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Top Women Execs Talk DEI and COVID-19 at 10th Rise to the Top Event

Published Mar 10, 2021 by Pamela Gibbs-Smith

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The Greater Houston Partnership's Women's Business Alliance (WBA) recently marked its 10th anniversary of Rise to the Top in a virtual environment. The annual event brings together high-achieving female business executives from all industries to share insight and advice. In addition to celebrating the region's best and brightest women in leadership, Rise to the Top also recognized International Women's Day, celebrated this year on March 8. 

WBA's contributions to such an important endeavor makes Rise to the Top one of Houston's most anticipated and attended events. What began as a luncheon with 100 attendees in 2011 grew into a massive celebration with over 800 attendees this year. 

Lisa Shumate, Associate Vice President of the University of Houston System and General Manager for Houston Public Media, moderated a panel discussion featuring these guests:

Here are the highlights from the discussion. 

What the Partnership is doing to support women in business?

"Today, of the Partnership's 86 employees, 66% are women, and six of our 11-person executive team are women with longstanding leadership experience both here in Houston and around the country," said Bob Harvey, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. 

How would you advise companies and leaders to be more inclusive and diverse?

"[DEI] is ultimately a driver of economic growth and performance," said Mends. "DEI work is about action. It's not a one-off program, it's about making this part of your corporate DNA. There's a formula. You decide, just like performance, that DEI is going to be a cultural norm. You commit to diversifying middle-management, leadership, boardrooms, and supplier diversity. Like everything else in business, you set objectives, establish metrics, examine policies that constrain outcomes and you fix them."

How has COVID-19 impacted the women's movement?

"As a person working with vulnerable communities, I would like to add another layer to this; while this (pandemic) is intense for women, women of color and women of vulnerable communities have had the worst of this," said Aguirre. "Many of them were the first to be impacted by the loss of a job,  As we think about moving forward, we can't just hit a light switch. We have to think about the women on the ladder that have gotten off; what do we do to expedite them and bring them back to work? Let's not leave women of color and women in vulnerable communities behind."

What have you learned in the last 10 years about yourself and business?

"I'll be very vulnerable here. I'm a white woman of privilege, and I'm blessed," said Mehnert. "For me, it's not about the last ten years. It's about the next few decades and what I can do as a white woman to help my sisters. I'm learning and I'm listening. It's about equity, but it is also about the environment."

Learn more about the Women's Business Alliance, and the Executive Women's Partnership. To learn more about membership with the Greater Houston Partnership click here, or contact

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The Greater Houston Partnership celebrates our members making important announcements and sharing news about their operations and impact in our community. Learn more about some of those announcements over the last month below.  Amazon announced a new same-day retail delivery service across many locations, including Houston. This service allows prime members to browse select retail stores on Amazon and offers pick-up and same-day delivery options. The initial installment of this service will include popular brands such as PacSun, GNC, and many more.  After 40 years in its offices at the Galleria, the engineering and construction firm Bechtel, recently announced its relocation. Driven by the desire for more space to serve its growing business, Bechtel signed one of the largest new leases in 2022. Bechtel's new building is nine stories tall, energy efficient, and located on a 35-acre campus near Sam Houston Tollway. 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The Greater Houston Partnership welcomed 11 new member companies in the month of July. The Partnership works to connect companies with resources, information and networking opportunities to help increase business while also providing a platform to influence the direction of the region. New members joining in the month of July include: Aon: Aon is dedicated to helping their clients meet unmet or unfulfilled needs stemming from today’s rapidly changing, increasingly complex and interconnected challenges. Website Collaborate Group LLC DNV: DNV is an independent expert in assurance and risk management. They deliver world-renowned testing, certification and technical advisory services to the energy value chain and are one of the world’s leading certification bodies and classification societies. Website  Ginger Menown  Houston Land Bank: Houston Land Bank's works to strategically acquire, dispose, and steward vacant, abandoned, and damaged properties into productive use and to catalyze transformative community and economic development for the City of Houston. Website Moonshot Compost: Moonshot Compost provides composting services to Houston residents, offices & restaurants. Website  SheSpace: SheSpace is a work and meeting place where bold women gather to find community, amplify ambition and propel their dreams forward. Website Studio Pod: Studio Pod is a mobile, automated, professional-level photography studio. No photographer required. They work to make taking professional headshots easy and convenient. Website The Rose: The Rose is a non-profit breast health organization offering comprehensive breast cancer screening, diagnostics, biopsies and support; insured women help them serve uninsured women; mobile units and 2 clinic locations. Website University of Houston-Clear Lake: The University of Houston-Clear Lake works to lead as a learner-centered university dedicated to achieving national prominence in transformative education grounded in creative activities, innovative research, and community partnerships that serve regional, state, and global locations. Website Uptown Alliance: Uptown Alliance is a local, trusted source for reliable appliance repair services. Website Click here to see the Partnership's Membership Directory. To learn more about membership with the Greater Houston Partnership click here, or contact
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