With revenues of $1.5 billion annually and offices from coast to coast, it would be easy to categorize Boston-based Shawmut Design and Construction as just another top 100 construction management firm.
But when you look at the company more closely, from its 100% employee-owned structure, to its 35% female workforce in an industry where just 10% of workers are women, a different picture emerges.
While not your grandfather's construction firm by any measure – the name comes from its founding near Boston's Shawmut subway station in 1982 – it's also an organization that prides itself on progressive policies toward diversity, equity and inclusion.
Just look at Shawmut achieving 100% pay equity between men and women, or its focus on increasing diversity in its workforce, which resulted in hiring 15% more women and 5% more people of color between 2019 and 2020. Promotions for women also increased by 3% during that time frame, while those for people of color rose 8%.
Here, Construction Dive talks with Marianne Monte, Shawmut's chief people and administrative officer, to talk about how the firm puts a focus on diversity while promoting from within, how it controls for unconscious bias in mentor matching and even how it makes sure hateful graffiti isn't tolerated on its jobsites.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: Shawmut has established itself as a leader in reaching 100% pay equity in the construction industry. How did you get there?
MARIANNE MONTE, SHAWMUT: The first step was really asking, "Are we paying women and men fairly for the same job, same work, same experience level and same performance?"
To operationalize that, we first had to change our pay practices, because we were giving merit adjustments on people's anniversary date, instead of on a common review date.
So we decided to do a temperature check twice a year, in March and September, to calibrate all of our talent in the same job, or same job families, and say, 'Is Jane paid as well as Joe?' for the same experience, professional time on the job and performance.
We also hired an outside law firm to look at those positions, because they don't know Jane or Joe, they just know they're in the same job family. And they came back and said you don't have many gaps, but you have some.
That led to a discussion of what's an appropriate margin of error, or difference, between two like employees. Some companies might say 30%, some companies might say 0%. For us, if Jane and Joe have a like job, like experience and like performance, we determined our range was less than 10%.
Because we had committed to looking at this twice a year in March and September, we then had the opportunity to bring Jane or Joe up over time. It doesn't have to be in one fell swoop.
But we budgeted in 2019 for enough market adjustments that we could correct those folks who were considered to be behind.
In an industry that's overwhelmingly male, 35% of Shawmut's employees are women, which is three-and-a-half times higher than the rate for construction in general. How did that happen?
In 2015, there was already a core group of women at Shawmut who really wanted more focus on women's issues in the industry, and to understand where we were as a company and industry.
What we learned is we were doing really well on the lower levels of hiring and retaining females, but once it got to a point of entering into that management rank, we were losing them.
And the answer that was always accepted before was, well, women, just like in any industry, were having babies and leaving the workforce.
But once we dug into that and interviewed past and current employees, we learned they weren't actually leaving the workforce, but they were leaving the company because they didn’t see anyone ahead of them as a model, a female that they could point to and say, "I want to be like that."
So we had good talent within already, we just needed a way to move not only women, but also people of color, up our hiring pyramid faster so we didn't lose them. We decided we needed executive sponsorship, where you have an executive in a senior leadership position sponsor several of those people at the bottom of the pyramid.
And that leader becomes their advocate, so that when we get a $400 million job, you can make sure it's populated with these talented up-and-comers who can not only grow their skill set, but grow their exposure to the most complicated, sexiest projects.
We're now on our third set of sponsors, and it has paid off in spades. We're seeing a 25% promotion rate, and those people are ready, because they've gotten exposure to executive leadership.
Shawmut has also recently started using technology to match mentors and mentees, to overcome unconscious bias in the matching process. Why?
So our mentorship program is different and separate from our executive sponsorship program, which taps specific candidates for a career track. Mentorship is really designed to give anyone new to the company a mentor to help them navigate Shawmut's internal environment.
And our philosophy around mentorship really goes back to the core of our diversity, equity and inclusion work. Part of what we train people on is that we all come to this life with preconceived notions. Even the most "woke" person in the room has his or her own unconscious biases.
And when you select your own mentor, you tend to gravitate toward someone where you say, "That person is kind of like me."
It's no surprise that this industry is chock full of white males because you live in those neighborhoods, you go to churches with people who are like you, mostly, and there's nothing wrong with that.
It just doesn't give the breadth of experience and perspective that you would want to create for better outcomes for our clients. It's not desirable to choose a mentor that's like you because you're never going to see another world view.
So the system we purchased through a company called Chronus eliminates a lot of that and focuses on what you want to learn, versus who you want to learn from. It matches people based on desires and outcomes that they want to see in their career instead.
A superintendent, for example, might get paired up with maybe an estimator because they don't know enough about how jobs are estimated.
A lot of the focus on inclusion in construction over the last 18 months has come down to eliminating hate on the jobsite. How is Shawmut doing that?
This past year, there was an incident in Los Angeles where initially there was just too much graffiti in general in the jobsite bathrooms.
So we cleaned them, we scrubbed them down. We made sure we were now monitoring. We put in cameras to know who was going in, and we had our own folks monitoring it on a very regular basis so we would know when it was happening.
Sure enough, a couple of months later, there was more graffiti, and it was much more offensive. That was a zero tolerance moment for us.
We were able to pinpoint who the individuals from the subcontractor were, and they were terminated immediately. And then there was a stand down, and the executive leader explained what had happened. And it wasn't a problem after that.