The middle of 2009 brought recession realities, and we made the difficult decision to lay off 15 people. As challenging as the Great Recession was for the company, this economic event is largely responsible for the specific market Rushing currently works in today.
This case study examines the Female Effect and how having a female at the top during a crisis, as was our case in 2009, availed us the diverse thinking that allowed us to pivot our business into markets that would eventually sustain us through the next business cycle in Seattle.
Let us talk about women in our industry — specifically, women mechanical and electrical engineers in the design and construction industry. ASHRAE and The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) membership in 2019 included 9.1% and 11% women, respectively.
As an active member of ASHRAE since 1987, I have observed the stagnant growth of female membership in our industry. While IEEE reports a somewhat larger percentage of women members, its membership includes women engineers in the software and electronics industry as well as electrical engineers doing power engineering in the design and construction industry. My observations over the last 30 years apply to both mechanical and electrical disciplines in our industry: women are few and far between.
Based on figures in the August 2020 CSE MEP Giants article, top MEP companies are reporting an average female workforce of 17%. This is fantastic and encouraging. At Rushing, that gender diversity figure is doubled, with 35% of the company’s workforce identifying as female. The Female Effect depends on not only diversity but also inclusion. Diversity is being asked to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. I am proud to report not only the gender diversity statistics of our company but also the inclusion statistics: Our ownership team is 51% female, and the management team is 46% female.
When speculating about our success in attracting women engineers at Rushing, I am confident my presence as a role model in an ownership position has afforded us the luxury of receiving the top female resumes from across the country. In the competitive Seattle market, and in an industry with a labor shortage, attracting, hiring, and retaining this top talent has allowed Rushing to scale relatively quickly. I present my observations as I have had the time at this point in my career to fully incubate, study, and now report on the business’s success.
Research about the realities of gender inclusion and diversity on the business financial outcomes is conflicting: Does diversity bring better product, create higher productivity through better community experience, or improve problem-solving through alternative thinking? Does inclusion increase profitability and revenue? Is attrition lower? Are new markets and clients available to the company?
In February 2019, the Harvard Business Review published the article, “When Gender Diversity Makes Firms More Productive.” That article concludes that gender diversity makes a difference when people believe in the intrinsic value of it. When this occurs, companies and industries can reap the benefits but not until their belief in the intrinsic value of gender diversity and inclusion translates into hiring, developing, and retaining more women. In order to reap the rewards of the Female Effect, companies must walk the walk of gender diversity and inclusion, not just pay it lip service. No more excuses.
I cite this article because I agree with this subtle but important fact. Rushing is a great example of the self-fulfilling cycle, and the results speak for themselves: scalability, increasing revenue, and increasing profits.