ASCE Outstanding Employee Resource Group

‘Pushing Towards More Representation’; ASCE Shows Winning Impact of Diversity Initiatives

Lisa Black is the director of cultural belonging and social ethos for the American Society of Civil Engineers, winners of a coveted SIIA 2022 IMPACT Award. She says that her unique title is “intentional because the work that I lead is really about creating and developing that sense of not only belonging, but [creating] that frame of mind—just making sure our actions are reflected in our environment.”

One of her biggest projects is their Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Best Practices Resource Guide. (See it here.) That guide is just one reason that ASCE won a 2022 SIIA IMPACT Equity Award for its Outstanding Employee Resource Group.

It begins: “Civil engineers are problem solvers. One critical element that cannot be overlooked is that civil engineers solve problems for society. Society is made up of people—people from diverse backgrounds, identities, and cultures; people who have diverse interests and needs…”

After acknowledging some problems with siloing and employee stress—not uncommon in organizations today—ASCE has initiated multiple steps and activities to change their organizational culture, led by Black, with lots of support from colleagues and leadership.

Here are some of those activities:

  • REELTalk
  • Short Story Club
  • Diversity Day, an annual celebration held the week of May 21
  • Lunch and Learns – on topics relating to DEI.
  • A Monthly Diversity Calendar, posted every month on ASCE’s intranet
  • STRUCTURES: Faces of ASCE, inspired by Humans of New York, features portraits and stories shared by staff.

More support has come from their Members of Society Advancing an Inclusive Culture (MOSAIC), established as a Board-level body to provide ASCE with leadership in all matters of DEI within the civil engineering profession. I spoke with Lisa a few weeks ago about their amazing work and Equity Award honor.

RL: Congratulations Lisa. Can you describe your role at ASCE and how you’ve moved more into internal functions?
LISA BLACK: I came on staff in 2016, and the [D&I] Council was created around 2015. My role had been working primarily with the member community of ASCE to focus on the profession of civil engineering. But given the work that I was doing writ large, it seemed natural for me to see what was going on internally. So all the wonderful programs that we have now have evolved in this 7-year timeframe. It started with the hosting of a Diversity Day, [featuring] customs that staff shares. Most departments are represented.

How did moving to virtual impact these initiatives?
LISA: We’re fortunate to have some tech geniuses who created all these channels that staff could go in and participate—sharing their favorite recipes and traditions, celebrating veterans. It was a great way for us to get to know each other and build community. And at the heart, that’s what DEI is about—building that sense of belonging and community, and celebrating all of the talents.

How did that translate back to things you did externally with members?
LISA: Our member programs and resources have grown exponentially. We have developed that best practices guide and also have [MOSAIC] to help create and develop these resources for members. We also have industry leaders who are interested in learning how they can create more inclusive environments in their workspaces. So I’ve done presentations individually, providing resources. I’ve also received a grant to create DEI best practices specifically to engineering, speaking to equity, social equity, and community and sustainability—also looking at the K-12 pipeline, and making sure that we’re reaching under represented populations of future engineers.

It must be very satisfying to see the progress you’ve made.
LISA: When I first came on, we had a virtually all white male staff and board. Since then, we had a span of 3 consecutive years of female presidents. And now it’s evolved to where almost half of the board are women. But again, I’m vested and committed to broadening our definition of what diversity looks like. So though I’ve seen strides when it comes to gender diversity, we’re still pushing towards having more representation from groups that we don’t typically see.

I know that’s not easy in a profession like engineering.
LISA: We have partnerships with groups like the National Society of Black Engineers, featuring undergraduates in particular who are studying civil engineering and connecting them with engineers in the field. That is a way that we can build and grow. We have a mentor match program, and we’re trying to encourage our students to engage in that, and for our student chapters to connect with NESB’s student chapters. It takes time, and from my years of experience… you have to be so strategic about it. There’s that saying [paraphrasing]: “If you’re going to do for us, then you need to have us as part of the solution” and at the table.

