Elevating STEAM

Sep 19, 2021

Stephanie Warino

Our industry can’t afford to meet the complex challenges we face today with a one-perspective approach.

AEC work is complex and rewarding. It encompasses nearly all aspects of the STEAM fields – technical, aesthetics, design, public safety, end user considerations, environmental sustainability, and corporate social responsibility. We design and build power infrastructure, wind farms, pipelines, solar farms, skyscrapers, bridges, and roads. Recruitment and retention of the best talent is critical to the industry, as well as to optimize firm growth and performance. Yet we limit ourselves in some ways. STEAM fields have been dominated almost entirely by a uniform demographic, and by default, only one perspective. On nearly any company’s website, you can see this uniformity in the leadership’s demographic, and exceptions are rare. Can we afford to meet the complex problems we face today with a one-perspective approach?

This uniformity is largely unintentional; we resonate with those who are like ourselves. Susan Colantuono spoke in a TED Talk about a CEO mentoring a man and a woman. The CEO said, “Looking back, I coached the female to be more confident, and the man to run the business. I didn’t realize that I treated them differently.” A tragedy, but there is something to admire about this CEO – powerful, yet humble, curious, and gracious enough to search out his blind spots.

Zweig Group’s ElevateHER movement, with partner organizations like Women’s Energy Network – which is nearly 6,000 members strong today – is designed to support, educate, and create awareness around the employment disparities that minority demographics face, and is specifically focused on STEAM fields. The disparity begins at graduation. Of engineering grads, only 20 percent are women, and only half become practicing engineers. AEC principal polls show that nearly 100 percent of women principals considered leaving the AEC industry, as opposed to very few men. Women and minorities see a uniform demographic in leadership, perhaps on social media or the website, and receive an implicit message – that reaching the highest positions may be unachievable. Despite proof that diversity impacts growth, many AEC firms hesitate regarding diversity. Of surveyed principals, 91 percent are white, 82 percent are male, and only 62 percent saw a diversity problem in our industry, meaning in this population, 38 percent didn’t see a diversity problem. Growth results from diversity of thought – proof is in “Board Diversity Impacts Growth.” I believe this is a rational proxy that diversity overall spurs growth.

We need a broader base of talent to develop the best solutions to our most challenging problems. It begins at the grassroots level, in movements like ElevateHER – but success and acceptance as a norm and a necessity comes from the C-suite. Token gestures are more damaging than helpful; changing the board’s entire governing framework in order to drag a few folding chairs up to the board table is an example of such a gesture, as is a title without the authority that goes along with it. And pay disparity has yet to catch up – Zweig Group’s recent studies have left me wondering why companies have yet to do this of their own volition. This is a small step, but a crucial one that sends a strong message of support.

Actionable, adaptable solutions are being presented in Zweig Group’s ongoing 2021 Virtual ElevateAEC Conference & ElevateHer Symposium, which is a free-to-all virtual experience that began last week and runs through October 2.

Data in this article was from Zweig Group’s recently released 2021 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey Report, 2021 Marketing Report of AEC Firms, and 2020-2021 Recruitment and Retention Survey Report; and the soon-to-be-released AEC Workplace of the Future Report. Zweig Groups cordially invites you to attend the 2021 Virtual ElevateAEC Conference & ElevateHer Symposium. Meet with peers to discuss this and other important industry issues at the 2021 In-Person ElevateAEC Conference & Awards Gala, which includes the iconic black-tie awards gala celebrating the 2021 winners of the Hot Firms List, Best Firms To Work For, Marketing Excellence, Rising Stars, Top New Ventures, and the Jerry Allen Courage In Leadership awards. The limited-attendance CEO Roundtable Retreat is also a unique opportunity for AEC firm leaders to engage and interact with industry peers to discuss current issues facing firms today, explore industry trends and next practices, and confront the biggest challenges they face leading their firms.

Stephanie Warino is a licensed environmental professional and an advisor with Zweig Group. Contact her at swarino@zweiggroup.com.

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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.