Spotlight: 2022 Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award Kuniklo

This year’s Rosa Parks Diversity Leadership Award winner, Kuniklo Corporation, has worked since 2003 to connect communities to opportunities in construction. Patti Olds, the company’s President & CEO, talks about what got her company started and what keeps her going.

Why are you involved in WTS?

I’m continuously impressed with the women that are involved, the activities that are going on, and the level of effort being put forward to encourage people to enter the industry. WTS’s mi

Kuniklo Team

ssion aligns with what Kuniklo does in the construction arena. We are trying to get people every day to understand the construction industry, the diversity of jobs available, the career paths for their futures.

I appreciate what WTS is doing in terms of the promotion of women in leadership roles. It is especially great to see member companies recognize the women that are involved with WTS and acknowledging the skills and the strengths that women bring to the table.

How did your business get started?

I was working for an organization that was going through a leadership change. Instead of staying on for the transition, I made the leap to starts my consulting company in 2003. My role had already been to work with business owners seeking opportunities on transportation projects.  Additionally, I knew how to read government contracts, so I started with what I knew.

I built a company that specifically helps contractors, government agencies, development teams to meet the socioeconomic impact goals that come with public funding of construction. Most public work requires builders to make positive impacts on the community surround the project.  These projects are going through different neighborhoods, different stakeholders each time. Those equity dollars often require oversight and compliance reporting.  Meeting the numerical goals or requirements of the regulation is the last measurement of a project; we lay out the programs or strategy that actually get the team to those measures while addressing what the community is asking for during the project. 

What has the greatest challenge owning your own business been?

The biggest challenge is to let go of the reigns and let the business grow. As an owner, you can be so reliant on your own expertise and your own relationships, that you can forget to grow the people around you. I have learned to train, coach, and trust my teammates so that we can do more. They may do things differently than I would have, but that doesn’t mean it was done in a bad way. If we can agree on the end result or deliverable, then I’ve learned to be flexible in how we get there. I’ve been able to grow a great team this way.

How does Kuniklo focus on diversity, equity and inclusion internally?

I look at the skills and experience that someone brings to a position and then train accordingly.  For example, for our compliance team, I was able to hire people who had gone through certified nursing assistant training. I figured if they could manage documents for a doctor’s office and insurance details of patient care, then they could handle contract and labor compliance.  I kept thinking, ‘If they can make sure someone doesn’t get the wrong prescription or have the wrong procedure, then they could do contract compliance.’ A lot of the employee onboarding is translating what their experience has been to what it looks like in construction; there’s a lot a new term but the process is familiar.  My team comes with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and ages, and it’s been good for the company.  

If diversity and inclusion is what you company does, then how do you go above and beyond?

On the federal side, there’s a word to measure your level of effort:  intensity. I relate it to exercise:  If a person is out of shape and not used to physical exertion, it’s not going to take much to get their heartrate up. But if I’m talking to a runner who has been running on a regular basis and she has more endurance and conditioning; it will take more to get her heart rate up.  Intensity is the level of effort to get the heart rate up.

That’s where we are as a company in this diversity effort. We’ve gotten so used to doing diversity activities, that we have to find ways to make our heart rate go up.  We continue to learn and improve so that we step up our level of intensity.  If we’re doing it right, it should be difficult; it should make us a little uncomfortable. Once we start saying that’s how we always do it, or that’s how the contract is written, we have given up putting in that effort. For those of us that work in diversity, equity and inclusion on a regular basis, we always have to check our pulse and ask, ‘what is making us sweat today?’

Where does your motivation come from?

The business owners I’ve worked around, they are all achievement driven. When you surround yourself with that, you are always trying to keep up. I love community building, what people are doing to increase the capacity within their neighborhood or organization. I guess that’s where the motivation comes from because everyone that I work with is doing that. I show up and ask, ‘How do I help?’ Is it removing some of the barriers on the contract end? Is it asking the hard questions? I like to find solutions.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I’m trying to do more of the things “I want to do” and treat them as things “I want to do” rather than what “I have to do”, like exercise in the morning. I do participate in a women’s only bootcamp with some great ladies that keep accountable. I don’t’ want it to feel like a chore.  Same with walking my dogs in the evening. Other than that, I try to plan as much travel in my year that our project schedule will allow because when I travel, I can turn off all the project noise and just be me.