Business Can’t Stay on the Sidelines of Equality Push After Affirmative Action Ruling

By John Bodary

Guest Column

PuLSE Institute

At the end of its term this June, the U.S. Supreme Court upended established equal protection law with its decision, effectively eliminating the use of Affirmative Action in college admissions.

The court’s decision disregards prior precedent, as well as the societal realities of race discrimination and inequality. Just to be clear, the playing field for many underserved populations is still not level, despite this change to the law.

There have been significant changes in our country in the last 8 decades as well. In the 1960’s Affirmative Action plans were put in place to help underserved populations in our country have an opportunity to succeed.

The fact is that many schools, as well as the courts, recognize that racial diversity and inclusion exposes students to new ideas and ways of thinking, prepares them to live and work with one another in a diverse society, and increases understanding and respect across differences.

Those findings have not changed, although schools will need to rely more on other means of cultivating a campus where students of all backgrounds can learn together.

This decision doesn’t mean that as employers we shouldn’t continue to create and offer opportunities to these same individuals who are affected by this decision.

In fact, this latest measure by the Supreme Court creates another opportunity for us to stand up for what is right, guided by our founding principles of equality of all. This is a moment for business leaders and diverse captains of industry to demonstrate that the action of the nation’s high court would have no bearing in our quest for meaningful diversity and inclusion.

That is a commitment that we here at Woods Construction have made because we believe that the success of any business rests on a diverse workforce.

A lot has changed since our company was founded in 1951, over 72 years ago. But our founding principles of skill, integrity and responsibility have not wavered. We continue to lean into those values, and they have helped us to navigate many challenging times over the years and in making sure that our company reflects access to opportunities, not exclusion.

That is why we will continue our efforts to communicate and market to future diverse work force the various career paths that construction offers, including, but not limited to the trades, and college degrees in Construction Management from accredited Construction Management programs like those offered at Eastern Michigan University and other similar colleges.

In so doing, we recognize that Blacks and other minority groups entering the construction workforce are too often challenged by barriers such as lack of representation and limited access to education and training.  Our team is determined to ensure that the barriers that have prevented underrepresented minorities from accessing the full opportunities in the construction industry are removed.

Because we cannot let the Supreme Court decision serve as a further hinderance to already existing challenges and issues that are prevalent in business, and which limit the extent to which disadvantaged groups will thrive in certain industries.

For example, in the fall of 2022, we partnered with Target Corporation and ConstructReach to participate in an event called “I Built This”. Through activity-based learning, 141 students from Henry Ford Academy, Fordson Highschool, and University Prep Science & Math Highschool were introduced to various construction and design careers for the first time.

Upon arrival, students were greeted with an enthusiastic welcome. Volunteers lined up at the entrance distributing PPE kits and offering high-fives to the excited attendees. Once settled students were split into teams and lead by industry experts through seven activity stations.

Each station was designed to offer an immersive experience, ensuring that students could fully participate within a short span of time. The hands-on approach not only made learning fun but also allowed students to grasp concepts in a tangible way.

These stations were divided into Flooring, Electrical, Carpentry, Fixtures, TGT Property Management, Virtual Reality, and Material Palette & 3D Renderings.

  1. Flooring Station: Students were introduced to various flooring materials while discovering the intricacies of installation.
  2. Electrical Station: Students were given a short lesson on electrical systems while gaining practical insights into wiring and safety protocols.  The main objective of this station was to have the students complete three circuits to illuminate three lightbulbs.
  3. Carpentry Station:  Students were able to view a complete wall assembly and its components.  They were given the opportunity to screw pieces of drywall into the wall assembly studs and hold commonly used carpentry tools.
  4. Fixtures Station: Split into two teams, the students at this station raced to build a Target Store fixture called a gondola.
  5. TGT Property Management: Split into six teams, students raced to replace the “broken” wheels on Target carts.  While students raced to install the new wheels, the activity leader spoke about the role of a Target Property Management Technician (PMT).
  6. Virtual Reality Station:  Using VR headsets students were walked through a store layout by Target Design.  As the students virtually walked through the store, the design team spoke about advantages that this new technology affords them.
  7. Material Palette & 3D Renderings: This station unveiled the science behind material selection and the power of 3D renderings in bringing store looks to life.  Students were able to pick up swatches and create their own design boards.

In the end, “I Built This,” succeeded in fostering a strong connection between diverse students and the construction field by providing hands-on experiences, practical challenges, and innovative insights.

The event highlighted the diverse opportunities and skills within the industry. Through interactive learning and engaging activities, we hope students left the event with a new perspective on the world of construction and its vital role in shaping our built environment.

We will continue to embrace and push for a diverse work force as we confront the latest changes from the Supreme Court because diversity builds strength and broadens our perspective and ability to adapt and change to the current work environment.

It is not a charitable act or contribution. Diversity is a compelling interest that is integral in our nation’s quest to be a more perfect union. If we are to fulfill the full promise of equality, it must also mean that we have to demonstrate the need for economic justice.

In June of 1965, former President Lyndon Johnson during the throes of the Civil Rights Movement went to Howard University and delivered a poignant commencement address that is still relevant today, and should guide our moral compass towards inclusion, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling against Affirmative Action.

“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates,” President Johnson told graduates at the Historically Black College in Washington D.C.

Then he noted, “This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.”

This is the unmistakable challenge for companies to make inclusion a reality to grow their companies, not a dream.

John Bodary is the President of Woods Construction, a nationwide commercial general contractor serving the retail industries since 1951. Based in Sterling Heights, MI. Woods is a member of the Associated General Contractors and a strong advocate for the “Culture of CARE.”

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