Interview with Liz Lachowitzer, Business Development Manager at Mortenson
I really enjoyed speaking with @Liz Lachowitzer about @Mortenson’s creative new Sisters of the Traveling Hard Hat program, which is designed to spotlight leading women on Mortenson’s projects. Thank you, Liz, for helping to pave the way forward for women in cleantech through this new program as well as your strong, consistent involvement with @WRISE over the years. Liz & I spoke about the pivotal role @WRISE has played in her career as well as about Mortenson’s additional impactful diversity, equity & inclusion initiatives, such as hiring an unbiased, third party consultancy; launching Construction Inclusion Week; & creating affinity groups & associated internal events. Learn more about Mortenson’s Sisters of the Traveling Hard Hat program (https://bit.ly/3iiljMB) & Construction Inclusion Week (https://bit.ly/3yn2NIw).
If you’re looking for your next job in clean energy, check out our clients’ latest openings, from marketing to finance to policy: https://bit.ly/3kAQQXV.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Liz Lachowitzer from Mortenson. Thank you for joining me, Liz.
Liz: Thanks for having me Catherine.!
Catherine: So Liz and I were introduced at a SEIA event a couple of weeks ago, in New York by none other than the Abby Hopper. And so Liz was telling me about some of the initiatives that she’s been involved in when it comes to developing women within the clean energy industry and construction industry. So Liz, why don’t you introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Liz: Absolutely. So I’m Liz Lachawitzer, Business Development Manager for our Solar Operating Group at Mortenson. I’ve been in renewables going on six years now. My role at Mortenson, if you summed it up, is basically supporting others in the context of both internal and external colleagues. I act as a primary point of contact for our customers and help identify and pursue solar pursuits across the US.
Catherine: That’s great. And so one of the initiatives that you’re involved in, that you’re just about to create and launch, is called Sisters of the Traveling Hard Hat, just such a great name. So tell us about that and how it started.
Liz: Sure. So, I think it started with a glass of wine with my dear friend, Elena, who also works with me, but it really came about because it was an idea that formed from the realization that we needed to celebrate our women leaders intentionally and continuously, not just annually during our women in construction week. So we really needed to be sure that we’re celebrating these shining stars by raising them up and promoting their leadership so that others can learn by their example. The intentionality will allow our main project Site Sister to continue to spread her wisdom and leadership to others on site and hope, at least our hope is that it will continue to build that community among other Sisters and we can learn and grow from one another.
Catherine: So, and there is a hard hat that they will receive. Is that right?
Liz: Yes! So giving you a little flavor of what it looks like our field team actually is the one who votes on who this main Site Sister should be, and I’m actually on site cause we’re launching it tomorrow, our first inaugural Site Sister. And so our main field team votes on who the main Site Sister should be based on a set of leadership criteria. That’s important to Mortenson: our lead blue principles, they exude positivity, demonstrate grit and hard work, and then who is going to continue to pave that way for other women in solar. So during our site visit, we’re going to announce that Sister and we’re going to give them an inaugural Site Sister hard hat. And it’s almost like a trophy / memorabilia. So it’ll be super fun. And then throughout the course of tomorrow, or the day we’re on site, it’s going to be all about her. She’s going to show off her work. We’re going to sit down with her and talk through how can we continue to build off this? Because it has to be an evolution and it has to be their participation and what is going to work best for their site specifically. So we’re really excited to see where it goes. And then of course, we’ll end the day with a celebration happy hour with the whole team. Just celebrating all of these wonderful sisters on site. Yeah, if you want more information, please go to www.mortenson.com/solar, and you can find more insight there.
Catherine: I just think it’s such a great idea and I really, really hope that other companies that reach out to you and sort of get your thoughts on how this came about and how you did it and really kind of- hate that expression, but for lack of a better word- pick your brain because I think these are the kinds of initiatives that really make women feel more welcomed and part of a community within organizations that are predominantly, heavily male dominated. So I think it’s some great work and I can’t wait to hear about how it goes. And there’s about seven sites you said?
Liz: Yup! We will be traveling to each of them starting while we’re here now. And then throughout the next courses a couple of weeks. So we’re really excited to see the reaction and just continue to spread that shine and support these sisters. Yeah.
Catherine: And so this isn’t your first foray into helping women within our industry. You’ve also been very active in WRISE as well.
Liz: Yes. Yeah. So actually I got involved with WowWee so before they became WRISE, so that’s a fun fact, Because I was living in Fargo, North Dakota at the time, the nearest local chapter was the Twin Cities, which is, for people that don’t know, a four hour drive away. I actually ended up planning a lot of my business trips so that I could attend those monthly chapter mediums. I guess the energy that I got from networking with like-minded women in the industry just kept me in the industry. If we’re being honest, I can’t say enough good things about the organization. And I encourage any woman to check out WRISE because having that support system was instrumental to where I am.
Catherine: Yeah. It’s such a great organization. Not only nationally, but like you were saying, regionally, just another community for women to feel like part of the industry and they’re not kind of on their own out there, it’s a good support system.
