We believe in fostering relationships with our community and recognize the challenges faced by diverse communities and vulnerable populations. Our efforts are not about compliance, they are about creating a culture where all people can thrive.
A diverse subcontractor group or diverse workforce cannot be successful unless they feel emotionally safe and supported on each project. Centering equity in your company, as well as throughout the design and construction process is a great start towards an inclusive jobsite culture.
Pursuing equity is our culture
Our company’s leaders are committed to maintaining diversity with our internal staff, project teams, and the broader A/E/C industry. We have been intentional in selecting skilled candidates who have been underrepresented in categories of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability. We also believe that leading by example and setting the right tone from senior management directly affects project outcomes.
- Over 48% of our supervisors are women and all of our management is committed to mentoring and promoting diversity throughout.
- Currently, our self-performed subsidiary RDF Builders is 58% BIPOC (men and women), which is exceptionally high in a white male-dominated industry.
- We further turned the equity lens on ourselves by performing a thorough and extensive internal review on all policies, communications, and community engagement. These efforts resulted in opportunities for improvement but also areas of success. We intend to continue our efforts of evaluation and review.
WALSH’s dedication to workforce diversity and inclusion of BIPOC-owned firms is rooted in our history of building a vibrant, inclusive community. Led by Community Outreach Director, Afton Walsh, our community outreach program is an integral part of our business model. Always taking an empathetic approach, Afton is diligent with outreach and team coordination. Her MBA and over 12 years of construction experience gives her a thorough understanding of the construction process and a finely tuned ability to promote and convey the available subcontracting and workforce opportunities.
We are fully invested in equity contracting and have successfully completed numerous projects with subcontractor and equity goals—even exceeding them by multiple percentages. To keep up with the evolution of equity contracting, lessons learned are shared among project teams and implemented into subsequent endeavors. We also participate in educating and training opportunities with trade organizations and firms, volunteering our time and services for the greater good. Our proven practices and approaches allow us to outperform others not only with utilization, but more importantly with developing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with historically disadvantaged firms.
Camp ELSO, a community-based nonprofit focused on underrepresented communities, created a workforce development project called EmpowerHER. WALSH partnered with EmpowerHER, engaging in a collaborative effort to help high school students envision, design, and construct a parklet and planter bed at Alberta Abbey in Northeast Portland. Designed specifically for female and femme, transgender and nonbinary BIPOC students, the workshop taught basic carpentry and building skills culminating in the successful construction of 18 raised juniper beds along with a 40-foot-long parklet. The Alberta Abbey workshop resulted from collaboration with ‘Your Street Your Voice’, another workforce development program, at our Dekum Court project with Home Forward.
How we do it
WALSH’s community participation plans focus on three major areas: Contracting, Hiring, and Apprenticeship. Each area of emphasis requires a unique plan to provide the opportunities to those who need them most. Our focus in this article is to cover the contracting portion of our plan.
The best way to exceed participation goals is to develop a contracting plan early and revisit it regularly. Today’s construction market is extremely busy; active and up-front solicitation of qualified firms will pay great dividends in a project’s success alongside our trade partners’ success.
Some proven practices and approaches that allow us to outperform in successful recruitment include:
- Commitment from WALSH leadership to meet all MWESB/WMBE and equity goals.
- Establishing goals and tracking progress.
- Holding pre-bid outreach meetings to allow ample time for firms to respond within the bid period.
- Analyzing work scopes to match opportunities with trade firms’ expertise.
- Using our bidders list and soliciting input from various groups/individuals for additional resources.
- Encouraging and incentivizing larger firms to utilize BIPOC-owned firms as second-tier subcontractors and suppliers.
- Conducting an exhaustive process of outreach to target businesses and the community.
- Encouraging prospective bidders to schedule one-on-one meetings with our team to review the project scope and requirements to gain a full understanding.
- Providing feedback to both successful and unsuccessful bidders and answering any post-bid questions.
