Women In Construction Week 2020

During this Women in Construction Week, we shine a spotlight on 17 female leaders in design, construction and real estate to spur an important conversation of diversity, inclusion, and empowerment.

Carol Ross Barney, FAIA | Founder and Principal, Ross Barney Architects & Adjunct Professor of Architecture, Illinois Institute of Technology

Carol, on the Chicago Riverwalk. Ross Barney was the lead designer for Phases 2 & 3 of the Chicago Riverwalk

What is the most exciting aspect of your current role?

The most exciting aspect about my role today is the diversity of projects we are working on ranging from small remodeling to parks to transit.

Describe a problem you see in the built environment. What are you doing to solve it?

I think there is a single problem that we face and that is climate change. And I believe that we must solve it now. Our current leaders are tragically wrong to think that anything is more important. Every project we do is considered through the lens of sustainability first. If we do not meet these challenges, we don’t have a future.

What has been the most surprising part about being a woman working in design & construction?

The most surprising part about being a woman working in design and construction is that it is still a problem. (And it is still a problem). I thought that the industry would be far more equitable, by now.

In the past year what have you done to encourage another woman to take the leap into the industry or to advance in her role within the industry?

I’m lucky because I frequently have the opportunity to meet and encourage women in their careers, especially through AIA Chicago Bridge Program and [Chicago Women in Architecture] CWA. I also really enjoy teaching for that reason.

Roshan Mehdizadeh Corsiglia | Global Governance Executive, Real Estate, Google

Roshan researched, developed and now oversees the BIM and VR programs at Google. She holds two patents which tie computational modeling to key building data and machine learning.

Tell us about your journey to where you got today? What were some of the inflection points throughout your career? Are there any critical moments that you look back on that changed where you are today?

Leaving a job at a well-established construction company to pursue a Ph.D. with an interdisciplinary research focus. In 2008, I was a civil engineer working as a project manager for a well-known regional construction company.  I was doing well, but decided I wanted to research and analyze broader more inter-disciplinary issues. I also wanted to challenge myself intellectually and understand just how far I could push myself academically. This endeavor provided me new problem-solving skills and a sense of the bigger picture, which has given me the ability to observe, analyze, and solve critical multifaceted

problems.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

 I am helping Google build a new campus in my hometown, San Jose.  I am a first generation American and San Jose is where my family made their place in the United States.  For my daughter, that will mean growing up in a city where both sides of her family have had a direct impact on the civic life of this wonderfully vibrant and varied community (she is a 6th generation San Jose native on my husband’s side).

Mollie Fadule | Head of Affordable Housing, Katerra & Co-Founder & Partner, Cephas Partners


Molly fishing (catch & release) with her family in Yellowstone National Park, WY.

In the past year what have you done to encourage another woman to take the leap into the industry or to advance in her role within the industry?

I’m passionate about supporting the advancement of women in the industry. I’ve focused my efforts to advance women in CRE primarily through mentoring women in my network and through my involvement with CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women). I’ve been involved with CREW for several years and have held various leadership positions including CREW Seattle President and as a member of the Global CREW Network Board. CREW Network’s mission is to transform the commercial real estate industry by advancing women globally. With initiatives dedicated to facilitating business  networking, industry research, leadership development and career outreach, CREW Network is helping to support the professional development of more than 12,000 women worldwide.

Mentorship and sponsorship are crucial to supporting and empowering anyone in the industry. Tell us about a mentor or sponsor who shaped who you are. What made the relationship special?

A variety of people have impacted me in my career. A common characteristic of the leaders I have looked to emulate is a shared value of generosity. How can I give generously of my time, resources and skill sets to serve others? I find that if you can do that as a leader, you can have real connections, gain buy in, create healthy environments, and ultimately, be successful in achieving goals.

The construction industry is fundamentally changing. We are seeing innovation take hold at a rate unprecedented in years past. How can women play a leading role in this change?

There’s untapped opportunity for women to have voice and help to lead the change underway in the construction industry. The challenges we are working to confront in the construction industry are massive. If we can bring diverse perspectives and knowledge from outside the industry, in addition to new technologies, we can enact change that brings broad benefits for society. I believe women will be instrumental in the transformation of this industry.

What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you? 

