Media Coverage

Media Coverage
October 3, 2023

AEC Unites: Pioneering a More Diverse Industry for Architecture, Engineering & Construction

Diversity Comm

Headed by one of the oldest Black-owned construction companies in the United States, the architecture, engineering and construction fields are introducing an initiative that is putting diversity as a priority.

National architecture, engineering and construction leaders are launching AEC Unites to inspire, promote and spur equity and inclusion in the AEC industry for Black talent and Black-owned businesses. Historically, Blacks have been severely underrepresented in AEC, which employs over 13 million workers—9% of the U.S. workforce. In 2022, Black workers held only 7% of all AEC jobs even though they represented 13% of all workers. By contrast, white workers comprise 77% of the workforce yet hold 87% of all construction jobs and 83% of all architecture and engineering jobs.

As a nonprofit membership organization, AEC Unites seeks to increase intentional opportunities for Black talent and Black-owned businesses in all facets of the AEC industry. Through efforts ranging from partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other groups to mentorship, training, professional development and coaching, it will serve as a resource for Black talent. To create sustainable opportunities and support Black-owned businesses, it will offer member companies a database of Black-owned AEC businesses and a playbook on how to work with them.

Tia Perry, Executive Director of AEC Unites and Deryl McKissack, Founder & Chair of AEC Unites

AEC Unites is the brainchild of Deryl McKissack, who founded McKissack & McKissack in 1990. The company is the outgrowth of a design and construction company started by her great-great-grandfather, who was freed from slavery after the Civil War. McKissack attributes AEC’s lack of diversity and her motivation to act to systemic racism and unconscious biases, both of which she has experienced many times over as a Black female civil engineer.

“These prejudices were obvious on the first day of my first job as a field engineer for a major AEC firm. My boss had a Confederate flag hanging on the wall behind his desk,” McKissack explained.

Though that was one of her earliest experiences with racism, it was far from her last. “Experience has taught me that Black businesses and professionals get hired for major projects in this industry mostly when it’s required—and then it’s usually as subcontractors rather than project leads,” McKissack said. “It’s a constant struggle to be accepted as lead.”

Fighting for Equity

McKissack was moved to seek systemic change after the events of George Floyd and the reprehensible display of nooses on job sites. Moved to action, she enlisted industry leaders as her co-founders and is serving as AEC Unites board chair and president.

Joining AEC Unites as co-founders are Turner Construction Company President and CEO Peter Davoren as board co-chair and secretary and Jacobs Executive Chair Steve Demetriou as board co-chair and treasurer. Members of the founding board of directors include Hensel Phelps President and CEO Mike Choutka, WSP USA CEO Lou Cornell, Gensler co-CEO Diane Hoskins, Stantec EVP and COO Stuart Lerner, Moody Nolan CEO Jonathan Moody, Clark Construction Group CEO Robert D. Moser, Jr., H.J. Russell CEO Michael Russell and former HOK Chairman and CEO Bill Helmuth, who passed away earlier this year, posthumously.

After a national search, AEC Unites’ leadership team hired Tia Perry, an award-winning AEC leader with a proven 17-year track record in fostering equity and inclusion and driving membership growth, as executive director.

AEC will be specifically working to diversify their fields, promote the importance of DEI, and improve their industries as a whole.

“With building and construction so important to our nation’s strength, AEC is fundamental to the success of every other industry and contributes so much to our GDP that it must become more inclusive,” Jacobs Executive Chair Steve Demetriou said. “Given the tight costs and returns that apply to building projects today and the changing nature of the nation’s populace, it takes diverse project teams to be attuned to the perspectives and cultural requirements of projects’ end users. They offer teams fresh new perspectives and creative solutions—input that is critical to avoiding costly mistakes that will compromise usability or occupancy rates and impact profitability.”

For more information on AEC Unites and how to get involved, visit

Source: Diversity Comm


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