Boots on the ground

Jan 29, 2023

Shirley Che

Participants of Zweig Group’s ElevateHER® movement are putting in the work to move the needle on the recruitment and retention crisis our industry faces.

When Luisa Madrigal with the gift of strength surprised Disney as the most popular character from Encanto instead of her sister Isabela, whose power is to conjure beauty and “perfection,” mainstream media woke to the realization that strength, instead of outward beauty, is now the quality that resonates the best with the masses. I am no Luisa; my shoulders measure 18 inches apart, my arm span is about 5 feet long, and I can overhead press about 50 pounds for a few reps on a good day. All of these measurements are a little below average for an American woman; but with this little frame and limited strength, I join Luisa and most other women I’ve ever met in real life in trying to carry the world’s problems on my shoulders.

During a lunch with Emily Gossett, a principal and one of the first handful of female leaders of the design and architecture giant, Gensler, we both got a little carried away with all the problems we should help solve, locally, nationally, and even globally – we stopped short at the galaxy level. We were both silent for a moment, acknowledging the weight of it all. But then right away, we remembered that we were not alone. There is literally an army of people like us who already have (work) boots on the ground in every single firm and organization, and they’re chipping away at all the world’s problems one step at a time. We have been moving the needle together whether we know the other soldiers or not.

And that brings me to ElevateHER®, formed by Zweig Group as part of its commitment to help recruit, retain, and engage the best minds in the industry. In the last two years that I have been a part of this movement, I have witnessed the power of bringing together individual contributors from all around the country. A platform like ElevateHER® has allowed the impact created by each of the change agents involved to be amplified. The circles of influence each of the cohort members bring are now exponential, and it’s blindingly obvious that the whole is bigger than the sums of its parts.

Let’s zoom in on STEAM (previously STEM) in K-12 and see how ElevateHER® cohort members have come together and divvied up the effort. The inaugural 2020 ElevateHER® cohort took on this piece of the pie with project She Belongs Here, offering videos, and activities like the fortune teller and career cards, for anyone to share with and show the children in their lives, especially little girls, that they, too, can be AEC. The 2022 cohort further expanded the effort with project TeacHER by gathering and offering K-12 resources specifically to benefit educators, as well as resources that will equip AEC professionals to be more effective advocates at their local career days. There is even now a map on the website for educators from around the country to locate and connect with nearby AEC professionals for career days at their school.

Workplace culture is a big pie. Multiple projects from each cohort have tackled the topic, focusing on a different piece each time. In 2020, the WeRise team developed a card deck of employee experience conversation starter prompts, and team Redefining Success focused on modernizing the definition of success, and putting the power of career progression, in the control of the employee. In 2021, team The Right Fit developed a toolkit to help AEC professionals advocate for a better work-life fit within their own firms. The toolkit included a self-assessment, a policy hub, and sample pitches to help others draft their own asks. Team She Is Welcome Here broke down what a returnship was, and strived to connect “returners” with firms that either already have returnship policies in place or were ready to start.

There are many more projects that are intertwined, and many examples of how individual contributors have come together via ElevateHER® to share the weight of the mission with others with aligning passion. Through ElevateHER®, Zweig Group will continue to facilitate these connections and efforts by serving as the platform where these resources are readily available to others who might be just starting on this path. We recognize the power of our reach into the industry, and we promise to use that to help lighten the weight in creating a more sustainable AEC workforce.

I am very proud to bring the ElevateHER® Symposium to you this February. The team has been very thoughtful and intentional with the curation of speakers and topics, so our attendees can not only be inspired, but also equipped to turn inspiration to action. It is going to be a packed day with a strategically-planned agenda, where attendees will have the opportunity to connect with each other, and the time to let the content sink in. We hope to see you on February 15 in Dallas!  

Shirley Che is director of marketing at Zweig Group. Contact her at

ElevateHER® Symposium ElevateHER® is about the future of the AEC industry, and Zweig Group’s commitment to recruit, retain, and engage the best minds in the industry. Join us at the 2023 ElevateHER® Symposium, where we present select ElevateHER® projects, DEI-focused keynotes from industry leading change agents, powerful panel discussions, and practical mini workshops to all those who are ready to turn inspiration into action. Click here to learn more!

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.