Many people may be surprised to learn that when I attended Harvard, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts in History and Science more specifically biochemistry. I walked on to the rowing team having never rowed before and received NCAA Division I All-American, All-New England and All-Ivy honors.

Elissa Flandro | Customer Success Manager, Autodesk


Elissa (middle) onsite during construction of the Chase Center in San Francisco, CA.
 

Mentorship and sponsorship are crucial to supporting and empowering anyone in the industry. Tell us about a mentor or sponsor who shaped who you are. What made the relationship special?

I vividly remember my first job interview after graduating from Stanford. It was for the Construction Management group at URS (now AECOM). One of the first people I met was the VP of Infrastructure Development, Ashur Yoseph. Ashur told me that immediately following the interview, he walked straight to the Construction Management Group office and said,  “We have to hire her!” Ashur has been tremendously helpful throughout my professional career, providing unbiased guidance and insight and has taught me the importance of successful businessman and well loved by all his colleagues.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

My current role as a Customer Success Manager at Autodesk allows me to continue expanding my experience and knowledge within the construction industry while incorporating new technology. I love interacting with construction customers and learning about their internal processes and projects. Construction often gets a bad reputation for being resistant to change, but my encounters have always been extremely positive. I think industry professionals are excited to learn and be a part of the change.

Outside of work, I lead the San Francisco chapter for the Society for Construction Solutions [SCS]. The organization is comprised of AEC entrepreneurs, industry professionals and investors who meet regularly to discuss new technology within the industry. It’s exciting to be in the Bay Area with such a wide variety of startups along with industry professionals who are anxious to incorporate very early stage technology and provide feedback. The industry has changed tremendously, especially when I think about the progress since starting my career. My first construction project used Excel and Word to manage change orders, due to a lack of specialized software.”

What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a member of the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. Our tribe includes approximately 500 people with a reservation located on the Pend Oreille River, about 50 miles north of Spokane, WA. We are one of two tribes in the world who built and utilized 16-foot sturgeon-nosed bark canoes for fishing and traveling. We have persevered with an inventive, pioneering, and generous spirit in order to grow our businesses which have provided new opportunities for tribal members.  The tribe owns and manages Northern Quest Resort and Casino and is one of the ten largest employers within the state of Washington. These businesses provide over 2,000 jobs to the local community, and our tribe has donated over $16M to local charities. The Tribal Council seeks to provide a balanced life for tribal members that celebrates the culture of our ancestors and ensures our future success in business endeavors

Kirsten Hull | VP Development, EQ Office


Kirsten during the edge walk at the exposed top of the 356m-high CN Tower, Toronto, Canada

In the past year what have you done to encourage another woman to take the leap into the industry or to advance in her role within the industry?

I have a great example:

There is a woman on my team who started in finance several years ago with no experience in development, design, or construction, and due to her curiosity, passion, commitment, and several strong leaders internally supporting her advancement (myself included), she earned a significant promotion this past year and is now running a $20M+ redevelopment project for our EQ Office team. She has an incredibly bright future in the industry, with a clear eye on her next goals. 

There is no “secret sauce” to being an effective mentor, as every relationship and situation is different. But I’d like to share a few points that have proven value for me:

  • Co-create a professional development plan with your co-mentee, with specific milestones and measurable time frames
  • Prioritize one-on-one time every week to connect on deliverables towards these goals
  • Be intentional in identifying and addressing development needs to advance to the next step
  • Encourage and support your mentee as they start developing their own leadership style
  • Seek out opportunities to build their confidence in public speaking – both internally and externally
  • And, of course, taking a page out of Kathleen McCarthy’s (Blackstone’s Global Co-Head of Real Estate) book: always end a conversation with “what can I do to help you”?

I’m a strong believer in the power of connections – you never know where a conversation will lead if you allow yourself to be open to it.  I fill my life with peer mentors from different industries and deeply value their perspectives and insight as I progress on my path, as I endeavor to support all my team members on their own path as well.

No matter how busy I may think I am, I try to never miss an opportunity to connect with friends from Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the Goldie Wolfe Miller Initiative, as I owe two of my last three job opportunities to ULI connections!”

In VIATechnik’s article last year entitled, “The Construction Industry Has a Problem and Women Are going to Solve It”, we discussed 4 actions to take to empower women. Describe your reaction and if any of these solutions resonate with you.