- Providing technical assistance in a variety of management responsibilities, including billing, accounting, and business development, both on request and as needed. These are often one-on-one sessions providing in-depth instruction with either Afton or a member of the project team.
The RISE Up Respectful Workplace program is currently being implementing and utilized throughout our entire company, including training over 450 of our people. Our in-house training director, Martin Houston, is working with Oregon Tradeswomen and RISE Up on a customizable, best-practice program designed to reduce and eliminate incidents that jeopardize employee safety and productivity due to inappropriate behavior.
Bid Package Development
Our approach to bid package development is to make it as simple, flexible, and adaptable as possible for MWESB/WMBE firms. It is important to match the bid packages to the capacity in the market. We do this by:
- Tracking and researching all available MWESB/WMBE-certified subcontractors and reaching out to them to gauge interest.
- Producing clear bid forms and thoroughly communicating project requirements.
- Developing packages based on market capacity.
- Documenting packages and ensuring clarity for the BIPOC community.
- Providing technical assistance and clarity on bonding, insurance, etc. to ensure they understand monthly draws, retention, and schedule that can be incorporated into their bids.
Our bid forms request commitments in hiring women and minorities, which are prioritized in the bid scoring and evaluation process. Through our efforts to provide growth opportunities for all, we have successfully facilitated the hiring and training of many minorities and women.
“WALSH has not only partnered with us as a subcontractor consistently since 2004, but they also mentored us as a general contractor. They have set the bar to the highest standard when it comes to mentoring small ESB, DBE and WBE firms.” – James Faison, Faison Construction
After the bid package is defined, we will then take a tailored approach to each trade category–getting personally involved in the categories with less saturation. This is where we engage our well-developed bid database and trusted community relationships with regional associations such as NAMC, OMWBE, OAME, Northwest Mountain MSDC, LatinoBuilt, and Professional Business Development Group (PBDG). Of equal importance is the placement of bid opportunity advertisements in culturally specific publications and bid resources.
Upon selection, we continue the relationship through collaboration, communication, and mentorship. Our vested interest in supporting minority subcontractors is achieved through pre-apprenticeship, workforce training, and education efforts—all of which offer these firms the opportunities they need.
In 2000, we joined forces with O’Neill Electric Group and created O’Neill/WALSH Community Builders (OWCB). OWCB builds on both companies’ strengths, provides opportunities for us to offer expanded services to new and existing clients, and enables O’Neill to learn about processes and programs necessary to succeed on larger scale projects. Co-existing with their parent companies, OWCB has successfully completed many projects with more in the pipeline. Pictured: OWCB’s Ali O’Neill and Maurice Rahming tour the future home of Louisa Flowers with project manager, Meghan Herteg.
More than just the numbers
While it is important to us to promote inclusion of MWESB/MWBE subcontractors on our projects, it is more important to us to see those firms succeed. To ensure the greatest outreach success, hiring and contracting goals must be viewed as critical measures by the entire project team. We are committed to meaningful participation and work hard to ensure each firm completes the work awarded to them; this is in an effort to help them reap the benefits, knowledge and experience that will grow their business.
Success comes from both a corporate commitment and a personal commitment to our role as mentors and coaches to individuals seeking to gain experience in the industry. Our commitment to diversity in construction—and to mentoring minority and women workers—began long before there were requirements. Not every project will require community participation plans, yet we review and expend the effort to include them at every opportunity, nonetheless. In many cases our mentoring efforts with individuals have lasted over numerous projects, adapting as needs change. As a result, WALSH has consistently high participation of minority and women-owned businesses who complete, on average, 26 percent of the subcontracted work on our publicly funded projects in Oregon and an average of 24% in Washington–far exceeding the 14-20% that’s standardly required.
To us, workforce diversity means more than just the numbers; it’s about creating access to meaningful and well-paying careers in the construction industry. Our teams hold this passion and have seen firsthand how intentional planning and support during the project leads to growth, development, and long-term benefit for all.