Lastly, to change an organizational culture, I’m sure you need lots of support.
LISA: Yes, it starts with Tom Smith, our executive director. I can’t give him enough shout outs for his support and his commitment to DEI. It’s funny because he’s like, “Lisa, you’re doing a lot of great work but you need to get your name out there.” And I’m like, “I’m your courageous follower; you just keep giving me the support, and we’ll get it done.” And [COO] Marty [Fertal], I want to shout him out, too, because I try to keep him updated on what I’m doing, and I go to him at times just for some mentorship. And then I report to our general counsel, Tara Hoke… It’s really about organizational change, and that starts with the leadership commitment to that change. [She also gives kudos to Bianca Augustin, Sahar Kandahari and Damita Snow.]

I also appreciate that [SIIA] has recognized the work that ASCE and our D&I Council is doing.

Thanks Lisa. It’s well-deserved.

Woman entrepreneur busy with her work in office. Young woman talking over telephone while working on computer at her desk. (Woman entrepreneur busy with her work in office. Young woman talking over telephone while working on computer at her desk., ASC

‘Each Generation Looks at Something Differently’; Takeaways From the BIMS Future of Work Panel

In a Keynote Panel at BIMS 2023 on Feb. 24, Jim Elliott of James G. Elliott Co., Inc. steered an all-star panel through an insightful, 55-minute discussion that touched on all of work’s biggest issues in 2023.

Kevin Turpin, president of the National Journal, Terri Travis, vice president of human resources, Industry Dive, and Nick Schacht, chief global development officer, SHRM, talked about the processes, pomp and circumstances of in-office vs. remote work—with Elliott asking just the right questions

One thing quickly became clear: It’s not a one-size-fits-all blueprint.

“To me, it became clear that many HR issues have become C-Suite issues,” Elliott began.  “There are no cookie-cutter solutions to challenges like managing in-office vs. remote work, taxes, company culture, HR laws that vary from state to state, and so on. Leaders must be aware of HR issues that will impact them.”

“Running a hybrid company brings challenges,” Turpin said. “Trying to manage a group that is in the office sometimes. There’s a fairness perspective [with in-person people vs. remote], but more importantly from a communications standpoint.

“People under 30, or even 27, they have very specific ideas about where they want to work,” Turpin added, pointing to the challenges of recruitment and retention. Skills development is crucial. Can that be done remotely? “They’re trying to be a professional.” Can that be fully accomplished without in-person interaction?

“We’re going back to the office two days a week,” Travis said. The most important question for her is, “’What is the purpose of going to the office?’ We’re trying to take the best of both worlds. We had a great onboarding process onsite and now pivoted to a great onboard experience remotely. You can’t rest on your laurels on how you execute those.”

Schacht somewhat downplayed this new work order. “We’ve always changed,” he said. “Some of us have been connecting from the road for 30 years. You learn to use new tools. We can hold on to things that we know.

“Look at the range of generations; there’s like six generations now in the workplace. Flexibility is one key thing. At SHRM, we’re doing three days in office, two at home. Adults will be adults. If you have a doctor’s appointment, go to that. We can add flexibility. But what is it particularly that young people want?”

“Each generation looks at something differently,” Travis said. “The similarity is that people want autonomy.”

“Leaders must embrace diversity of life-experience, including generational groups, and avoid the tendency to always impose their own generational biases,” Elliott said.

The panelists agreed about the positives of a bigger talent pool. “We can hire better talent than we could before,” Turpin (pictured) said. But it brings complications. “Where people work from now matters, given the tax laws. We now have a 135-person business registered in 12 states. Taxes is one thing but then being up on labor laws is another. It brings a level of risk. Does it really make sense [for us] to be registered in Minnesota? We have one employee there but when he leaves…

“The crystal ball is cloudy and clear,” Turpin continued. “What’s clear is we’re in a period of change. As a leader, you have to operate more in empathy and truth, and make choices [from those places]. Work can get done in different ways, but you still have to do the work.”

“Making sure we hold on to those processes,” Travis said. “In terms of frontline managers, that’s really key. That’s the group that will connect your culture to performance. You have to make sure we’re setting them up for success.”

