United Rentals’ manager of inclusion and diversity wants women to thrive.
When Kacie Brewer joined United Rentals, she wasn’t fazed that most employees were men. “I’ve never seen myself as being the minority in the room,” she said. “I see myself as female in a male environment; I stand out. That’s not a negative.”
But when she attended her first Women United event in 2015, she recognized that many of the women in the employee resource group did not share her comfort level. “There are women who struggle with that,” she said. Some told her they don’t feel like they have a voice to stand up and say something. Brewer made it a personal mission to help change that dynamic.
The mission is now part of her job description. After about seven years in the human resources department, she started in January 2020 as United Rentals’ first full-time manager of inclusion and diversity. One responsibility is empowering the leaders of the company’s three employee resource groups — Women United, Veterans United and Together United — to take them to the next level and providing the support, guidance and resources they need to do it.
For Women United, taking the group to the next level means, among other things, helping more women get promoted into leadership roles. The group evolved due to a groundswell of grassroots support. “Ladies realized that they liked the networking opportunity, and vice versa — we found that there were a lot of ideas coming to our team from the group,” Brewer said.
“I’ve never seen myself as being the minority in the room. I see myself as female in a male environment; I stand out. That’s not a negative.”
During Women United leadership summits, leaders discuss issues specific to women in the United Rentals workplace, as well as how to move past those issues and create changes so other women entering the industry don’t have to experience them. They also address practical problems, like too-large safety gloves.
“It wasn’t until we empowered women to speak up that we realized we didn’t have women’s glove sizes in our company store. And it’s safer when your gloves fit.”
Clothing fit was another issue. The majority of women at United Rentals work in sales, but the company-branded polo shirts weren’t necessarily a good look on, or a good fit for, the female frame. The shirts also shrank in the wash, which created an unexpected problem: exposed midriffs during morning group stretches. The company now offers more diverse clothing choices for women, including longer polos that don’t shrink, as well as blouses and cardigans.
Brewer hopes these changes show women they’re valued and welcome at United Rentals. Her wish: to see the female workforce at United Rentals doubled in 10 years.
Creating an inclusive culture is more than a feel-good project at United Rentals. “If we always think about the company the same way, we won’t evolve and grow,” Brewer said. Creating an environment in which new ideas are welcomed and encouraged is key to that growth.
Partnering with industry groups supports the company’s inclusion goals. Brewer works with organizations such as the National Association for Women in Construction and the National Minority Supplier Development Council to help United Rentals be part of the evolving conversation on diversity and inclusion in construction — a conversation that’s become near and dear to Brewer’s heart.
“Women United showed me a passion I didn’t know I had, and that is creating an even playing field for everyone,” Brewer said. That playing field, she hopes, will help attract more female players. By shining a spotlight on United Rentals’ diverse, inclusive culture, she aims to draw the best talent from all backgrounds. “We’re really selling ourselves short if we’re not tapping into everyone.”
(Top Image: Employees from Women United volunteered at a Fisher House comfort home for military and veteran families.)
Renée K. Gadoua is an editor and writer who lives in Syracuse, New York.