“Back then [being a female engineer in the 1980s at the University of Washington] it was about 7% female. Today, in my specific field, which is mechanical, it’s 7.9… In 30 years 0.9%. Not great, so it’s still quite flam. The overall engineering, where you take all the disciplines, has increased a little bit; it’s about 14% now and it was 5%. There’s some improvement in a general sense, but again, 14% is nothing!”—Rae Anne Rushing, CEO and Co-Founder of Rushing
Rae Anne Rushing is Co-Founder and has been CEO of her own MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) engineering and sustainability consulting firm for the last almost 15 years. She was one of our guests during Season 1, where she shared her incredibly inspiring story about growing up poor in Fairbanks, Alaska. She re-tells her story of struggling through childhood, and getting pregnant at 15, but ultimately working hard and turning her life around. By working multiple jobs and supporting her family while getting her mechanical engineering degree at the University of Washington, she eventually triumphed and is now running a business that is recognized as #85 in the top 100 North American MEP engineering companies by revenue, with 35% growth year-over-year.
Despite Rae Anne’s inspiring and high-level success, she can still be seen actively pursuing her mission of increasing female diversity, inclusion, and retention in the engineering industry, especially her own field, MEP. As mentioned in the quote above, only 14% of females represent the engineering field. This is not a good number, especially for the year 2020. Rae Anne even reports discouraging numbers in her business case study of a 9.1% female membership in The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and a 11% female membership in The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
The following will be an account of her endeavor to increase female representation, her efforts in creating accurate representation in her own company, and the tactics she believes are extremely effective at driving, what she calls; The Female Effect.
After reading writing pieces Anne had given me, I had learned that her company proudly has a gender diversity of 35% of the company’s workforce identifying as female. However, in her business case study, she profoundly notes, that diversity is not the same as inclusion, and makes the distinction that, “Diversity is being asked to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” Although her diversity statistics are 35%, which is incredible on its own, her inclusion statistics include a 51% female ownership team and 46% female management team! Rae Anne suggests organizations should recognize the female effect and the following ways in order to increase female representation in engineering firms and the industry more broadly.
As Rae Anne defines, the Female Effect is, “the intrinsic value of women in engineering, that builds momentum, and creates a culture of inclusion and diversity where everyone feels valued, and enhances a business’s success.”
Here are the 5 ways Rae Anne says will increase not only attracting, but more importantly, retaining women in the engineering field.
Rae Anne makes the comment, “Culture is a garden that needs tending. Weeds must be addressed timely and consistently. Do what you say, walk your talk. Double standards at any level will work against this effort.” She says that a good indicator for a stable culture is an attrition rate of less than 10%. Are the people at your company staying and for a long time? Or is there high turnover?
By addressing company culture on a consistent basis, a company can keep their employees authentically engaged, making scaling and employee retention successful and high.
“Solicit Employee Feedback”
Rae Anne recommends that employee real-time feedback will help leaders in the company intervene at the right time as cultural issues arise. It can create a proactive system that prevents culture corruption but rather fosters an attitude of learning and transparency, which she says “will leads to an engaged and proactive workforce”.
She recommends using companies that can collect and analyze employee responses like Culture Amp, which provide enterprise-wide platforms that measure components of a company’s cultural health.
“Implement an External Audit for Accountability on Equity”
Rae recommends a third-party audit in order to measure company equity efforts. Some great third-party audits include the JUST Label, International Living Building Institute, and GEN Certification. Third-party audits like these assess a companies’ efforts towards diversity and inclusion and identify areas for improvement and provide actionable steps companies can take in order to improve their diversity programs.
Rae Anne points out that having diverse leadership in our organizations today has been undervalued and underestimated, because we simply don’t have past examples to reference. That’s why Rae Anne urges us to seek out talented females, open opportunities for females currently in our sphere, and have open arms for women entering engineering, especially the MEP fields. We are here to uplift each other when given the chance, not just ourselves. We are in this together, as women.
It’s really important to invest company resources into developing the best and most effective leaders and company culture, and that’s exactly what Rushing did when they started to experience growing pains. When Rushing grew from 65 to 100 people, they had to promote people into leadership who they felt weren’t ready to be strong leaders. But instead of hiring externally, they invested time and money into a leadership advisor and coach that matched their brand values and followed the Harvard University’s Immunity to Change framework. What followed was a transformed company culture, with increased levels of engagement, transparency, and effective leadership. It enabled the company to successfully double their profits and scale 35% every single year!