Industry experts, hosted by NGA Operations Manager Alicia Hamilton, explored diversity, inclusion and what it means for business, in the keynote panel “Building Better Business through DEIB.” Presented on the GlassBuild Main Stage, the panel welcomed Ann McNeill, chair and founder of the National Association of Black Women in Construction and president and CEO of M.C.O. Construction and Services Inc.; and Kelsi Queen-Robinson, CEO of Ebony Glass & Mirror, an Atlanta-based contract glazier.
Watch a a quick recap
“DEIB” is an acronym for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Research shows that “diverse business teams deliver better results and make better decisions,” explained Hamilton at the top of the panel. McNeill put her own spin on the concept: “For me, the ‘B,’ means Belonging in Business.”
The conversation looked at what that belonging can look like for employees, and what companies can do to create a welcoming environment.
Here are a few takeaways from the panel.
Understand the color barrier in business and organizations
McNeill said that during her time at National Association of Women in Construction, she didn’t see Black people well represented. “In most national organizations, people that look like me are doing everything behind the scenes, making things happen for everyone else.”
Queen-Robinson spoke about the difficulty her father faced when he first founded Ebony Glass & Mirror. “No one would sell to him,” she said, and as a result he had to find suppliers outside of Atlanta. “He couldn’t just get a loan, or go to a friend,” to start his business, but instead had to “build his credit” over the years, she said.
While the company now has hundreds of suppliers, Queen-Robinson said it’s important to understand the unique challenges that Black business owners face.
Pick a lane, and become an expert
McNeill encouraged industry members to consider “picking a lane,” or focusing on one specialty, instead of many. “Think about which specialty you’re an expert in.” She emphasized that this can help trust develop with potential clients. “People go out of their way to do business with people they know, like and trust…Choose a lane for your business so that trust can develop.”
Find mentors to inspire you, and create a welcoming work environment
Both panelists identified mentors or sources of inspiration and guidance for their careers. Robinson’s father was a major mentor to her in learning how to run a business. She recommended that industry members “find somebody in your industry, who also aligns with your core values.”
McNeill pointed to one of her favorite books, “Think and Grow Rich,” which had a profound impact on her understanding of business and her career, she says. First published in 1937, the guide, written by Napoleon Hill, analyzes the success of 20th century millionaires and billionaires to distill advice about achieving success in business.
The panelists also talked about finding and keeping talented employees. McNeill created a program to train specifically Black women in the trades. The fifth cohort of the program is now in training, she says.
Queen-Robinson says her company also created its own training program. “If you can’t find it, make your own,” she recommended. As far as retaining employees, she says company culture is critical. “People don’t want to just get a paycheck.” Most employees at her firm have been employed there for a minimum of 10 years.
To recruit a diverse staff, NGA’s Hamilton also recommended reaching out to historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as high schools, and to consider exhibiting at career fairs.