Diversity as a Competitive Advantage

February 28, 2022

Kwaku Gyabaah

My family moved from Ghana to Silver Spring, Maryland, when I was five years old. As the son of a diplomat, I understood the concept of diversity - its value and importance - at an early age. By the time I attended Howard University, with its international student body from various socioeconomic backgrounds, my understanding deepened. Engaging in discourse with people who didn’t necessarily look or think like me was always a learning opportunity that I embraced, as I realized that filtering ideas through a tapestry of perspectives can be a catalyst for good.

Advancing inclusion and diversity for our company, our industry, and our communities is a core value at Clark. As we navigate an industry in flux, we rely more on the talents of our ever-growing workforce to innovate and to respond to more complex challenges. Our I&D initiatives are an integral part of a broader agenda that aims to better serve the needs of our clients, our team members, and our neighbors.

15 Years of Strategic Partnership

I can attest to the power of authentic engagement with small and diverse subcontractors and suppliers. Clark’s Strategic Partnership Program (SPP), now in its 15th year, helps remove barriers that typically impact small,  minority, women-owned and disadvantaged businesses. My mother started an interior decorating business in our basement, and I saw first-hand the challenges that come with entrepreneurship. Through faith and sheer grit, she managed to grow her business into a thriving storefront. Considering what she accomplished without it, I can only imagine that with access to a comprehensive, industry-specific, no-cost training program she would have had an even smoother road to success.

Informed by my mother’s experiences and other entrepreneurs in my network, I embraced a leadership role in SPP to provide small business owners in the industry a solid foundation for smart, sustainable growth. When I moved to the West Coast, I introduced SPP to Southern California and, with the support of other Clark team members, helped expand the program to San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest. SPP has opened doors for over 1,000 entrepreneurs and business leaders nationwide seeking greater economic participation and growth.

Diversity Supplier Action Plan

Clark has been setting and exceeding I&D goals since long before diversity and inclusion became trending topics. I was involved in maximizing diverse small business participation early on in projects such as John Hopkins Hospital, Constitution Square, and the Walter Reed Army National Medical Center, as well as in the early stages of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. On the West Coast, where I previously served as director of purchasing and community engagement, I drove contracting strategy to bolster small businesses participation. The success of projects such as the Los Angeles Forum renovation, LA US Courthouse, and Chase Center in San Francisco is intertwined with our robust I&D initiatives.

The Chase Center project represented an unprecedented infusion of private capital into small, local, and minority-owned businesses and toward innovative workforce development programs that will have a legacy impact in the Bay Area. More than $245 million from that project went into small business enterprises (SBE) during construction. Nearly 90 SBEs, including 42 local business enterprises and 29 minority business enterprises, contributed to the construction effort.

Guided by the principle that I&D should be the rule, not the exception, Clark launched the SDBE15 Program in 2021 to achieve at least 15 percent small or disadvantaged business participation on all projects that don’t otherwise have prescribed business requirements. Clark teams continue to work collaboratively to develop in-depth bidding and procurement strategies that extend from the pursuit phase through project delivery to ensure our subcontracting goals are met.   

Corporate Diversity and Inclusion

Part of my role at Clark is to co-lead the company’s inclusion and diversity efforts. We are always looking for ways to foster engagement, growth, and opportunity for Clark’s workforce. We’ve had ongoing listening groups, formalized a well-defined roadmap, and created engagement plans.

Clark invests considerable resources to support talent from a multitude of backgrounds so that all of us can bring our best and whole selves to work. We believe an inclusive corporate culture improves the employee experience, grows our stable of experts to support our complex projects, and helps us prepare the next generation of industry and community leaders. Our diverse workforce makes our organization stronger, which in turn helps us serve our clients and communities better.  We recognize that achieving a thriving culture of inclusivity and diversity is an ongoing journey, one that fully aligns with our commitment to continuous improvement in everything that we do.  

Recognizing that an inclusive and diverse culture attracts the best people, our multidimensional approach to recruitment includes campaigns at historically Black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions, sponsoring various academic societies and clubs, expanding our presence in diverse networking events and career fairs, and supporting trade school initiatives and STEM programs at the high school level. Our longstanding relationships with the ACE Mentor Program, the National Association of Women in Construction, and Associated Schools of Construction student competitions serve a dual purpose of engaging with our community and while building a pipeline of qualified candidates diverse in gender and ethnicity.

An industry-wide initiative to build awareness, celebrate diversity and equity, and foster inclusion only makes sense. To that end, Clark became a founding member of Construction Inclusion Week when it launched in 2021. Clark joined fellow general contractors to form the “Time for Change” consortium to identify ways to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within the construction industry. We look forward to driving positive and lasting change with like-minded industry leaders.

Advocacy in the Community

Giving back to the communities where we live and work is a deeply rooted tradition at Clark, going back more than a century. We partner with local organizations to help and empower diverse entities, including underserved and underrepresented groups. During our annual Week of Service event to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Clark teams logged in 2,000 volunteer hours, supporting more than 60 organizations throughout the country. Making these positive impacts in our community further strengthens our I&D culture.

Personally, I am involved with Habitat for Humanity for Greater Los Angeles, leveraging our partnerships with our network of trade partners to build homes for the most underrepresented cultural communities in the area.

One issue we are tackling, one project at a time, is homelessness, a problem that disproportionately impacts diverse individuals. I led the Clark initiative to help them build the first temporary supportive housing in Los Angeles. Efforts are also underway to deliver a hotel conversion that will provide permanent supportive housing under the State of California and City of Los Angeles’s Project Homekey. 

I am proud to be part of a company that continues to work toward a truly diverse and inclusive workforce. This goes beyond recruiting initiatives by encompassing trade partnerships, suppliers, innovative small business programs, local hiring, mentorship efforts, and corporate philanthropy. We are taking bold steps to build a long-lasting inclusive and diverse culture. In doing so, we are truly building what matters.