Schacht agreed. “Things are changing more rapidly all the time. You can’t predict five years out. So you have to build processes that will keep us from moving too quickly.”

“We now do formal reviews twice a year,” Turpin said. “So the staff always knows where they stand. People who are top performers, we know we want them growing here.”

“Make sure you’re setting goals for people,” Travis said, pointing to the importance of leadership acceleration programs.

The subject changed to culture and the acquisitions that Industry Dive made—before being acquired itself by Informa last year. “Every action is different. There’s no cookie-cutter solution” for pulling different cultures together, Travis said. “You’re pulling the best of both companies. You’re acquiring [a company] for a reason. Sometimes you have to move slow to move fast. Our company is not hierarchical. Our CEO sits in the middle of the newsroom. Some people aren’t used to that.”

“Culture has to be important in any acquisition you make,” Schacht said. “What’s going to happen to the name and all that? Having communication that is consistent. We acquired two companies. Are these people going to be required to come in three days a week now. Yes, if you’re in the area. That still is the mother ship. If you re honest with it, people at least know what to expect.”

Travis spoke of a mistake they made with PTO, moving one set of personnel into the rules of another. Staff wasn’t happy, and they learned from it. “We earned a lot of points with our team that we were willing to make that change.”

Of course, artificial intelligence came up, as it did throughout BIMS. “AI will be good for efficiency,” Turpin said. “The nuance side of AI we don’t know—in recruiting, people management. But it’s certainly entering our businesses.”

“Where AI excels is in getting to think about things we didn’t think about before,” Schacht said. “AI is helping to tell me what to do.”

Last but in no way least, Turpin spoke of the importance of DEI. “Diversity is here; it’s not just the color of our skin, but experiences. It’s something we have to embrace. It can’t just be something we’re checking the boxes on. The majority of high school grads last year were people of color. It has to be infused into how we’re running our businesses.”

“People fear change,” Schacht said. “You have to make it okay to fail, provided they fail fast, smart and not repeatedly. The opposite of change is death.

“When we start labeling people and generations, we do ourselves a disservice. What I find useful is, what are the capabilities and competencies that can help a company grow? If we start focusing on language that way, we focus on people more. People want to know where they can find expertise.” That can come from the “oldest or youngest in an organization,” he said.

Asked about respecting the older employees in a company, Turpin suggested asking them to be mentors. “We do a lot of honoring of our staff,” he said.

“Consistency combats bias,” Travis added.

“I learned a lot about issues that affect my own multi-state operation from this discussion,” Elliott concluded.


Video, Special Weeks and Storytelling Give These Organizations EXCELs and Sponsorships

Last year’s EXCEL Gold Extra! award went to The American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery for their Implicit Bias Video Series. They created 10 videos exploring examples of implicit bias. Written by practicing physicians, each video depicts an inappropriate interaction and then corrects it. The videos are “generously supported” by many sponsors.

In a video called How to Avoid Implicit Bias When Treating Older Patients, a doctor speaking to an 85 year-old woman and her daughter, assumes the older woman cannot handle any decisions and speaks over her to her daughter. It draws confusion and ill feelings. A second scene shows the doctor giving the patient much more respect with a far better outcome.

The high number of sponsors for the AAO-HNS videos shows that companies want to get behind initiatives that have positive impact.

Submitting your exceptional work for the 2023 EXCEL Awards—the Final Deadline has just been extended to Wednesday, March 8!—is a great way to earn much-deserved respect and appreciation. But it’s also a wonderful way to get the word out to others so they can benefit from your ideas—especially other members. Submitting a nomination can take as short as 15 minutes.

(Video is a category that could use more entries, along with Direct Mail; Social Media Presence; Newsletter Design, Redesign and Editorial Excellence; Blog Site; Websites; and DEI Initiatives.)

