Five Questions With: Les Hiscoe

LES HISCOE is the CEO of Shawmut Design and Construction. / COURTESY SHAWMUT DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

Les Hiscoe is CEO of Shawmut Design and Construction, which recently announced it will sponsor scholarships at Roger Williams University to promote the education and careers of underrepresented students entering the construction field, including women and people of minority race or ethnicity.

Hiscoe, who was educated at the University of New Hampshire, has been with Shawmut for 23 years. He is a licensed civil engineer.

PBN: Why did Shawmut Design and Construction make the gender diversity of its workforce a priority? Beyond being inclusive, is this an aging workforce or a desire to attract new ideas?

HISCOE: Driving diversity, equity and inclusion is a sustained effort – not an initiative or moment in time. It as an ethos that is woven into the fabric of our culture. When your goal is raising the bar for what a building experience can be, you need the best talent in the industry. To do that, you need to create an inclusive environment where all employees feel energized to deliver exceptional performance.

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Fostering an environment where everyone, from any background, can do their best work is not only the right thing to do but also allows us to attract and retain the best talent out there. Building a team diverse in people, ideas and experiences allows us to provide an unparalleled experience for our clients.

PBN: Can clients request an all-women project team and why have some done that?

HISCOE: A large majority of our A-list clients are always looking for diversity. Because of Shawmut’s commitment to the growth and diversity of our workforce, we have put ourselves in the unique position to deliver teams at whatever extent of representation a client requests, including many all-women project teams.

Beyond that, we proactively build diverse teams with our clients’ goals in mind. For instance, we are currently building for a professional women’s basketball team and collaborated with the architect to offer a female-led design and construction team to execute the project from concept to completion.

PBN: The company engaged a law firm to study compensation and conduct salary audits. What did it find in terms of disparities and how were they corrected?

HISCOE: The purpose of the audit was to identify any gaps and create plans with immediate action items to address them. Among the actions is the establishment of and commitment to 100% pay and promotion equity. This process helped us to refine how we assess equity during the hiring process, reexamine unconscious assumptions and develop additional rigor in defining what constitutes strong performance.

We also added a process for articulating promotion readiness, as this is a typical area where unconscious-bias factors come into play. This is ongoing work that requires sustained action and vigilance to continually drive equity.

PBN: Shawmut recently committed to providing financial aid for underrepresented students seeking engineering and construction management degrees at Roger Williams University. Can you explain how that works?

HISCOE: In partnership with Roger Williams University, we launched the Shawmut Scholars program. Through this initiative, Shawmut will provide three underrepresented Roger Williams University students with four-year scholarship support, paid internships at Shawmut, and career and professional development. The inaugural Shawmut Scholars will be selected from new RWU students who choose engineering or construction management majors, entering as first-year students in fall 2021.

PBN: What is the long-term goal of the RWU financial aid program – to recruit and retain more underrepresented people at Shawmut, or add them to the industry mix as well?

HISCOE: Nationally, the construction industry is facing a significant gap in diverse employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 3% of construction management professionals are Black, 15% are Hispanic and 8% are women. Our intention with the program is to further drive diversity in the industry, starting at the ground floor when students are beginning to shape their careers.

We are dedicated to this work because future generations of builders and leaders are depending on us to break the cycle and provide meaningful opportunities. Shawmut’s workforce is currently 35% women, with 24% at the senior level. Through partnerships like this, our goal is to be a catalyst for change in our industry – making it more accessible for all by providing the right tools, resources and necessary skills for success. At the end of the day, we would love to have these scholars begin their careers with Shawmut.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at MacDonald@PBN.com.

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