Zweig Group’s 2021 ElevateHER cohort

Sep 06, 2021

This year’s cohort has picked up where last year’s group left off – taking on creative ideas to solve both historic and emerging challenges.

ElevateHER is Zweig Group’s commitment to promote diversity and equity in the AEC industry. With recruitment and retention still the number one challenge faced by industry principals, it’s more important than ever to focus on recruiting and retaining the best and brightest in the industry. To do that, firms need to continue to attract new individuals to the industry, and also need to make sure they keep knowledgeable and valuable people employed in the industry.

For 2021, ElevateHER assembled a cohort based on applications from every firm type, job role, geography, and experience level. This group met virtually and broke into five different project teams, each concentrating on a particular challenge or focus area in order to provide an end product that would be useful and able to make a measurable impact on the AEC industry. The output of each of these groups will be presented over the course of Zweig Group’s Virtual ElevateAEC Conference & ElevateHER Symposium from September 13-October 7.

The group topics are as follows:

MentHer Match: Caitlin Pennington, Christine Manhart, Johnathon Postell, Julia Jack, Lauren Lint, Maria Lucio, Stephanie Teetes (September 16, 2021 1 p.m. CST)
  • MentHer Match proposes to develop the foundation for a web-based mentor-mentee matching service that will broaden the scope of available mentoring by enlarging the pool of mentors, removing the inherent conflicts typically encountered when mentors and mentees belong to the same company, and, at full roll-out, provide an automated, algorithm-based matching protocol analogous to common dating services. There is an identified need for mentoring of women and other minorities in the AEC industry to prevent the “pipeline leak” that results in the steady decrease in representation of these classes throughout the track of a career. MentHer Match will increase the pool of available mentors across a wider range of mentees than is typically available in any given firm. By including the entire AEC industry and negating geographic impediments to the mentor-mentee relationship, MentHer Match allows for mentees to connect with people at every stage of their career.
The Right Fit: Erin Conway, LaTonya Horhn, Susan Dawson, Katie Batill-Bigler (September 28, 2021, 1 p.m. CST)
  • This group has identified a lack of value placed on enabling a sufficient work-life balance (or more appropriately, “fit”) for individuals within AEC firms. A lack of work-life fit policies has had a negative impact on recruitment and is a leading cause of burnout and dissatisfaction resulting in decreased productivity and profitability, and is a driving factor in professionals leaving the industry. If leadership has not identified the importance or need for such policies on their own, it is often left to employees to sound the bell and voice their own dissatisfaction with the status quo.
  • By providing employees with a toolkit they can easily access to advocate for changes in work-life fit programs within their firms, they will feel empowered and more likely to approach leadership and advocate for real change and investment. This group aims to provide a website (or series of web pages on Zweig Group’s ElevateHER website) for use by an individual as a “grassroots” approach to craft a pitch for leadership about adopting a la carte policies, including leave allowance, flexible work schedules, health/wellness programs, etc. Users will have access to a self-evaluation (to guide their priorities), quantitative and qualitative support data (industry case studies, employee/employer testimonials, industry statistics), solution/policy options, talking points, and a presentation template. Information will be sorted based upon firm size to provide scalable solutions for any firm.
The Elevators: Alixandria Henley, Rathi Perumal, Lauren Waldron, Amy Jones (September 30, 2021, 1 p.m. CST)
  • This group believes companies that want to thrive in the AEC industry will require a significant lift to improve the workplace (or firm culture) in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is recognized as critically important for hiring top talent, sustaining growth, and fostering innovation. But, where can an individual or firm in the industry go to find information, resources, and tools to become more informed or gain new ideas to create an optimal workplace and corporate culture in support of DEI? If a firm wants to develop a diversity plan, enhance family leave policies, bring in a lunch and learn speaker on DEI, where do they start? Companies and individuals need support for developing these programs and becoming more educated.
  • The Elevators are establishing a centralized location for resources – specifically a database of knowledge experts, speakers, books, articles, and podcasts on the ElevateHER website for individuals and firms to easily find. This group has partnered with Zweig Group/ElevateHER staff to design website revisions and are developing a system for organizing the information for easy access. A Google form to collect contact data from experts has been developed and broadly distributed through social media and direct outreach from the Elevators’ work group. This group has also done a “call for recommendations” for books, articles, and podcasts supporting DEI issues. Information will be categorized and searchable within the main topic areas of:
    • Data and statistics
    • Diversity, equity, and inclusion
    • DBE programs
    • Human resources
    • Events
    • Workplace culture
    • Leadership
ROUTE DEI: Mickey Garcia, Lisa Huddleston, Rob Matthews, Will Schnier, Ana Collins (September 21, 2021, 1 p.m. CST)
  • ROUTE DEI is a road map that paves the way for companies to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive in their workplaces. It identifies key criteria and best practices for assessing, adapting, delivering, and measuring through a points-based index on quantitative and qualitative levels. ROUTE DEI also becomes the vehicle by which a firm can submit to be recognized and awarded Zweig Group’s ROUTE DEI award. This award showcases a firm’s progress and success in becoming a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization, as measured by the ROUTE DEI road map.
  • The established survey is one deliverable that will act as a roadmap and allow firms to assess, adapt, deliver, and measure key criteria for their DEI program. The survey serves as the vehicle to measure a firm’s performance for itself and against its competitors for a DEI award.
  • The DEI award is another deliverable used to celebrate the efforts of firms that intentionally address DEI issues/challenges. The positive results for a participating firm (and hopefully the broader AEC industry) are to strengthen recruiting, retention, and overall performance. The coupled road map and award can catalyze long-overdue changes to the entire industry.
She Is Welcome Here: Heather Calvert, Kaley Konecny, Katie Goodman, Jayna Duke, Julie Passalacqua (October 5, 2021, 1 p.m. CST)
  • While the AEC industry struggles with an even representation of men and women at all levels, there is an even greater discrepancy between them at leadership levels. This occurs especially often to those who have been in the industry for 10-15 years, and they are not only leaving their firms, but the AEC industry as a whole. This leak in the career pipeline creates a deficiency of talent, a lack of innovation, and few mentors for younger women looking for role models in the industry. While there are many reasons women may choose to leave, at least one third of women leave the AEC industry because the culture in their firms is deemed unsupportive and unsustainable. Further, many firms are unaware of the toxicity of their cultures and the ways in which their structures and policies drive women away.
  • This group seeks to do the following:
    • Build a diagnostic tool that will help firm leaders evaluate their diversity and inclusion “IQ,” focusing on demographics of the firm, policies and procedures, career development and training, diversity and inclusion education, and micro-aggression awareness.
    • Create a firm-wide survey to broaden leadership’s perspective, point out blind spots, and ultimately create an award for best performing firms.
    • Build a diagnostic tool that can be included as part of a pre-M&A package at the beginning of discussions to determine cultural fit.
    • Create a set of resources for firm leaders to research and investigate diversity and inclusion in their firms.

The ElevateHER Symposium will take place within the Virtual ElevateAEC Conference. Register for this free event and gain access to the ElevateHER Symposium and other great learning sessions! Click here for more details.

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of research and e-commerce. She can be reached at

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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.