C+S February 2023 Vol. 9 Issue 2 (web)

A Conversation with Jamie Claire Kiser

Jamie Claire Kiser founded ElevateHER in 2019 with a singular purpose–to find actionable ways to improve the recruitment and retention of women in the AEC industry–and, now, nearly four years later, that vision hasn’t changed. Like many other women working in the AEC indus - try, Kiser had experienced a working environment that was statistically and structurally stacked against her. However, she found no catharsis in the appraisal of her surroundings. Rather, like so many other people in the AEC industry, Kiser wanted a way in which to improve the conditions for women in the AEC industry through shared experience and collaboration.

Sensing this need for a platform, Kiser established ElevateHER in late 2019. At the heart of ElevateHER is the belief that the problems that slow women from entering and moving up in the AEC industry can be solved through actionable collaboration. Using the ElevateHER platform, wom - en and men from around the AEC industry–from entry level to the ownership level–can come together to share their experiences and knowledge with the goal of creating actionable plans that will address the recruitment and retention of women in the AEC industry. Nearly four years after its founding, ElevateHER is continuing to grow and will celebrate its fourth cohort joining the program in Dallas this Febru - ary. In anticipation of the 2023 ElevateHER Symposium and Kickoff Event, Civil+Structural Engineer sat down with Jamie Claire Kiser to talk about what makes ElevateHER such an important force for the AEC industry: C+S: You founded ElevateHER in 2019 based on an idea formulated on a late night flight. In those first moments and days, what was your vision for ElevateHER, and has it changed any four years later? JCK: It really hasn’t changed since then. I recently went back and looked at that first email I sent, and [ElevateHER] has become exactly what I was hoping it would be. I wanted people to come together and focus on recruitment and retention from a wider perspective. I wanted to focus on what [the AEC industry] wasn’t doing to bring energy out of people and figure out how we can move past that. It’s been really cool how action- oriented and specifically people have engaged with it. The Kickoff Events are always so productive, and I know this one will be too. Once people get to engage and not feel alone, they immediately turn to figuring out how to make their shared problems better. It quickly goes from complaints and individual problems to what would make it better. Then, they realize how much can be accomplished in a year. This has made the reach in - credible, and its probably one of the coolest things I didn’t exactly see coming. The connections that cohort members have made and how much their careers have grown has been incredible. They now have a whole network of people they hadn’t met before. C+S: Looking at the applications for the 2023 ElevateHER Cohort, there is a common thread of people wanting to either receive mentorship or provide it for others. For you, who have been your professional mentors, or what have you learned from a lack of mentorship? JCK: I have never really had a mentor in AEC, and that’s been a big sticking point for me. I have people I work closely with and are the first people I send ideas to, but mentorship is a hard thing. One thing I’ve had is advocates, or people who saw my potential. I hate the self-made narrative because nobody is entirely self-made. One of our past projects, MentHER Match, is really focused on these ideas. I think they [Mentorship and advocacy] are very important things you can do for somebody. C+S: Mentorship and advocacy are built into the ElevateHER program, and teams often seek to establish even larger networks to support these ideas. Switching back a little bit to the process of the program itself, can you talk about the role of advisors in ElevateHER? JCK: The Kickoff conference is when the advisors come into play. These are the people who have been through the cohorts before as well as a few friends of the program. Our advisors are able to provide good context and experience, which helps people brainstorm. Solving big problems can be complicated, and there are many things under the broad umbrella of recruiting and retention. The advisors provide guidance and keep the cohort moving forward. They also are able to perform the emotional work required for this kind of work. Questions and conversations about a more successful future can be draining. Our advisors are very important to the program. C+S: Looking back at the past of the ElevateHER program, what impact do you think ElevateHER has had on the AEC industry? JCK: It was the first program that wasn’t discipline-specific, and that was really important to us. You didn’t have to be an architect or engineer to care. AEC firms are made up of many different kinds of professionals, not just Architects and Engineers. [ElevateHER] has helped change those sorts of discussions. I initially struggled with the name because I felt I was potentially speaking for other people. However, I’ve found that the more voices that join the ElevateHER conversations, the more the accountability of the group grows. C+S: What do you see as the future of ElevateHER? JCK: I want to have a fund available to help support groups as they complete their projects. Many of these projects are [potential] business ideas, and it would be really cool to support them with investors. A lot of these projects are technology-based, and an investment could open everyone on that team up to a secondary revenue stream. These really are amazing ideas, and to take the next step in many cases we need investors to help execute them. If you are looking to sponsor ElevateHER or attend the 2023 ElevateHER Symposium, please visit the ElevateHER website for more information.


February 2023



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