CEO Les Hiscoe contributed a thought leader report to Crain’s New York Business on the skills and approaches leaders need to take when addressing mental health, AI, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Read the full Crain’s article here and below.

The world has changed. Industries are increasingly competitive and demand more service, value, and transparency than ever before. To meet these demands, leaders need a fresh skillset. Empathy, open-mindedness, and a willingness to embrace innovation are crucial in shaping the trajectory of an effective leader and successful business. Maintaining mental health as a cornerstone of workplace culture, understanding the implications of AI, and supporting diversity and inclusion have to be faced head-on, with a clear commitment to values and a people-first culture.

Mental Health

Mental health considerations have become an expectation in company culture. In construction specifically, the industry’s high suicide rate and opioid crisis demand an accelerated commitment. To effect meaningful change, leaders need to address stigmas and lead by example, modeling their own self-care. Shawmut’s leaders have undergone training on how to avoid or manage burnout—both for themselves and their teams—including being cognizant of energy drains. Shawmut’s culture of care starts with empathetic leadership, informing all our decisions and guiding our mental health work, which we extend to all our projects. Through our Culture of Care Toolbox Talks—monthly jobsite discussions with trade partners dedicated to psychological safety and mental health—we raise awareness around topics including empathy, substance use disorder, fatigue, and suicide awareness. Last year, we launched our Mental Health & Wellness Leadership Group with over 50 members accelerating our work, with a dedicated workflow specific to jobsites and trade partners.

Artificial Intelligence

AI and its implications for the future of work are changing by the day. With its enormous potential comes significant unknowns, including employee anxiety around being outpaced or outsourced and unease among clients who may not trust or understand the technology. But with construction productivity showing no improvement since 1970, the industry has a lot to gain with clear-headed leadership and thoughtful integration of AI. Innovating operational processes is essential with rising costs and a continued shortage of materials and skilled workers. At Shawmut, we invested in AI for safety to drive us closer to prediction and zero incidents. We created a custom dashboard that aggregates data for AI to analyze and identify risk areas. AI makes our jobsites safer and frees up time for our people to focus deeply and think creatively. As we consider more opportunities to implement AI, we see it as an enhancement—not a replacement—of our people and their knowledge.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

A sustained commitment to DEI must be a business imperative. Recently, DEI efforts have come under scrutiny for lack of commitment and investment. To be effective, DEI work cannot be lip service, a box-checking exercise, or an HR initiative—it needs to be owned by everyone. Creating a workplace of belonging where everyone feels safe and heard means integrating DEI into a company’s fabric. To hold us accountable for driving our people-first strategies to create an equitable, highly-energized workplace, Shawmut has 50 leaders across its Diversity Leadership Council and supporting regional councils; our leadership has DEI efforts as established goals and KPIs; and our executive team shares progress with our board of directors for objective measurement. Creating an inclusive workplace and industry is imperative to construction’s future—when people feel respected and included, they deliver their best. This translates to business health, which helps attract top talent to an industry that desperately needs it.

Industry expertise is still required, but it's no longer an option for leaders to shy away from mental health, AI, and DEI. Those who embrace these challenges with foresight and a people-first approach will position their organizations for sustainable, scalable success and create engaging, rewarding workplaces.