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Taking Action: The 2023 ElevateHER Cohort

Taking Action: The 2023 ElevateHER Cohort

By Shirley Che

2023 has been a tumultuous ride for a lot of us. We are still recovering from COVID, principles of economy no longer apply anywhere, the legislatures keep punching women in the guts, and most recently, Barbie unexpectedly became our new hero. The world has been chaotic to me, and nothing is predictable.

When the founders of ElevateHER, Christy Zweig Niehues and Jamie Claire Kiser, left Zweig Group for other incredible opportunities, the opportunity and honor to step in and take the reins for ElevateHER landed on my laps. While both founders are still involved, the day-to-day is now in my hands. Like a typical middle-age, mid-career woman in middle management does, the self-doubt follows immediately, and the pressure slowly manifests–Is it ok to even talk DEI with our clients? Is it ok to write a cover article about the Supreme Court rulings? I know where I stand, but is it fair to put that on the company? 

Then in Q2, an opportunity came about, and Zweig Group was invited to partner with the ACEC Research Institute on their development of the Diversity Roadmap Benchmarking Tool. It’s a big commitment (and responsibility) to put our name on such a prominent and widespread effort; I immediately had a long list of doubts disguised as questions– Do we have the resources to commit to the partnership responsibly? How will this help our clients? What does that mean to ElevateHER? I remember vividly that I started shaking feeling the excitement but also the weight of it all. 

All the doubts went away rather quickly. I was blown away at how fast and certain that Chad Clinehens, our CEO, agreed to the partnership. Almost right away, the conversation shifted from go/no-go to what we needed to do to complement this partnership. Once again, I was shown that it’s not a cheeky tagline that Zweig Group slings around on our website and business cards, we are genuinely committed to elevating the industry in an increasing number of ways.

I share this story to tell you just how honored I am to get to lead ElevateHER, and how proud I am to witness the 2023 ElevateHER cohort members present their research and projects on the ElevateAEC Conference main stage. It has been an impossibly busy and unpredictable year for most of us, yet this small but mighty class stayed focused, and developed tools, frameworks, etc., so that women and other marginalized groups of the workforce could have a more promising career in AEC. Together–across different organizations (like ACEC), and over time (i.e., ElevateHER cohorts in the last four years) –we are building a sustainable AEC workforce that will thrive and flourish, and it is shaping up to be one that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive, where anyone that wants to be a part of it will feel like they belong.

So once again, it is my absolute honor to introduce to you the 2023 ElevateHER® projects and the team members:

  • HostAgE Crisis, presented by Emily Havelka and Laura Morton, highlights the impact of liquidity issues at many AEC firms. By increasing fees and/or ensuring prompt payment, firms can stay liquid and profitable – allowing them to attract, maintain, and train top talent and restore the pride and dynamism of the industry.
  • MentHERship, presented by Amy Kunselman, Andrea Narendorf, Carmen Pemsler, Jessica Bazán, Lalitha Benjaram, Shelby Harvey, and Stephanie Putzke, continues the work from one of the 2021 ElevateHER® project teams, and offers a framework for firms and organizations to implement a successful mentorship program. 
  • PromoteHER, presented by Adrienne Taylor, Amanda Thomas, Kara Koenig, Laci Budd, and M. Jackie Chang, established that one way to retain women and minorities in the AEC industry is by ensuring equitable advancement opportunities. The team is creating a readily accessible hub of resources and framework to help track professional skill sets and achievements.
  • TeacHER2.0, presented by Amanda Roehl, Chad Coldiron, and Kellie Delaney, expands on the effort by 2022 ElevateHER® project teams, and leverages the collective powers of public libraries to distribute materials that will help expose AEC career paths to children at an early stage.
  • TransformUS, presented by Alejandra Ruiz, Alicia Albini, and Katie Fitzpatrick, asserts that a growth mindset is key to implementing DEI initiatives and improving recruitment, retention, and culture at AEC organizations. They will share their research and a framework that change agents can leverage to gain buy-in from firm leaders.

Applications are now open to join the 2024 Cohort. The deadline to apply is December 15, 2023.

If you want to help make the ElevateHER program more accessible to all AEC professionals, consider becoming 2024 ElevateHER Sponsor.

Shirley Che is director of field marketing, learning, and ElevateHER® at Zweig Group.  Resourceful and forever curious, Shirley is a data-oriented creative with a passion for connecting communities to resources. She joined Zweig Group as Marketing Manager in 2021.  Contact her at sche@zweiggroup.com.