Lift Every Voice - Black History Month

An annual celebration and time for recognizing the central role of Blacks in U.S. history, Black History Month seeks to acknowledge the excellence of Black people, instill pride in the Black community, and educate us all about the injustices faced by Black people historically and in today’s world. Watch and read more about why our employees think it’s important to honor Black History Month and why the AEC industry needs to actively recruit young Black professionals.

1. Why is it important to acknowledge and celebrate Black History Month?

Rul Kashif: In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford said the country needed to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of [African Americans] in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” This year, the theme of Black History Month is celebrating the Black family. But if you truly want to celebrate the accomplishments and acknowledge and celebrate Black history, I recommend that everybody – everybody – visit the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

You’ll follow the journey of African Americans as they entered this country as an enslaved people, and you will follow their development and maturity as the country grew and matured. You’ll see the great accomplishments and the progress that they made in the development of our country with advances in engineering, science, medicine, culture, entertainment. You’ll see breakthroughs that they made in the development of our country that were never achieved before.  In 2021, we would think that the remnants of our blemished past would have been erased by now, but we only need to look back to last year, and we have to realize that we still have work to do. 

It is often quoted that without an awareness of the past, we cannot be thankful for the present and hopeful for the future. Each and every one of us should strive for the ideals declared in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and amongst these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Faye Majekodunmi: Black History Month is important because it allows us as a nation to focus on the contributions and advancements made my African Americans that were either neglected or unacknowledged in the past. During this time, we make the recommitment to embrace diversity, cultural inclusivity, and ensure every voice will continue to be heard.

Ashley Mannings: At Gannett Fleming, we like to talk about innovation and excellence. When it comes to history, you can’t mention those two things without mentioning Black people. Black people have contributed so much to society and have overcome immense barriers to do so. A lot of these achievements won’t be found in our typical American history books, so although we can celebrate Black history all year round, February gives us a special time to highlight these achievements and to educate others.

Esther McGinnis: Black History is important because it provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the persons and events whose shoulders we all stand on. Black history is everyone’s history, and it serves as a beacon for the great road that’s ahead of us. It truly is a celebration to be looked at throughout the year, not just in one month. And we celebrate it as one human family. It is our past, and also, it’s about our present. Not only is it about the bad and the shameful events that have happened, but it’s also about the good and the many successes that we’ve had over the years. This is how we all learn. To understand our journey to be a better society, we are black, we are white, and we are brown. All persons need to understand our history because it is all our histories. I enjoy learning about Black history, and I use this month as an opportunity to learn about a person from our past that I have very little knowledge about. And I also use this month as an opportunity to learn about a person who was a trailblazer in our present time.

William Roman: Black History Month provides us an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the lives, contributions, and struggles of black people.  Black History Month serves to remind a person like me that my life, largely free from the negative consequences of racism, is not the norm for many people.

Monique Walker: Black history is American history. The contributions made by Black people in this country have often been diluted or untold, and our children need to know the full history of the country they live in. Also, we’re still celebrating firsts. Maybe one day Gannett Fleming will have an African American CEO or Chairman. Imagine that! 

2. Why is it important for Gannett Fleming to actively recruit young Black professionals in the AEC industry?

Rul Kashif: The United States census shows that there’s still a major divide between African Americans and white Americans in many areas, including financial. In my faith tradition, we have a saying: if you see a wrong, you should fix it. You should fix it with your hands, and if you’re not capable of fixing it with your hands, then you should fix it with your mouth, with your speech, and if you’re not capable of doing that, then you should pray on it with your heart. There’s another saying by John Stuart Mill, an English philosopher: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” Actively providing unbiased opportunities to African Americans and all impacted minorities will ensure success individually, as a company, and ultimately as a nation. 

Ashley Mannings: In the AEC industry, and in any industry that serves a diverse population, it’s important to have a workforce that is representative of the population that you impact. Not only does this make you a better company, but it allows you to better serve your clients. There’s also a large pool of young Black talent that’s either graduated college or are young in their career, and they’re very eager to make an impact.

