By Marcos Chisholm
After successfully fostering a new wave of diversity and growth initiatives this year, Bergmeyer Associates VP and Principal Rachel Zsembery received the 2019 Shop! Woman of Distinction Award on Nov. 6. The award was presented during the Night of Honors at Shop!X in Atlanta. Established by the Shop! Women’s League in 2017, the annual honor recognizes the leadership capabilities and successes showcased by women across retail environments. Candidates are required to work in the industry for a minimum of five years, and be currently employed by a Shop! member.
“When an opportunity arises that looks challenging, potentially messy, and definitely not straightforward, put your hand up.”
AIA, LEED AP BD+C
VP and Principal, Bergmeyer Associates
“It’s wonderful to be recognized by your peers for the work that you do, and it meant a lot to me that I was nominated by my team,” says Zsembery. “For them to take the time to nominate me and then again for my peers to recognize me is very humbling.”
In 18 years of industry experience, Zsembery has transcended expectations. She worked in seven roles across Bergmeyer’s retail projects, and her efforts resulted in a PAVE Rising Star award in 2008. Recently, she has played a greater role in infl uencing the operational focus of Bergmeyer’s staffi ng strategies. Zsembery has led efforts behind the firm’s first-ever office expansion, officially making the Boston-based organization bicoastal with its new Los Angeles location.
“Rachel is an incredible mentor, an empathetic leader, and she demonstrates the highest level of integrity on a daily basis,” says Brian Perlow, associate principal at Bergmeyer. “Through her leadership, the firm has successfully transitioned to its next generation of ownership. Rachel is one of the strands that binds our firm’s DNA—she is part and parcel of our dynamic, welcoming, and inspirational culture.”
Beyond her transformative efforts at Bergmeyer, Zsembery devotes herself to numerous causes aimed at improving the state of retail environments. The former design:retail 40 Under 40 honoree currently sits on the Shop! Board of Directors and is involved with the U.S. Green Building Council, the Retail Design Institute, PAVE, and the American Institute of Architects.
“It is important to drive the conversation about how we can all collaborate more effectively together as we face the many catalysts for change within the retail industry,” says Zsembery. “Organizations such Shop! and PAVE also share my passion for providing education, mentorship, and professional development opportunities for the future leaders of our industry.” Outside of retail environments, Zsembery is involved with the United Way and Granite State Quest, a charity bike ride that raises funds to support pediatric cancer research and patient care at Mass General Hospital in Boston.
Leading gender equality
In an industry that poses countless systemic challenges to women, Zsembery has emerged as a leading voice on gender equality. “Rachel has almost singularly re-evaluated and revamped our HR, interviewing, and hiring processes,” says Perlow. “She has set the table for our firm to be a unique outpost in the industry, especially for a firm of nearly 100 employees.”
This Shop! Woman of Distinction is currently addressing gender disparity within architectural and design practices, where often women outnumber staff but have little representation in top leadership. Zsembery recently led initiatives that seek to improve parity in these areas, playing a major role in the growth of female talent at the firm. In collaboration with firm leadership, she aims to push for sweeping changes to the firm’s entire diversity and inclusion policy in 2020 and beyond.
While Zsembery believes developing equitable corporate policy is one way to make a meaningful impact, she knows it will take more than structural change for women across retail environments to optimize their potential. “When an opportunity arises that looks challenging, potentially messy, and definitely not straightforward, put your hand up,” she advises.
It’s her affinity for leaning into chaos—not shying away from it—that becomes a testament to the enduring strength of successful female talent.
“Sometimes—actually, more frequently than it should—that messy challenge has been running a construction or strategy meeting as the only woman in the room. Often, it has involved creating a change-management plan to assist people in working beyond their comfort zone,” she explains. “There are real opportunities for learning and professional growth through intelligent risk taking for people who say ‘yes.’”