Heads of two leading construction industry firms that have built growth and solid records of diverse hiring and promotion offered key career-boosting strategies for young professionals with optimism that the industry will rebound from the pandemic.

In advising attendees of ENR’s inaugural Top Young Professionals virtual conference in building “brands” that get noticed and rewarded, Les Hiscoe, CEO of Shawmut Design and  Construction, said he sees "an incredible period of growth in the next six months."

The CEO cautioned attendees that careers are not “a straight shot,” but more "like a lattice, going up and over."

The conference continues through Feb. 26, with session agenda and registration information available here.

Hiscoe noted that in his career at Shawmut, the firm grew from $100 million in revenue to $1.5 billion currently and remains 100% employee owned. It has industry-leading diversity that includes 35% women and 15% people of color on its staff, and designation by Fortune magazine as a “best place to work” for women, millennials and parents.

The CEO advised upwardly mobile professionals to build their own brands by doing a lot of information-seeking and following through on commitments. In taking on leadership roles, he said they need to "zoom in and out" in managing others, without micromanaging. Just be sure that "what you said to do is getting done,” he advised attendees.

On a panel Hiscoe moderated, other executives shared branding success strategies.

"Brand is the perspective of another individual. It's what people experience," said panelist Danielle Feroleto, president of Small Giants, an AEC sector marketing firm.

Maisha Hagan, owner of Beauty & the Boss, a career coaching consultant for women in male-dominated industries, said "on ramps” to boost individual corporate visibility include the employee review process, client feedback and "knowing how to navigate strategically."

Kim Scott, vice president of Blach Construction, advised young professionals to "take time outside the project meeting to get to know people and put yourself out there." She suggested use of the "80-20 rule" that translates to "asking questions 80% of the time and showing your credibility" for the remaining 20%.

Hiscoe reiterated that "teach me”  can be "an incredibly powerful phrase" to gain a positive response from peers.

'Walk the Talk' At Jacobs

In sharing his view of the impact of inclusive leadership, Bob Pragada, an Indian-American engineer now serving as president and COO of Jacobs, said the industry giant with $14 billion in revenue and 55,000 employees operates with inclusivity a key factor in its growth. 

He noted the firm's push to "promote a culture of caring," with recently announced initiatives to increase use of minority and women suppliers and to invest $10 millon to support Black education. According to Pragada, half of Jacobs' 10-person executive leadership team are women.

The firm has created various "career networks" that support employees based on gender, race, sexual orientation and disability, for example, which also are open to all employees to join. Each has an “executive sponsor" in top management, Pragada said.

The executive stressed the importance of accountability, noting required inclusion and diversity goals for all Jacobs' managers  “This is a walk the talk," he said. "We've made it part of our culture day in and day out. We are far from there, but we hold ourselves accountable."

While commitment to an inclusive approach is critical to an employee evaluation, he stressed that staff members support it "because they want to."

Pragada also sees value in sharing Jacobs' inclusion strategy with clients and in “learning from them.”

He noted, however, the challenges of the firm’s approach in some global locations, which could "influence whether the firm will work there," but Pragada emphasized that where the firm does operate, "you walk into a Jacobs inclusive environment."

Said the executive: “We’re going through a cultural transformation.”