The pages of history are filled with stories of women from all walks of life who have changed the world. Yet, despite accounting for more than half of the college-educated labor force in the United States, women are still outnumbered by men in certain fields. For example, women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with men vastly outnumbering women majoring in most STEM fields in college.
We recently sat down with Jessica Smith, chair of Gresham Smith’s Women’s Employee Resource Network (ERN) and a senior interior designer in the firm’s Aviation market, along with fellow ERN member and architect/Aviation studio leader, Zoë Fisher, to discuss how our Women’s ERN is aiming to help improve opportunities for girls and women in the A/E industry and across the STEM pipeline through key alliances, including a new partnership with Girl Scouts of Western Ohio.
Tell us how the Women’s ERN connected with Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, and why?
Jessica Smith: The Girl Scouts offers girls additional and unique ways to experience STEM. Since one of our ERN’s main goals is to connect with young women so we can expose them to the A/E industry and grow the recruiting pipeline for the future, it felt like such a natural alliance.
After numerous discussions, we determined that it’s never too early to target future employees. In fact, research shows that children aged six through eight are at a prime age to engender excitement about a field—and you can join the Girl Scouts at any point from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
The connection came through Natashia Metz, who is a member of the Women’s ERN and also an environmental compliance professional in Gresham Smith’s Water + Environment market. Natashia is incredibly involved with the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio—so much so that she leads their annual Winter Leadership Conference. Natashia recently joined the Women’s ERN and shared with the group how the Girl Scouts organization is hungry to bring in more STEM leaders. With this in mind, she started an outreach through the ERN calling for an architect and an engineer to participate in the 2023 Winter Leadership Conference this past February.
We answered her “call to action” by sending Zoë to participate from an architect’s point of view, along with Michelle Wright, who is an engineer, a fellow Women’s ERN member, and is Gresham Smith’s Industrial market vice president.
Things turned full circle with Michelle’s participation as she has a strong connection to the Girl Scouts having received the Gold Award—the highest achievement for Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts—during her tenure with them. As Natashia is the volunteer assistant director for the annual conference, we had three of our ERN members investing their personal time in the event.
“The Girl Scouts offers girls additional and unique ways to experience STEM… it felt like such a natural alliance.”
Tell us about the conference.
Zoë Fisher: The conference took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, over the course of the President’s Day weekend. In attendance were around 150 Cadette, Senior and Ambassador Girl Scouts from across the Western Ohio region. The overarching goal of the conference was to develop a range of leadership skills, including problem-solving, decision-making, conflict resolution and critical thinking.
Michelle and I attended three functions over the weekend, which included panel discussions hosted by the Girl Scouts. The panel I led was for girls 6th- to 9th-grade level. Michelle’s panel was for girls 9th- to 12th-grade level. The panel discussions included women from a diverse range of professions, each sharing their unique career journeys. There was also a networking fair following the panels.
Although the conference was “hopping,” our table was absolutely swamped! As part of our setup, we had a virtual reality display in which the girls could engage in an immersive experience of some of our projects.
What other types of activities were you involved in?
Zoë: Along with the panel discussions, we led a workshop in which we gave an introduction to architecture and engineering. To highlight the fundamentals, one of the three workshop activities involved building a tower using raw spaghetti noodles and tape. The goal was for the tower to support the weight of a marshmallow. The girls learned that they just couldn’t build a square for support and that a triangle was much stronger for those purposes. So, it was a great team-building exercise.
“There are girls out there who haven’t had any type of influence in their lives that would encourage them to pursue a career in architecture, engineering [or] interior design…”
Gresham Smith is always looking for the next generation of talent. Why is targeting this age group so important?
Jessica: Right out of the gate when the Women’s ERN was first formed, we asked the group in a blind survey what was most important to them in terms of our goals. Growing the recruiting pipeline was identified as one of the top three goals. Gresham Smith does such a great job on collegiate outreach, and our idea was to reach back even further and show younger girls that: Yes—you can be in the A/E industry!
There are girls out there who haven’t had any type of influence in their lives that would encourage them to pursue a career in architecture, engineering, interior design or other STEM-related fields. Through partnerships like our alliance with Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, we’re trying to get on their radar so we can develop an even more diverse talent pool at Gresham Smith. And that means reaching these girls at a younger age.
Zoë: I think it’s important to note that our relationship with Girl Scouts of Western Ohio started because of the way Gresham Smith is creating connections between all of our offices through our Employee Resource Networks.
I connected with both Michelle and Natashia through the Women’s ERN. Before that, I had never met Natashia in person and had only seen Michelle in passing. Suddenly, I got to spend the entire weekend with both of them. And we got to have some great conversations about life in general as well as how we see the Women’s ERN evolving. And we want to grow our involvement with the Girl Scouts.
Going forward, we’re looking at developing a Gresham Smith STEM patch in partnership with Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, and we’ve set up a subcommittee to explore what that patch curriculum might look like. So, stay tuned!