but lives on through action. 

Call to Action

Here’s what we know: Lasting change happens through collaboration. Everyone is capable of learning and growth. An inclusive environment is the catalyst. Contact us to start on your path forward.

“Just a little plug for CTP, you really approached us, the executive team and our team, that most people walking into this worried that would say the wrong thing and get in trouble. You did an awesome job disarming that fear. It was ok to make mistakes and we are here to learn. I just greatly appreciate that, because I don’t think people would be as open to learning if they were constantly afraid of being in trouble.” 

President and E-Team, Jordan Bader

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