have to be mindful of flexibility and patience. Fortunately, my industry experience has landed us opportunities that I never would have imagined so early, and that is a blessing. If I had to speak on strategy, I would say focus on what is feasible and pursue it vigorously. Be patient with the process and plan accordingly for the long lead items like contract, NTP, and payment schedule. While pursuing projects, have the confidence to know that you are qualified to do the job and that you have hired the most qualified people to handle all opportunities that come your way. Pay attention to industry trends. And last but not least, pray. It takes a whole lot of faith to maintain in this industry and that sometimes is all you need to get through the day. TZL: There have been diversity initiatives and panel conversations and committees to “end racism” for a long while, yet the AEC industry continues to prove time and time again that we have not made progress at reflecting the clients and communities we serve. How do we get there? What shake-ups do we need? LSB: I agree, the AEC community needs to do more. I have seen more emails of companies “committing to make a change,” but if there is nothing put in place to make sure those changes happen, then all of this was just another exercise that took up space in 2020. I am not sure how we get there, but I do know this is a start. I think finding ways to incorporate more voices of color into the industry will help. But the real work comes down to the leadership and how they plan to work on making a difference. The “good ol boy” system should be a thing of the past. I would love to see some of the larger companies working side by side with their minority partners to find out what they feel will help change the climate and commit to make those changes together. No one wants to have the conversations but that is the only way things will move in a direction of change. TZL: How have your firm’s certifications – including DBE, WBE, SBE, and MBE – impacted your firm’s growth and your brand? What advice would you offer to companies out there that serve in a prime role and work with firms that hold certifications? LSB: The quick answer is yes, my certifications are what impacts my growth. I hesitate to say that though because I don’t like to define my company as a “Small,” “Minority,” “Woman” owned business. I define it as a capable business, a qualified business, a business that is responsive and proactive. A business that has career, certified, educated staff that all have worked their butts off for 15-30 years (respectfully) and are considered subject matter experts in their field…who just happen to be black, brown, and/or female. More often than not, SMWBE firms are looked at as a necessary evil in this industry because of goal setting and disparity studies, which is unfortunate and the furthest thing from the truth. The truth and success lies in those teaming relationships that offer growth on both sides of the fence. The prime firms out there that look at their SMWBE partners as “subs” and not as partners will always find themselves more frustrated with the process because they are not looking at the value that uplifting such firms and treating them as an important part of the process brings. For instance, one of the first things addressed
during the pandemic was the impact it made on small businesses. That rang volumes because it shows how much small businesses impact the economy. By offering a small business an opportunity, you are not offering a favor. You are simply doing your part to enhance the industry which benefits us all in the long run. TZL: Many white people that I know see the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as horrifying events based on a “few bad apples” on the police force. What would you like to share – if anything – related to these current events? LSB: I have had many of my white colleagues in the AEC industry reach out to me because they are confused about what is happening or they just want to educate themselves on what is going on. I answer, give them my experiences with the police force and even my family’s experiences. The only thing I would like to share at this point is that if you feel like an entire movement happened based on a “few bad apples” then you have lived under a rock long enough and it’s time to come from underneath it. Inequality and racism are both very touchy and uncomfortable subjects. Many people shy away from things that make them uncomfortable because they don’t like to believe it is possible. But when you look into the eyes of your “black friend” and they tell you a story about something that happened to them personally, and you are not outraged, then you are a large part of the problem. Equality is a humanity issue. Being treated like a human being is all my community is fighting for. Imagine fighting just to be treated like a human being? Imagine sparking debate over the word “matter”? It’s tough, I know, but it is reality. Humanity is a reality. If only the individuals that came up with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter thought of saying #blacklivesmatterAsWell or #blacklivesmatterToo, then what would be the debate? It’s unfortunate that now everyone has to have an uncomfortable conversation with their children. The question is, what side of that conversation were you on when you explained it to them? TZL: Do you think firms with certifications (MBE/DBW/ WBE/HUB) are respected as equal to their peers without these certifications? LSB: No, I do not. I have had, and do have, meaningful teaming relationships with firms that “get it,” remember where they started out, and treat you like a partner and a valuable part of the team. This is the firm I target to work with. Then you have the other firms that treat you like a number and could care less how insulting it is when you are offered 1 percent of something simply because you fill a quota. When you lead with that mindset working for that type of firm your entire career, you tend to lose sight of the fact that you are actually working with a human being and not a number. Especially when you choose to work with a company because you are trying to appeal to an owner who has a diverse conglomerate of decision makers. I have been asked to “bring the black vote” because I’m black or “appeal to the woman in charge of the contract” because I am female. Where is the respect in that? Unfortunately, MBE/ DBE/WBE/HUB firms have had to grin and bear it because they have mouths to feed, employees to support, and a business to maintain. See AUTHENTICITY, page 8
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NE 22, 2020, ISSUE 1350
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