Here are more replicable ideas from the 2022 EXCEL winners (click here to enter 2023):

Develop videos to complement your publication. The Society of Actuaries’ Actuary Magazine website won a Gold EXCEL Award. The site features a section of Member Videos, where it’s impressive to watch Nikita Sabade talk about the “skill sets that I’ve found to be most important for actuaries on the job… make themselves vulnerable, communicate effectively with each other, listen actively to each other, and also be empathetic to how others are feeling.” Rolande Mbatchou (pictured) speaks about her journey from Cameroon to Paris to Chicago and the diversity she now sees in the field.

Build your audience with a special week. American Health Law Association’s Health Law Week won a Bronze EXCEL award for Best New Innovation. Many of the sessions and events for that week are open to the entire health law community free of charge. More events can be added throughout the year, so trending topics can be covered. AHLA sells $500, $1,000 and $2,000 sponsorships for Health Law Week—and a sponsorship page lists seven sponsors for 2022.

Highlight an underserved community. “This past May I earned my doctorate in physics, becoming the first Black woman to do so at Yale University. …Approximately 100 Black women have received a PhD in a physics-related field in the U.S…” Thus begins an essay from Brooke Russell on the Diversity and Inclusion site of Physics World, co-published with Physics Today as part of the American Institute of Physics’ #BlackInPhysics Week. The essay series won Gold for D&I Initiative Microsite. “#BlackInPhysics is a week dedicated not only to celebrating Black physicists and our contributions to the scientific community, but also to reveal a more complete picture of what a physicist looks like.”

How We PTA – encouraging change. In Best Pandemic Response Campaign, the National PTA did a storytelling campaign using “PTA” as a verb. “Learn How We PTA. Find inspiration from PTAs nationwide who have positively affected their communities with these stories of change that originated at the PTA with leaders just like you. Click a category below for stories about the power of the PTA… There’s no wrong way to PTA. However you do it, it’s all an investment in your child.” The positive message resonates strongly.

Find new stories. Anything Is Possible, a feature story from the National School Boards Association, won a Bronze EXCEL in Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives. “Aldine Independent School District’s Carver High School (Texas) offers award-winning programs in visual arts, vocal and instrumental music, dance, and theatre, giving its students—many of whom live in poverty—a safe environment to discover and be themselves.” The article included a series of moving photos. “We say it all the time: Your ZIP code is not your destiny,” says Aldine Superintendent LaTonya Goffney. “We want to make sure our students have the same opportunities and exposure to the arts as anyone, anywhere. They deserve it, and they benefit from it.”

Create a marketing guide. How to Sell Your Science: The Art of Science Communication, a special guide from ACS’s Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN)—a winner of a 2022 Gold EXCEL Award for Best New Innovation—attracted 408 subscribers from 49 countries in just the first two weeks. The writers are all science communication influencers “that represent the diversity of our audience, and the tone is personal and inspiring through the anecdotes and advice they share.” The guide was part of four email-courses that generated significant revenue in advertiser underwriting, allowing C&EN’s sales team to price and sell branded versions. Even the sign-up page has a thank you ad for funding support.



AI, Remote First, Office Turned ‘Studio’ and Talent Take Center Stage in BIMS CEO Panel

“Audiences are now engaging with us 365 days a year, listening to a podcast, reading a newsletter, watching a webinar or something on demand. We’re embracing those opportunities.” GovExec CEO Tim Hartman and four other major media company CEOs laid out a 2023 blueprint, kicking off the first in-person BIMS since 2019, and definitely one for the—new—ages.

While the disruption caused by Covid and other societal forces led off Thursday’s Business Information & Media Summit opening CEO panel—“That’s a nice, easy question,” Endeavor Business Media CEO Chris Ferrell (seated far right) joked when asked about the future that lies ahead—it did not take long for the next big disruption to assume center stage.

But what’s most interesting is how panelists tied artificial intelligence to talent and growth.

“Peter [Goldstone, chairman of GovExec] and I and our board are hyper-planners; we think critically about the businesses we’re buying,” Hartman (second from right), GovExec CEO, said just a few minutes in. “Of the acquisitions we’ve made recently, 9 out of 10 operators have stayed with us. That person is usually very additive to our business in terms of talent. Our integration is off and running on day 1. We have a champion in that founder.

