JE Dunn Secondary Logo_Black
Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Being A Catalyst For Change

By: V. Mishaune Sawyer, Esq.
Senior Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Manager

We live in a world where we should celebrate our individual uniqueness. It is the diversity in ideas, cultures, education, ethnicity, and experiences that sets each of us apart, and when we embrace those distinctions, we can drive our innovation and inspire change. One thing that I have learned both as an attorney and in my 20 years working in the diversity space in construction is that small changes can lead to lasting breakthroughs.

Two years ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to return home to my native Atlanta as a member of the JE Dunn Construction team. I was thrilled and inspired to make a positive impact in my hometown, across the Southeast and at JE Dunn. In my role as a Senior Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager for JE Dunn Construction, I am focused on internal retention programs as well as external supplier diversity. Together with our team, I work to establish JE Dunn as a preferred builder and employer, to lead with deliberate diversity efforts, and to educate on purposeful inclusion in all our actions.


At JE Dunn, we pride ourselves on our efforts to create opportunities for diverse suppliers. I regularly lead discussions with our operations and preconstruction teams on how we can maximize and amplify our supplier diversity. It is important that we look for ways to bring minority-, women-, and veteran-owned and other marginalized businesses to the table, whether the client has a goal or not. One of our longtime national clients, HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest health system, challenged us to significantly increase the number of diverse trade partners working on their projects. Together with HCA’s supplier diversity team, we began to actively set participation goals on projects before the procurement solicitations are dispersed. We have worked to shift the focus to include small businesses to a broader and more inclusive focus on minority-, woman-, veteran-, and LGBTQ-owned businesses.

I have enjoyed being a part of broadening JE Dunn’s ever-increasing impact on the larger construction community. As a company, we are dedicated to being deliberate and intentional in our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts across the board. We are planning our projects specifically to encourage diverse participation. We have been successful in encouraging scope share between firms to allow diverse trade partners initial contracting opportunity where needed. If we can see a trade partner start as a lower-tier contractor and, through mentorship and engagement, be able to award them a first-tier opportunity, we are doing something right. We are creating more seats at the table while also working hard to create steady bid opportunities. In my experience, sometimes it just takes the effort to open the door to opportunity while removing the obstacles that have historically been in place.

“If we can see a trade partner start as a lower-tier contractor and, through mentorship and engagement, be able to award them a first-tier opportunity, we are doing something right.”

In the East Region, we recently launched our Healthcare MCD (Minority Contractor Development) Learning Series as an offshoot of our standard MCD. With this program, we are working to increase the participation of minority- and woman-owned contractors in healthcare construction. Our team members are working to share information and answer questions regarding the specialized risks involved in working in hospital environments. The hope is to dispel fears around the risks of such specialized work.

We plan to offer a similar series focused on aviation construction as well. Both Healthcare and Aviation are markets that have historically presented the strongest barriers due to the specialized nature of the type of construction. They also offer some amazing opportunities for consistent and steady work that allows contractors to grow and scale up by building capacity. In revamping JE Dunn’s internal MCD programming, we have designed programs that spotlight the distinct aspects of these specialized sectors focusing on the unique safety protocols, risk assessments, and building standards specific to these niche markets. These strategies, along with other processes and tools, are helping us to achieve over 20% diverse participation on many of our projects. Even more impactful is that by exploring new relationships and innovative ways to both train and learn from our diverse partners, we continue to raise the bar and set us all up for success. The important takeaway for our team is that we always learn something from every class.


Equally important, we should be thinking on a broader level how we can impact change and have influence in our communities. There are countless opportunities to include diversity, provide equity, and deliver inclusion while exposing the next generation of builders to the construction industry at elementary schools; high schools; the colleges, and universities where we recruit; and by actively recruiting at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and high schools located in historically underserved communities. In Atlanta, we participate in construction career introductions at elementary schools. We have also partnered with a Kansas City-based organization called Entitled Learning that seeks to bring positive experiences to young grade school students in underserved communities and helps to break cycles of poverty, inequality, and marginalization. By partnering with professional organizations like JE Dunn, Entitled Learning uses a project-based learning approach to expose students to a wide range of careers and culturally significant historical events and helps to decrease the educational gap. It is so much easier to dream of becoming what we have seen others do. We have also recently launched our own Building the Future Program at JE Dunn to focus on K-12 students.

“We should be thinking on a broader level how we can impact change and have influence in our communities.”

We have expanded opportunities to historically underserved students through our National Diversity Scholarships and by targeting recruiting and partnerships with HBCUs like North Carolina A&T State University, Florida A&M University, and Savannah State University. We are being intentional in our efforts to target campus groups that support women in AEC majors and actively attract, educate, and readying minority and female students through interview prep workshops that enhance their understanding of expectations for internships and full-time roles in the construction industry. We have also been partnering with Fisk University and Tennessee State University to develop or enhance the curriculum for construction management programs to help further prepare students who are seeking positions in the AEC industry. We are also working to create internship opportunities for HBCU students in marketing, human resources, and accounting—essential positions across many industries.

I am proud member of the JE Dunn family, and I am excited to celebrate our accomplishments thus far. We are only beginning to scratch the surface on the positive impact we can make together. We will continue to grow and evolve. We must always strive for perfection, but we must not require it to move toward equity. The first step for growth is for each of us to celebrate our differences. Together, we can begin to move the needle and create a broader sense of community and belonging. At JE Dunn, we empower our team members to think outside the box to maximize community engagement and diversity on every project. We are always focused on how we can improve on our past successes. I challenge each of you to embrace our American past so that we can learn from it and grow from it, but let us also be intentional about focusing on the future. Open your mind to new ideas and new ways of doing things, and work hard make sure everyone feels included and heard. Every time that you hear yourself say, “This is how we have always done this,” ask yourself, “How can we do this even better, and what is it that I don’t know?”