“In order to appreciate diversity, this means you have to be open to accepting differences. Which can be very challenging sometimes, because sometimes it goes totally against what we know and what we believe.” Alex Willis stressed to the room of onlooking Miller Electric Company employees that challenging conversations are meant to be just that– challenging. “You must come to the conversation looking to understand and not judge,” Willis said. “Oftentimes, we hear bits and pieces of information, and truthfully, we don’t get the whole story before we run off to create our own story in our own mind, which can create more challenging situations.”
For fifteen years, the Jacksonville native has worked with companies to improve the leadership culture within organizations. His company, Leadership Surge values people over process and focuses on a holistic, strengths-based approach to leadership. It is the company’s mission to create a fun, interactive, and experiential learning environment for emerging leaders.
The topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion gained critical attention in the past year. In June of 2020, Miller Electric Company and the rest of the world watched racial injustice unfold before our eyes. We doubled down on our commitment to DE&I through our Standing Together statement. “Thanks to the trust we’ve built over many years, we started having difficult conversations with each other as we grappled with this tough topic both at home and at work,” Miller Electric CEO Henry Brown said during a virtual town hall.
In August, MECO first enlisted Willis’s help teaching our executives how to have challenging and respectful conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. We built on these efforts at our annual leadership meeting in November with DE&I training for more than 200 of our employees. This month, we brought back Willis for a company-wide training to drive greater understanding and appreciation of our differences. Called Trust & Respect – New Ways of Thinking about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with Alex Willis, all 2,000 of our office and field employees were invited to attend a two-hour learning session. In a seating arrangement designed for social distancing, classes of up to fifty people had the chance to listen to Willis in-person at our Jacksonville headquarters while hundreds of others virtually joined the live stream. Topics included unconscious bias and the role it plays in our daily interactions, how to have challenging conversations, and strategies to better understand and embrace diversity and inclusion within the construction industry.
As stated in the Miller Electric Diversity & Inclusion Statement, we believe that our commitment to diversity and inclusion is everyone’s responsibility – that of every employee in every office and on every job site around the country. With a workforce of thousands of individuals, our culture can leave quite an impact, and we welcome that responsibility. Regardless of background or circumstance, our industry provides pathways to learn a trade, while earning a living wage, and develop a career with unlimited possibilities. However, we also recognize that the construction industry has lagged behind other sectors in ensuring diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces.
We do not accept the status quo and have made a concerted effort over the last several years to increase our apprenticeship recruiting and outreach at diverse and underrepresented high schools. In December, we announced our $1M donation to the United Way of Northeast Florida to advance race, equity, and social justice outcomes in Northeast Florida.
As leaders in the industry and our community, we are taking the following steps to further our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion:
- Evaluating our recruitment and development practices from top to bottom to ensure that we are intentional about promoting diversity and inclusion across all levels of the company.
- Conducting a wage equity audit and correcting inequities.
- Created an ethics resource for reporting any instances of discrimination for further exploration or investigation.
- Updating our diversity, equity, and inclusion policy with a zero tolerance for racism.
- Working with Alex Willis of Leadership Surge to develop and implement a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion curriculum from executives through field leadership.
- Directing charitable contributions toward civil rights initiatives, and scholarship funds for minority students with majors in construction and engineering fields.
- Exploring the creation of an investment fund to capitalize and mentor minority-owned electrical contracting firms.
- Created the Supplier Diversity Equity and Inclusion Program (SDE&I) to ensure that small, minority-owned, women-owned, veteran and disabled veteran-owned businesses have the opportunity to be a part of our day-to-day business operations.
Our promise is made possible through the commitment of all Miller Electric employees. We all stand together against racism and discrimination and in support of diversity, equity, inclusion, and opportunity for all members of our company, our industry, and our communities.