“The talent equation has been transformative for us. ChatGPT is the most disruptive [element] in my lifetime. Worrying about this, I thought who can I talk to that would really have a good strategy? [Most of] those founders are tech people; that’s where talent can really move the dial.” And that’s where Hartman turned.

“Just by communicating with those leadership teams,” he was able to get a good read on this new media order. “Move towards chat-based communication interfaces,” he advised. “Users will drive it faster than you think.”

To simply say that BIMS is back serves as an understatement to the 150-plus attendees in Orlando last week. BIMS set a new agenda.

Tim Andrews (center), CEO of Advertising Specialty Institute, wanted to know who else in his company was “playing with” AI. “’Let’s talk,’” he said in an internal email. “I got 20 emails back from people playing with it on their own time, 2/3 tech people. I was amazed by how much feedback I got… It’s scary how much better it generated leads than our internally written material.”

That led into a discussion of talent. Elizabeth Green (far left), CEO of Brief Media, a publisher in the veterinary space, spoke how being able to work remotely has given them a great opportunity to hire people beyond their Tulsa environs.

The unified commitment to remote work from the panelists opened up the question about the function of offices moving forward.

“We keep rethinking, ‘how do we use our physical space? What moments do we need to be together?’” Gemma Postlethwaite, CEO of Arizent, said. “So we replaced ‘office’ with ‘studio’ as a destination for clients to make meaningful connections. What are those meaningful connections? We’re challenging team leaders on how we are going to develop our talent”—especially when it comes to strategic planning and responding to ChatGPT.

“Let’s get everyone on to talk about it. Hybrid doesn’t work in my opinion; it goes back to that [idea of] second-class citizen,” where there might be advantages for those in the office. ”What are the meaningful ways to bring people together, to create innovation.”

While she’s “amazed by how much culture can be built around Zoom,” Postlethwaite does worry about the learning curves for her younger staff people. “How can they learn about the people they’re working with?”

“We’re in the office one day a week,” Andrews said. “I’m more interested right now in how we can better leverage Zoom with our customers? Incorporating it with a customer-service perspective.”

“We went fully remote during Covid, and we’re not going back,” Hartman said. “Gemma’s ‘studio’ is a great idea.”

“We have [staff] in 40 states,” Ferrell said. “We were a third remote before the pandemic, and now we’re 75%. We’re subleasing space and downsizing as leases come up. It’s changed the way I work.” He has two chairs—one gives him access to remote meetings. That’s now the one he sits in most of the day. Being remote “lets me participate in a lot more meetings; we have a Weekly Coffee With Chris for 10 or 12 employees who I usually don’t get to talk to and hear their concerns, what’s going well. We’re not going back.”

Green agreed that there is no going back, in many ways. “I don’t think the disruption is over,” she said. “We’ve seen new technologies. AI is not just changing what’s happening in the media, but in markets. We’re seeing veterinary disruptions in our market.”

“We’ll never have that stability again,” Andrews added.

“Everybody in this room is positioned well,” said Hartman. “Thinking back to 10 years ago, [the situation] was much more harrowing,” with data and digital transformation looming. “Look at the growth now, and you’re seeing a much healthier industry. Covid accelerated that and the thinking about what the new business would be. There will be a lot of risks and opportunities for everyone in this room. Follow where the customer is going.”

“It’s hard to be a small company in this space,” said Ferrell, who along with Hartman has overseen the most acquisitions over the last couple years. “Companies in this room have scale for multiple revenue streams. Our clients want us to do more than be a media company—lead gen, data, marketing. It’s more effective to pull small companies together into a whole. We are ruthless about migrating [our acquisitions] to our platforms—and onboarding them. We even built a platform to manage internal training and do some external work too. It’s important to have the systems in place to do that.”

More on a much-welcomed BIMS 2023 over the next few weeks.