While plenty of women in real estate have come before me, women in leadership roles inspire me to reach even further. Goldie Wolfe Miller is my childhood friend’s mom and has proven to be one of the most illuminating figures for me to believe there are no bounds to my potential.

In more recent days, it is Lisa Picard, as EQ Office’s CEO, who has inspired me as a mentor and leader, pushing our teams to prioritize curiosity, creativity, and a customer-centric approach. Living these values are synonymous with inclusivity and diversity of thought, perspective, and experience, and where there is both the widest gap — and greatest opportunity — in development and construction.

I reflect upon my first years in this industry, where I was almost always the only woman in the room. Thankfully over these past few years, I’m delighted to see the arc start to bend in a more inclusive direction — our Willis redevelopment project team is 60% women! But then I’m reminded of how far we still must go when only one of the five GC teams who bid on a recent project had a female or minority member on its 6-8-person team.

The more we ‘amplify’ the chorus of women’s voices (see you at the next ULI Chicago’s Women’s Leadership Initiative “Breakthrough Series”!), the more the next generation of women will see their career paths in construction and development finally advance.

Prof. Harry Kraemer at Kellogg put it best: It’s all about leadership. The more our industry supports diversity of voices and perspectives, the more we will all benefit. 

What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

While most would not be surprised that I am a “city girl” due to the fact that I’m born & raised in Chicago, many may be surprised at how much this “city girl” loves the outdoors and finding a way to connect with nature in the heart of our city – not just by gardening on our roof deck, but also with adventures along the Chicago river and our city’s many bike paths.  

Each spring, my husband and I plot out our rooftop garden with our kids as we chart our annual summer “bucket list” of the concerts, festivals, and new neighborhoods we explore that next summer.

I love becoming more “Chicago” with each immersive experience, as my family, friends, and neighbors march in the parades, explore new cuisines, and discover new communities in this amazing city we’re all lucky to call “home”!

Morgan Traynor | Senior Director of Operational Excellence, Ryan Companies

Two people sitting in a tree

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Morgan and her husband with their two daughters, Minneapolis, MN.

Tell us about your journey to where you got today? What were some of the inflection points throughout your career? Are there any critical moments that you look back on that changed where you are today? 

I received a civil & environmental engineering undergrad degree at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.  While very active in the Residence Hall Association at school, I also was a co-op student at Ryan Companies US, Inc. (Ryan) as a project engineer in-training (EIT).  My co-op was extremely educational, as I was extremely green in the construction industry, and spent as much time on a jobsite as I could.  My very first manager at Ryan was unbelievably patient with me, my questions, and my inexperience. 

After graduation (which was during the recession) I started the part-time MBA program at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, MN and took an opportunity overseas as a consultant and implemented construction software programs (which is where all the construction business was at the time).  First, I knew I wanted my technical engineering degree paired with a managerial graduate degree, so while I wasn’t sure what an MBA would do for me in my career, I wanted it as a part of my toolbelt.  Second, my time in the UAE was unlike anything I have ever experienced, as it allowed me to see a culture so unlike what I had experienced in the Midwest – it was truly a gift – and then post-recession I was able to re-join Ryan on the Construction Operations team.  Here is where I have been for 8+ years and am currently the Senior Director of Operational Excellence.

Describe a problem you see in the construction industry. What are you doing to solve it? 

It is widely known that the construction industry operates comparatively more archaic than other industries.  Often times I think we own the phrase if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, as if we have been successful relying on old methods, but profit erosion, schedule compression, labor shortage concerns, safety issues and poor quality show just how broken some of our processes are. 

So, what am I trying to do to change this perception?  I am focused on getting people excited about partnering construction with technology advancements, in ways that make a jobsite safer and more productive with better constructability.  And the beauty is there are so many opportunities for how to accomplish this:  a dashboard showing trends that help project teams make proactive, thoughtful decisions in addition to introducing technology for field teams that bring the building model to their mobile device are all things our team is actively working on. 

In the past year what have you done to encourage another woman to take the leap into the industry or to advance in her role within the industry? 

In the past year I have been intentional with two things to encourage women in the construction industry: First, I have gone to college career fairs as a way to share my story of once being in an engineering undergrad program.  The more women these young adults see having gone through their same education, the more common it will feel, and eventually become. 

