Atlanta PWB Gives Young Professionals Room to Grow

Filed in Councils & Committees, Education, Leadership, Membership by on February 2, 2016 0 Comments

Cassy Mathis, 28, an interior design assistant at Haven Design Works Inc., joined the Atlanta Professional Women in Building council a couple years ago. Although the council grew quite a bit during that time, she found it lacking in one area: It was largely devoid of people her age.

From her perspective, she saw a two-directional information loss: the younger professionals missed out on the guidance from senior-level industry experts, but they also missed opportunities to share their insights that could help shape the future of home building.

“The likelihood of things filtering down to my level decreases, because someone more senior might not find value in the things someone my age does,” she said.

Donna Mathis, owner of Haven Design Works Inc., who also serves as a community outreach coach for the Atlanta PWB, said the committee recognized that there was a need to boost the networking, mentoring and education opportunities that would be valuable to young professionals.

elevate launch party flyer

Elevate Launch Party Flyer

They also hoped to build a model that other PWB councils could easily reproduce and leverage to get younger members more engaged in the association.

To start, the subcommittee gathered seven committee members – all under the age of 40 – to brainstorm various aspects of the new group, including its name, mission statement, purpose and goals.

“We had all of these ideas – most of us are in our 40s and 50s – and the first time we met with them, they were just like, ‘No. That doesn’t speak to us’,” Donna Mathis remembered with a laugh.

Cassy Mathis agreed that it took some time to help the older women in the group understand what really gets younger people excited about something like this.

“One of the themes they talked about was having disco music and a disco theme. And we were like, ‘How do we put this nicely… No’,” she said. “Also, a lot of the places we were thinking of holding events, they didn’t even know about. It was foreign to them. So we’re opening their eyes to new things and ways to reach people our age.”

Ultimately, the group came up with the name Elevate, referring to “future leaders, moving up to the next level.”

The committee also spent considerable time making sure the model would be useful, convenient and practical for young professionals.

“For example, we discovered that they can’t meet during lunch, because they can’t get off work long enough to meet at lunch. Their bosses wouldn’t allow them that time,” Donna Mathis said. “We realized any events we did needed to be after work, after 5 p.m., so more young people would be able to come.”

After creating marketing materials – including a logo and promotional flyer – and figuring out when they were going to launch the new group, the committee set out to determine how they were going to reach the young people they wanted to engage.

“If you just tell members of the HBA, most of whom are in their 40s and 50s, the word is not going to get down to the young people,” Donna Mathis said. “We realized right away that we had to come up with a different way to connect with them.”

They decided to take a new-age grassroots approach: each member provided five to 10 names for the “master list.” The individuals on the master list were then asked to provide another five to 10 names for the list. Using various social media platforms, personal calls and texting, the committee spread the word.

As it happened, it wasn’t just young women who were looking to connect: a lot of young men were, too.

So the women teamed up with the greater HBA membership to cast a wider net, and invited all members under age 40 to join Elevate. Donna Mathis said HBA leadership helped bridge the gender gap for those who were balking at the idea of going to a “women’s event.”

Though the committee set out to have at least 50 people attend, they saw overwhelming success when more than 100 individuals registered, and over 80 showed up.

Cassy Mathis, Tangela Martin, and Donna Mathis

Atlanta PWB Board Members at the Elevate launch event. From left to right: Cassy Mathis, Tangela Martin, and Donna Mathis.

They held the launch at Pirch – a popular showroom in Atlanta – which graciously donated the space. The entire PWB board attended and set about helping the younger members network.

To foster engagement, event-goers were encouraged to gather and give five business cards. The first two individuals to reach that goal received gift cards as a door prize.

Cassy Mathis said she felt a buzz in the room the moment she walked through the door, and she and others saw the event as a tremendous opportunity to not only learn about the industry from people her own age, but also those who are more senior.

“It was an eclectic mix of people and perspectives,” she said. “I find great value in making those connections and I bring value to my company by being able to do that.”

With one successful event in the bag, Donna Mathis said the committee is now focused on planning out networking activities, education sessions and public speaking opportunities for 2016 – all designed to help propel young professionals to the next level. They also intend to hold at least one major networking event each quarter to engage both young women and men.

“Our challenge for next year is keeping young people engaged, holding events in the right place to draw more people in, and building an educational component that makes them feeling like they’re getting something out of it,” Mathis said.

View more pictures of the event at PWB Atlanta Elevate on Facebook or join the group on LinkedIn

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