In February, the women of Civiltech kicked off our renewed and refreshed Women’s Affinity Group called MERGE! This was a much anticipated event since the group had been paused during the pandemic.

MERGE stands for Meet, Engage, Respect, Grow, and Extend. The goal of the group is to encourage and strengthen social cohesion through discussion and activities designed to inspire new professional developments, the reevaluation of work-life balance, opportunities for mentoring and support, and relationship building and social camaraderie. MERGE grew out of an idea and dream of Civiltech’s Kristin Kalitowski, P.E. Kristin recently shared the backstory of her idea and her vision for the group.

What seeded your idea for a Women’s Affinity Group?

I was looking for a way to connect with other women in the office, a safe space to connect on whatever was needed at the time. The idea started around the time I was planning to have children. At that time, there were less women (and women who were mothers) at Civiltech. Therefore, there was less opportunity for the shared experience of balancing work requirements, career goals, personal growth, and family life. Engineering is a field that has been traditionally male dominated, thus there were few career-oriented moms who could provide advice or mentoring. This sparked the thought that there could be meaningful conversations that would be good to have, such as how to balance becoming a Project Manager with home life. I also knew there were certain topics that are more ingrained in men based on how they grew up in society, and I thought it would be useful to hear how other women navigate those situations. Things such as being heard and respected in meetings, being assertive but not coming across as aggressive. I wanted to make connections with people in the office who may be going through or feeling the things the way I do. While Civiltech does have many female employees, when gathering in smaller groups, such as a project team, one can still be aware they are the only woman in the room. Sometimes, it’s easy to disregard and fully engage, but other times it’s not.

What are your goals for the group?

My goal is to have a program that provides a little extra “something” for anyone who is interested. I want the events to be varied in terms of topic, location, and time of day. After work is best for some, while over lunch using zoom fits better in other people’s days. Two of the biggest topic themes emerging from initial discussion are professional development and social connections. The social aspect wasn’t a primary theme pre-pandemic, but has become more important due to the pandemic and the work from home environment. I’d also like to get to the point where other women in the company are given the opportunity to plan and execute various events for the group. The group also plans to offer some of the topics and events be brought to the company as a whole. For example, pre-pandemic, the group met with national keynote speaker, author, and mental health expert, Joyce Marter, who led participants in a session on work life balance. Civiltech then brought her back to do virtual training on similar topics for the whole company.

How do you think a Women’s Affinity Group is beneficial to both individual staff and a company?

In engineering, team connection and collaboration is very important, especially now that we are not in the office every day. Social and professional events give everyone an outlet and a way to get to know people on a different level than simply coworker. It benefits the individual to “get away” of course, but the company also benefits from people who get to know each other and develop skills to work well with each other. The professional development topics help the individual become more confident in their career and advancement opportunities. The company benefits from that type of learning as well. Groups like MERGE are also a good staff retention tool, something that is constant and reliable, so new hires have another way to get to know other employees and the company culture. Civiltech’s support of MERGE shows their commitment to and investment in their employee’s wellbeing.