First, I have gone to college career fairs as a way to share my story of once being in an engineering undergrad program.  The more women these young adults see having gone through their same education, the more common it will feel, and eventually become. 

Second, I try to speak at construction industry conferences and events across the country.  I want to be the female in a largely male audience speaking about all the great things we are doing at Ryan Companies, while allowing the audience to reflect on the potential opportunities for the women in their organizations. 

The construction industry is fundamentally changing. We are seeing innovation take hold at a rate unprecedented in years past. How can women play a leading role in this change?

I have seen firsthand how great women can be at communication [soft skills], whether it is teaching, supporting, or training, the women I have witnessed do it with ease.  In my role, our team partners with our Innovation Team where we take their ‘next big idea’ and implement it across our national platform.  We focus more on change management than actually discovering the next big idea, so taking the technology or tool or process and being able to communicate expectations, fully train, and then support individuals and teammates along the way are key roles I see women playing in the innovation and technology space. 

The construction industry is also finally focusing on data and sharing the meaningful information that comes from everything we are collecting.  Having women be a part of Insights and Data Analyst roles allows females to pair both their technical competencies and empathy-driven communication skills.

What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I am a wife and a mother of two daughters, one who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.  With my daughter being on the spectrum it has given me great pride to share our family story with others and advocate for families blessed enough to have a child with special needs.  So much so I am on the Board of Directors for a foundation (The Shooting Star Foundation) that offers scholarships to families who have difficulty paying for schooling and therapy bills.  More importantly, this opportunity has allowed our entire family to rally together and truly advocate for children who have special needs.

Andie Larson | Construction Solutions Manager, Fieldwire

Andie onsite at the 5110 Telegraph Project, a modular project by RAD Urban.

Tell us about your journey to where you got today? What were some of the inflection points throughout your career? Are there any critical moments that you look back on that changed where you are today?

My journey started with the class ‘Intro to Architecture’ at UC Berkeley and I was hooked! I loved the idea of how individuals react and feel in certain spaces. This class led me to wonder how I could design an environment that takes these reactions into consideration. When joining the workforce and determining what type of design I wanted to do, I made my decision based on where we spend most of our time and the spaces, we feel most comfortable expressing ourselves, which is in our home. I landed in the multi-family residential field, focusing on modular construction and ways to address the housing crisis in the Bay Area.

I found a vertically integrated company, with architects, engineers, construction, and real estate professionals, focused on urban infill residential modular buildings. As an architect, this was a different puzzle – how do we design great buildings using a modular system? The architecture team was tasked with finding creative ways to reduce the number of module types while creating an inviting and attractive building.

During one of the projects, I had the opportunity to go on site and do construction administration. I immediately saw the disconnect between all of the thought and design intent of the building and the constructability logistics. This was the pivotal moment that got me interested in the construction industry, primarily focused on the constructability and logistics. This was the point where I was introduced to the building information modeling (BIM) coordination process where our team would proactively address coordination issues, work through sequencing and proactively get ahead of issues that could cause delays on site. I immediately saw the benefits of technology in the field, which eventually led me to my current role at a construction technology company.

Describe a problem you see in the real estate, design, and construction industries. What are you doing to solve it?

There are a lot of moving parts and pieces throughout the real estate, design and construction industries. Based off a McKinsey study here is how an average day on site is spent:

30% of a workday is allocated to “direct wrench time”

40% preparing for tasks, gathering equipment and materials, and transitioning from one area to the next

30% idle time

I started my career at a modular construction company, realizing that modular construction has the ability to address this problem. For example, with current technology, design and engineering teams are able to model projects down to the screw, proactively address clash detection and coordination items virtually, and with this information use manufacturing techniques to inform how much material and labor is needed when and where.

Similar to the results of the McKinsey study, I observed firsthand that basic project management and communication were limiting factors. I joined the Construction Solutions Team at Fieldwire. Our team has a background in construction and uses this knowledge to help project teams implement best practices and workflows. Fieldwire virtually connects the field and office teams, using a construction management platform aimed at getting the correct documentation and information to the right people, allowing everyone to get back to their craft.

As “The Construction Industry Has a Problem and Women Are going to Solve It” discussed, having a diverse company has a multitude of benefits. From my experience in the architectural, construction, and now tech industries, I have had many male allies who understand the value of diversity and have been advocates along the way.