Liz: Yeah. And I just encourage people to attend the local meetings. And for me, I mean, close to a year after I was attending those meetings I started becoming more involved with supporting some of the national WRISE initiatives. For instance, I was actually part of helping them with their rebranding efforts, which was an amazing experience and fun to see how natural the evolution was. And then I’ve also helped them with their Annual Leadership Forum. And that was a lot of fun. And honestly, I have so many great friends from working on that committee. I would just, again to keep repeating myself, but being involved in those initiatives, I was able to work so closely with so many women and I just stay close to them now, and I just encourage everyone to lean into those avenues and continue to build their network and support system as well.
Catherine: Yeah. Massively. So that sort of leads me into some of the women that you’ve been involved with, at WRISE and Sisters of the Traveling Hard Hat. So tell me about mentorship. Like how important has mentorship been within your life.
Liz: Yeah, so I could go on for days, there’ve been so many mentors in my life, both male and female. Mallory Lindgren, Kristen Swanson, Kristin Graff, Abby Hopper, my bestie Dalena who helped with the launch of Sisters of the Traveling Hard Hat. They all come to mind immediately and have served us such great mentors throughout my career. So I’ve been lucky to work under so many great leaders and just by their leadership, I’ve taken so much away and implemented it into my own life. One thing I’ve tried to be really intentional about at every position I’ve been in, is to help set up time with leaders and peers in the organization I’m in and just take the time to get to know them both professionally and personally. A lot of those day to day interactions with both my peers and leaders, though informal, have in my mind been a means of mentorship as well.
Catherine: Yeah. One thing I just want to mention to our listeners is that I was speaking to your colleague Dalena earlier today and she was saying that you’re a mentor for her as well. And I think it’s really important for people to understand that mentorship doesn’t have to be a one-way street, right? It’s not a mentor-mentee relationship. That very much can be a two way street where you’re supporting each other.
Liz: Exactly. A lot of mentors in my life if they have the qualities, which let’s talk about that: a good listener, honest with me, not always telling you the things that you want to hear, but the things that you need to hear. Those are what afford each other that growth in each other’s career. So it’s super important.
Catherine: So I want to finish with talking about Mortenson’s DEIJ work, just to get my notes because there’s a lot of stuff that Mortenson is involved in and it’s super exciting. So they received multiple Diversity in Business awards and inclusion, you have an Inclusion and Diversity Group, you have a DEI Director and you’ve set a goal to have 15% participation from small minority and women disadvantaged business enterprises on all of your projects. What are some of the Mortenson’s like most impactful and meaningful DEI initiatives?
Liz: Yeah! So Mortenson has done tremendous work over the years on this. And so I think I’m going to break it down into, maybe what’s been the most meaningful actions that we’ve taken. And then one of the most meaningful things that are currently underway, just to kind of break it down into bite size pieces. I’d say the most meaningful actions that we’ve taken to date are, first and foremost, our DEI strategy. So five years ago, we started our DEI journey. We hired an external firm and that really led to the development of an inclusion and diversity strategy. I’d say just various talent acquisition efforts. We’ve developed diverse slate policy work to remove biases from recruiting processes. That’s been really instrumental in moving us forward. We’ve created platforms for celebration development and connections. So the affinity groups, we have a ton of affinity groups for each operating group that we have. We have a flavor event, an Annual Women’s Event. And then lastly, just the new strategic framework and shift from IMD to DEI. So in 2020, we accelerated our efforts and created a new role and just developed a strategic framework, which has really propelled us forward. The most meaningful things underway to date, we’re going to be establishing key metrics to be shared consistently. We’re going to accelerate our affinity groups. We’re going to do more training and development, by the way of team’s talks, toolbox, and talks all about DEI. And then we’re continuing to do a DEI org assessment. So we’ve hired someone to help assess where we are and where we can help build a strategy. And then lastly, I just want to mention something that I like, which is the sponsorship. So we have a program specific for women and people of color, which has been nothing but positive for the organization.
Catherine: I really like the idea of getting a third party involved because I think sometimes it’s really hard for companies to kind of be self-critical and analyze where they’re going wrong. And so I guess having that investment in a third party to kind of give that insight can be really, really helpful if you’re open to listening to the criticism.
Liz: Yes. Yeah. I think it’s been really valuable for our organization and something that needed to be done so that we can really get honest with ourselves and propel ourselves forward in the growth of our DEI efforts. But I will say something that really excites me coming up is that we’re going to be launching with five other companies: Construction Inclusion Week. And you can find out more at www.constructioninclusionweek.com. But in a nutshell, we’ve just really partnered with five firms to build awareness and celebrate diversity equity inclusion. And then it’s going to be really educational based and there’s going to be a ton of business resources for our industry. It will be really fun. And I’m excited for you guys all to check that out.
Catherine: That’s great. Well, thank you so much for all the work that you’re doing, Liz. I think it’s, it’s absolutely fantastic.
Liz: Yes! Thanks Catherine. For having me. And, um, we’ll just keep paving the way forward, right?