3 min read

Smashing DE&I Barriers in AEC

Smashing DE&I Barriers in AEC

My journey from the University of Wyoming to Kansas City and then to Hoefer Welker was not easy without many female mentors to guide me. It was normal to be the only woman in the room; to have few female leaders to look up to; to be the differing opinion in a sea of similar perspectives.

Thankfully, times are changing—and so is our industry.

There aren’t enough women in architecture, engineering and construction, and we need inclusion now more than ever. The data is conclusive: Studies show diverse teams are more innovative, productive and profitable. Women bring different viewpoints, ideas and solutions that benefit the business.

The modern DE&I challenge

The industry is rapidly evolving as demand for innovative designs grows. Companies are competing for talent, and diverse teams are key to staying on the cutting edge. Yet progress has been painfully slow regarding diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), especially when it comes to hiring and retaining female employees. We are proud that Hoefer Welker is comprised of 50% female employees, each of them bringing unique perspectives to the design table.

Retaining female staff is crucial, both to the quality of your project and to the culture of your internal team. AEC leaders need to offer equitable opportunities for women’s growth, create a culture of acceptance and recognition of achievements, and invest in professional development so women can grow into leadership roles.




How can architecture and engineering firms bridge the gender gap?

The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “women belong in all places where decisions are being made,” and that includes the C-Suite. In today’s marketplace, the war for sharp female talent is fierce, and candidates are looking for companies that invest in DE&I practices. So, how can your firm attract top-tier talent?

  • Evaluate job postings for unintentional bias. Simple changes like using gender-neutral language and avoiding gendered terminology can make all the difference.
  • Partner with female-focused trade groups to offer networking opportunities and connect with qualified candidates.
  • Provide mentorship and on-the-job training that covers multiple career areas, including how employees at every level of the organization should approach the challenges that arise in the AEC field.
  • Conduct an unbiased hiring process that better aligns with company values and goals. This is a good first step, rather than relying solely on educational qualifications and experiences.
  • Foster a more inclusive environment to create more space for women to join the industry. An inclusive culture helps create a comfortable and welcoming workplace for employees, and it will benefit the industry by making everyone feel heard.
  • Develop an employee resource group (ERG) that provides education, accountability, increase equity of opportunity and empowers marginalized groups. ERGs can be instrumental in creating an intentionally diverse workspace.

Why should more women enter the architecture, engineering, and construction fields?

While college prepares you for the next step in your career, there’s no substitution for real-world experience. The AEC field offers a rewarding career with endless potential for growth and exploration:

  1. Opportunity: Firms are actively seeking diverse talent, and they appreciate out-of-the-box thinking. Forget the old-school ladder approach to advancing in your career. Think jungle gym: Take any branch that appeals to you and build the career of your dreams.
  2. Variety: There are a thousand different career paths to take, whether it’s in the office or out in the field. Do you like to be creative or more structured? Don’t settle. There’s a position out there that appeals to your strengths.
  3. Community: The AEC industry is close-knit, allowing you to network through shared passion and creativity.
  4. Fulfillment: As an AEC professional, you’ll get to work on projects that make a difference in the world. For instance, I’m proud of the work we did for AdventHealth Cancer Center Shawnee Mission, a $76.5 million space that will accommodate twice as many patients by 2030.

Future AEC


What does the future of the industry look like?

Alongside increased hiring and retention of female engineers and architects, the need for sustainable design remains a priority. I’m grateful for the commitment of Sustainability Specialist Ashley Eusey. She’s expanded our visibility toward a brighter future through performance-driven eco-design – just see the award-winning Phoenix 32nd Street VA Clinic – that truly makes a difference for patients, the community and the planet. We’re committed to fostering a culture where leaders like Ashley want to plant roots and develop their careers.

Additionally, our company delves into emerging trends in the industry, including how to leverage technology to generate a better, more sustainable and optimized work product that not only looks beautiful but fulfills its unique purpose. Technology gets us closer to achieving our industry goals, but it is still diverse human perspectives that create a vibrant finished work product. That’s why we prioritize hiring curious architects who ignite innovation.

Smash the glass ceiling and join Hoefer Welker

If you’re a female passionate about STEM, we want you on our team. Hoefer Welker prioritizes fair and equitable opportunities for everyone, and our unwavering commitment to diversity is stronger than ever.

We support the whole person, offering growth that extends far beyond a paycheck. From continuing education and development opportunities to goal setting and flexibility, we ensure our employees live fulfilling lives both on and off the clock.

And our commitment doesn’t stop at our employees. We’re deeply passionate about keeping our Kansas City community thriving, which is why we support a variety of youth, STEM and philanthropic programs – from the Girl Scouts to Habitat for Humanity and Linda Hall Library (check out Direct of Sustainability Ashley Eusey on the Library’s Women in STEM series) to USGBC’s Women in Green. We encourage our team to give back and be part of something bigger than the typical 9-to-5 routine.

I’m committed to being a woman in AEC who leads by example – and Hoefer Welker is committed to bridging the gender gap. Women are changing the world, one project at a time. Join our team and help us revolutionize the future of AEC.

Elise Kirchhofer

Elise Kirchhofer

COO | Partner

Elise brings extensive experience in mechanical system design and project leadership to complex healthcare, education, and commercial projects. As COO and partner, Elise focuses on developing people and processes and advancing strategic growth for Hoefer Welker. Her diverse background with large engineering, commercial real estate, and construction firms has led to valuable insights that benefit clients and colleagues alike.

Elise is passionate about elevating her community and advocating for the advancement of women in business. She is involved with philanthropic and civic organizations throughout Kansas City, having served on the board of organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City, University Health Foundation, and AIA Kansas City.

Connect with Elise
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