BRAND word in scattered wood letters on the table with glowing light bulb

‘Think Ambitious Experiments and Trust Each Other’; Building a Culture of Innovation Comfort

Last year I started a column about experimentation by talking about The Museum of Failure where they “aim to stimulate productive discussion about failure and inspire us to take meaningful risks.” This year, I’ve come across something that takes experimentation and failure a step further—the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Croatia. What will they think of next?

“‘In the beginning, we were worried we’d just get items from summer flings, but the stories soon went deep,’ [co-founder Olinka] Vistica said,” in a New York Times article about that Museum of Broken Relationships—on Valentines Day, of course. “‘We’ve got items from the Second World War, about terrorism. Some of it’s heavy,’ she added. ‘But life’s heavy.’

“‘Yet it was the museum’s silliest items that seemed to resonate most with visitors,’ [co-founder and Vistica ex] Drazen Grubisic said, including a book called I Can Make You Thin. An Englishwoman sent that in, along with a note that began: ‘This was a present from my ex-fiancé. Need I really continue?’”

In his article for INMA last year—Consider These 6 Factors When Building a Culture of Experimentation in Media Companies—Alexandre Pedroso Cordeiro, product and digital strategy manager for Editora Globo in São Paulo, wrote about aspects that might keep relationships together—business ones that is. Here are a few:

“Most initiatives will fail. Teams should know this and expect it so they don’t get frustrated… The information industry is changing so rapidly and there are so many unknowns. Even the most thoroughly researched product may not gain market traction. The key to developing a humming new product development engine is to be comfortable with risk and to set measurable (and transparent) benchmarks for product success.”

Allow and stimulate a risk-taking environment. “Communicate effectively and regularly with teams so they understand the importance of the experimentation agenda,” writes Pedros Cordeiro. “Create a culture to build trust and collaboration, and breaking down silos…” Tim Hartman, CEO of GovExec and another BIMS 2023 speaker, once told us. “Think ambitious experiments and trust each other. If you look around and don’t see that, you have a problem.” As the director of big-money film projects, Sam Mendes has good reason not to be as tolerant of failure. But in his “safe room,” it’s more about coaxing out great performances. “I will find out what the actors need,” he said. “My language to each of them has to suit their brain.”

Democratize data. “Make sure data in its various formats is accessible at a company-wide level.” At Industry Dive, the audience and marketing team creates actionable dashboards for the editorial team. “This not only helps us measure more of the things that matter to our audience, but it makes it really easy for our editorial team to get actionable insights that they can make decisions on and can really inform what they’re doing,” said Davide Savenije, their editor in chief. Adds BIMS 2023 speaker John McGovern of Grimes, McGovern & Associates: “The value is in the data that these businesses have about their audience and their exhibitors and sponsors and the more that they see themselves as data businesses, the better off they will be.”

Give teams problems to solve, not preconceived assumptions. “What often happens is that leaders provide teams with preconceived assumptions and biased opinions so the team can validate them… If [young people] find a culture that allows them to think about how to solve problems and take risks with autonomy, the results might be worthwhile when it comes to revenue-related and employee satisfaction goals.”

Make it part of the team’s routine. “Tests and experiments must be part of our routines so they turn into a natural habit.” “I tell everybody that works for me that I’d rather have them try and fail than not try,” said Rajeev Kapur, CEO of 1105 Media. “And that I want them to make a decision. We can fix a bad decision; we can’t fix a no-decision. No one will ever get fired for trying something new or for failing at something they tried to do. I reward people who try, people who think outside the box. I am doing everything I can to empower my team all the way down the chain to say, ‘Look, this is what we need to do for the customer.'”

Celebrate small accomplishments. “One of the best ways to empower teams is to recognize progress and results, whether sales increase by 50% or a process is automated with marginal gains.” Morning Brew makes this a habit. “The purpose of the emails [Morning Brew sends] is to acknowledge the reader’s accomplishment, show them how to redeem their reward (if necessary), and to motivate them to hit the next milestone,” said Tyler Denk, formerly of Morning Brew and Google and now CEO and co-founder of beehiiv. Morning Brew calls it “the referral pipeline,” and they want people to climb up it.