Faye Majekodunmi: As an engineering firm, we are responsible for providing not only innovative but equitable engineering solutions that meet the needs for every man, woman, and child. Hiring diverse, young professionals ensures that we are designing transit and railways stations in communities that need them, highways and railways to better connect those communities, and green spaces that make life that much better. Without reflecting the diverse communities that we serve, can we truly say we are addressing the needs of our public agency clientele?

Esther McGinnis: Our journey at Gannett Fleming is about being a driving force to improve our communities and our society. This is about who we are, and do we truly reflect the diverse communities that we are in? And this is about the now, but more importantly, it’s about our future. Delivering innovation and excellence as promised requires diversity around the table – all of our workforce. And it requires that workforce to be people from all walks of life – varying backgrounds, different genders and nongenders, different age groups, races, different beliefs, as well as many different abilities. Young Black professionals truly bring to the worktable that valuable knowledge and experiences that contribute to very unique thought processes and creativity. All of that bundled up together provide us with many valuable benefits. We continue to be relevant and grow our century-old company by actively recruiting young Black professionals. Such recruitment efforts truly begin at all levels in the education system, and we do this by engaging in various school programs as well as our outreach to the communities. And these recruitment efforts not only involve traditional technical areas but the non-technical areas as well as our internship program and our early-career job opportunities we have at Gannett Fleming.

William Roman: Black people are underrepresented in the STEM-related professions.  Many of us became involved in our professions because we were exposed to the opportunities available in our professions by having friends and family members engaged in our professions.  Actively recruiting young Black professionals helps break the cycle of underrepresentation in our professions.

Monique Walker: We need people of varying background and experiences to become thought leaders. As we become more diverse, we increase our firm’s opportunity for developing creative solutions and problem solving.

3. Why is it important that Gannett Fleming continue to promote an inclusive workplace culture?

Rul Kashif: The best decisions include input from diverse members of our team, department, and organizations. These diverse members bring varied ideas, perceptions, thoughts, and recommendations. Without diversity, our decisions become myopic – one-sided and limited. Without diversity, we may not be able to achieve what we ultimately could achieve.  In Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he described the concept of synergy. Synergy is the sum of diverse collaboration outweighing the sum of the total of all the individuals working alone. The ultimate success of Gannett Fleming developing a truly diverse and inclusive culture and community is greater than what would have been achieved without this diversity in our workforce.

Ashley Mannings: We spend so much of our time at work that it’s too much time to feel like we can’t be who we are or that we have to adjust to fit in. Employees that feel embraced in the workplace will likely always be more productive than those that aren’t, and they’ll be more likely to go after leadership opportunities because they’re not afraid that their differences will outshine their work ethic. In the end, this really helps Gannett Fleming because it helps us to retain happy, productive employees.

Faye Majekodunmi: Bob Scaer always mentions Gannett Fleming’s secret sauce as being the source of innovation, and I truly believe that having a diverse workforce with open lines of communication breeds an environment where people do not take, “It’s always been done this way” as an answer and seek true answers that provide our clients with a better engineering solution.

Esther McGinnis: It’s important that we continue down this journey to provide and have an inclusive workforce, but more importantly, that it’s truly a part of our culture. Our values are centered around our employees. We are united and all committed to deliver excellence to every client on every project every day, and for all of us to feel connected in this effort while also feeling joy and having a true sense of purpose in everything that we do. Together, we accomplish this by ensuring that employees are and feel included, feel connected, and know that they are valued. When we ask our employees, “Why do you work at Gannett Fleming? Why do you come to work?” and the overwhelming response is “Because I enjoy my coworkers. I truly love being around my team members.” I know I certainly feel that way. When I consider performance measures of how our environment does foster that inclusivity, it is about having it as part of the culture. It’s about having that behavior that exemplifies that to the extent that it actually becomes the norm. It actually is who we are and what we do. Thank you all and have a happy Black History Month!

William Roman: An inclusive workplace culture is important for creating an environment and practices that support and meet the needs of underrepresented and marginalized groups.

Monique Walker: Promoting an inclusive workplace culture allows everyone to give the best of themselves and take comfort in knowing that what they’re contributing is being heard and taken seriously. It also allows everyone to know that they have the same opportunities as everyone else.