Unity through diversity!
Unity through diversity!
ACAI Associates, Inc. embraces workplace diversity and reaps corporate benefits
Sandra Smerkers, LEED AP
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL — ACAI Associates, Inc. — a minority-owned company with extensive experience in architecture, virtual design and construction, master planning, programming, roof consulting and construction management – has seen first-hand how diversity in the workplace has evolved over the past 28 years. Founded as a Hispanic Minority Business Enterprise, diversity back then focused on race, sex and ethnicity. “Minority status” was looked at by some as an “inferiority status” and ACAI and its founder Adolfo J. Cotilla, Jr., AIA, CGC struggled to perform under this stigma.
“Minority was still a four letter word when I started my business over 28 years ago,” states Cotilla. “I not only had to prove that I was capable to do the work of my peers, but I also had to prove that I even be-longed there in the first place. It was a struggle that I didn’t want others to have to experience and vowed to make my company a place where people from any background and culture could come and contribute based on their merit and experience, and not by anyone else’s definition.”
As Cotilla grew his company, creating and educating a diverse and balanced workforce was always a priority. From Cotilla’s dream, ACAI has grown to 43 employees strong, speaking 10 different languages with a 51 percent minority employee base, representing Hispanics, Blacks and Asians. In a predominately male industry, 32 percent of ACAI’s workforce is female based, with many in key management positions.
As ACAI developed, so did Cotilla’s view on diversity. “Diversity to me is no longer just about color of skin, minority or ethnic background,” states Cotilla. “Diversity to me is about creating more and equal opportunities for Blacks, Hispanics, Women, and Veterans, the elderly and individuals with disabilities.”
ACAI has created those opportunities through implementing policies and procedures to encourage a diverse workforce, including offering benefit programs that recognize domestic partners. ACAI also encourages diversity in its hiring practice by looking for potential employees who demonstrate qualification for the job and also bring a variety of individual characteristics, experiences, ideas and back-grounds to the team.
“Diversity teaches us to explore our difference while finding commonality in our approaches. Our diversity has broadened our company’s perspective and ultimately has increased our service lines resulting in increased sales and profitability,” states Cindy Baldwin, Partner at ACAI Associates. “Our diversity not only makes us a fun place to work, but it creates a dynamic culture where employees know they will not be judged on anything other than their unique qualifications and contributions.
There is no glass ceiling here at ACAI. Adolfo already broke through it and we all are so very thankful.”
ACAI believes that its diverse workforce has helped the company compete in a changing economy and has created a larger pool of ideas and experiences, resulting in customers receiving a higher level of service and higher productivity within the team. Having employees with different backgrounds promotes a deeper understanding of our clients’ needs as well as expands our client base.
“I believe in recruitment, retention, promotion and inclusion for all,” states Cotilla. “I know that by investing in diverse talent, my employees and my customers have benefited. A win – win for everyone. ACAI is proof it can happen.”
Some interesting facts about ACAI’s and its workforce:
Hispanic Founder. Female Partner; 43 employees strong; 10 Languages – English, Spanish, French, Creole, German, Italian, Thai, Arabic, Portuguese, Hebrew. 37 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Black, 2 percent Asian and 32 percent Female. (Females in top ManaGement Positions: Partner in Charge of Operations and Fe-male Controller)
Age range of employees 25 to 76. (2 employees over the age of 75)
Affiliate Company: ACAI Technologies. All Minority Partners: Hispanic, Female, Black