Black CEO delivers economic freedom message at Building Diversity Awards

By Lincoln DePradine

Deryl McKissack

One of the leading Black business owners in the United States is advocating for cooperation between Americans and Canadians in achieving “economic freedom to all minorities’’, and in obtaining greater equity in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.

“What I want to be is a bridge to bring people together in our industry and to provide the best solutions and to make our countries more competitive,’’ said Deryl McKissack of McKissack & McKissack, a US-based architectural engineering program and a construction management firm.

“The opportunities in both of our nations are plentiful,’’ she said. “Hold your elected officials accountable to economic freedom to all minorities.’’

McKissack made the remarks in delivering the featured address at the May 10 second annual Building Diversity Awards’ (BDA) Gala of the of Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN).

The gala, hosted at the Design Exchange in Toronto, also included an option for online guest participation.

The seven BDA recipients, according to TCBN, were employees and employers recognized for their work on equity, diversity and inclusion.

The winners included the Community Benefits’ Champion. The recipient was Amina Dibe, manager of government and stakeholder relations at Rescon. It’s Ontario’s leading association of residential builders.

Other awardees were Desiree Smith for mentoring in the NexGen Builders Champion category; Rokhaya Gueyere, NexGen Builders Champion (Mentee Award); Daniels Corporation, NexGen Builders Champion (Employee Award); the Leading on Diversity – Owner-Client BDA was presented to the company, Dream; Leading on Diversity Contractor’s BDA was given to Mosaic Transit Group; and the organization, presented with the Leading on Diversity BDA in the trade union category, was the Carpenters & Allied Workers Local 27.

“We have more in common than we think or are made to believe from the news,’’ said McKissack, noting that Canadians and Americans “are all lucky to be living in free countries’’ with vibrant economies’’.

Rosemarie Powell

However, she also noted the common history of racism, discrimination and sexism.

“In many ways, Canada and the US are so intertwined,’’ said McKissack. “As I look at the events that occurred over the past couple of years, I see tremendous opportunity for our countries and our nations to push the needle forward on JDEI – justice, diversity, equity and inclusion.’’

McKissack & McKissack was started in 1905 by two brothers, and now is the oldest African-American design and construction firm in the US.

Deryl McKissack, the fifth generation of the family to work in the industry, is a qualified civil engineer and both chairwoman and CEO of company offices located in seven major US cities.

She employs more than 150 workers and oversees projects across the US valued in excess of $15 billion.

The change needed for more equity, inclusion and economic freedom must include government leaders, especially at the local city level, McKissack argued. She used Washington, D.C., as a pattern that city governments could adopt.

“Government leaders must be clear on their intentions, especially at the local level at the city,’’ she said. “Our mayor, Marion Barry at the time, set the standard for minority participation, and it has continued for years. Today, the majority of our city contracts in D.C. exceeds 35 percent minority participation. And our current administration, with Mayor Muriel Bowser, has been determined to build Black businesses with prime contracts,’’ McKissack added.

“This is how you really build Black wealth in the city and beyond. Anything less is not acceptable. it’s not good for you or for your business. And, it isn’t a path to true equity and sustainability for growth, longtime work and economic freedom.’’

McKissack disclosed that she has embarked on an initiative of her own to help women and people of African descent in the AEC industry.

“I didn’t start my business for financial gain, or to be famous or to even have a legacy. Once I did start my own business, it became about excellence; delivering excellence to my clients as a Black businesswoman and doing excellent work; and building an excellent company and letting everyone know Black-owned firms could deliver excellence and be leaders,’’ she said.

“Last year, I wrote a seven-point plan to fight racism and sexism in the AEC industry. As a result, I am launching a new organization with some of the country’s largest companies to ensure that Blacks and women receive their fair share of work, wages, benefits, promotions and more. Our intention is to not only make our industry more diverse, equitable and inclusive, but to also achieve parity for all minorities in the AEC workforce.’’