For Florida contractor Jennifer Todd, industry commitment to construction diversity and inclusion has to be more than a press release of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Todd’s message resonated in a year when systemic racism, while not new in the industry nor elsewhere, has drawn attention and headlines and spurred new “conversations,” she says.
In pursuing her 15-year career as a construction professional, entrepreneur, role model and strong inclusion proponent, Todd has demonstrated and advocated why the industry needs to develop all the talent and leadership it can get.
“Leaders have talked about the importance of diversity and inclusion. Now is the time to show it,” she said in a 2020 ENR-published opinion that shared painful details of her work as a Black woman demolition-remediation contractor in a not-always-welcoming space.
“I’ve experienced being locked out of my own project site for ‘my safety’ and had my equipment fuel lines cut in the middle of the night,” she wrote. "Often we aren’t gifted with relationships, mentorships, or resources in the industry to help foster our businesses.,” she said. “Companies owned and led by blacks, people of color, and women are absent from well-read lists of the top construction industry firms. For firms sincere in their desire for change and inclusion, it starts at the top and must be witnessed at every level."
Peers shared her pain: “She touched on a lot things that I, and others I know, have lived through,” says Andy Morgan, a 30-year industry veteran and vice president of Precision Management Solutions Inc., an Atlanta minority-owned contractor for which Todd has worked.
The viewpoint struck a positive note in conveying her optimism that “change begins where our comfort level ends.”
Todd’s commitment inspired a strong response. “I was both impressed and saddened,” says Robert L. Nibbi, CEO of Nibbi Brothers General Contractors, a Top 400-ranked San Francisco commercial builder who, since the article, has provided Todd financial and operational mentoring. “She successfully made the argument that need for change is important and urgent.”
For Todd, actions speak as loudly as words.
As founder in 2013 and CEO of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based LMS General Contractors, her second industry start-up,Todd has completed work in 13 states, managed removal of more than 5 million sq ft of hazardous materials to date and overseen projects ranging upward of $8 million. Anticipating market needs, Todd gained a California General Engineering A license, the youngest Black woman to do so, and an Arizona State University law degree to expand her grasp of contracting.
Clients attest to a firm that delivers. “I could always depend on Jennifer and her employees to work with me on tough and complicated projects,” says Irvin Hill, U.S. General Services Administration building manager in Atlanta. “Jennifer is very hands-on.”
Todd also extends efforts to staff, recruiting and training minorities, including single mothers, high-school dropouts and ex-felons traditionally shunned. She says her firm has 77% retention and is 30% women.
The CEO now seeks state approval to start an abatement worker apprentice program, which she hopes other employers will support. “Her efforts have resulted in so many people learning and continuing in construction,” says Morgan. “Some are supervisors and managers now.”
Todd also has raised her industry outreach and profile to emphasize her message
“Because she is a millennial and she’s walking the walk not just talking the talk, she is the visionary,” says Ann McNeill, CEO of MCO Construction and founder-chair of the National Association of Black Women in Construction, in which Todd is active.
“I am really excited about what will happen ahead,” says Todd. “Construction can be a great industry. It changed my life and allowed me to change others.”