As mentioned before, my experience in construction administration (CA) was a major transition point for my career. My team at the time was an advocate for learning and experiencing the pain in the field and giving me the experience and tools to prevent those pain points in the future.

Additionally, when I made the transition to the construction side, my team allowed me to take the lead on the BIM coordination process to give me the experience I needed. They provided support and guidance but gave me the responsibility. On that project, my Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Fire and Safety (MEPFS) team was able to implement and use our 3D model in the field. The MEPFS team was empowered by working together and looking at innovative ways we could utilize the technology to increase productivity in the field.

Alexis McGuffin | VP Business Development & Partnerships, Lendlease

Alexis walks “onsite” exploring a construction project via virtual reality.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

Every day is different, and I get to see all aspects of the business.  I get to be creative in my approach and learn from the best in the industry.

What has been the most surprising part about being a woman working in real estate and construction?

How often I hear very successful women say they got lucky in their career advancement, as if it were an accident!  “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time” – I don’t buy it; I think it takes hard work and preparation to be able to capitalize on an opportunity when it arises.  Let’s take credit for that to encourage the next generation.

In VIATechnik’s article last year entitled, “The Construction Industry Has a Problem and Women Are going to Solve It”, we discussed 4 actions to take to empower women. Describe your reaction and if any of these solutions resonate with you.

“And you should blaze your own career path in the industry” – This!  Every career move, every promotion, was something that I initiated myself.  Don’t wait for someone to find you, make yourself visible and be prepared when the opportunity arises to step up and say – I’d like to do that!

Myesha McClendon, LEED AP | Vice President, Milhouse, Inc.


Myesha lead the design phase for a terminal in Midway Airport, Chicago, IL.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

The most exciting aspect about my job is that every day is different.  With overseeing multiple projects, I have the opportunity to be working on a runway one day and an airport terminal the next day. 

However, what I love most is the impact on the community.  How the average traveler doesn’t even realize the impact to their travel time with the addition of a new runway at an airport or that we designed the concessions area to allow for the traveler easy and convenient access before reaching their gate. Travelers are just happy that they made it to their destination on time and get to spend time with their family, friends, or made it to their beach vacation.

In the past year what have you done to encourage another woman to take the leap into the industry or to advance in her role within the industry?

Design and Construction are male dominated fields, so I’m excited to be able to encourage young women to pursue engineering and to serve as an example of what’s possible.  I have worked to fund the Myesha and Michelle McClendon scholarship fund that provides tuition assistance for women pursuing degrees in engineering.

In VIATechnik’s article last year entitled, “The Construction Industry Has a Problem and Women Are going to Solve It”, we discussed 4 actions to take to empower women. Describe your reaction and if any of these solutions resonate with you.

The one that resonates with me the most is Women must embrace standing out.  I am often the only woman in a group of 20 men in a meeting.  I am the only woman in Engineering Executive Leadership at my company and it is because there is a shortage of women in design and construction.  I have embraced being the only one present at the table and I don’t let it intimidate me.

Danielle O’Connell | Senior Manager, Innovation Services – Innovative Construction Solutions, Skanska


Danielle uses the Matterport to scan a space, collecting 2D and 3D data. These are bioptic cameras that upload to a cloud-based platform where the data is processed with computer vision to create the final 3D Environment that the user manipulates and shares with customers.

Tell us about your journey to where you got today? What were some of the inflection points throughout your career? Are there any critical moments that you look back on that changed where you are today?

My journey has had many twists and turns, but I would say the time I spent in my role on the Owner’s side working with Massachusetts Port Authority is where my career truly pivoted. I learned so much about project delivery from inception through turnover. The experience totally shifted the way I approach problem solving from the construction side.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

I love the variety and constantly evolving technology! Every day and week are different, and I get to interact with so many internal and external stakeholders. There are opportunities to get engaged throughout all phases of the construction process, from pre-construction through project turnover and beyond.

Have you seen men as allies in your office? Do specific examples stand out to you? Have you seen men make conscious efforts to promote female presence in positions of leadership and in the field?

Definitely. Great relationships are so important with both men and women in the office and in the field. I have one ally, or I might even call him a cheerleader, who really stands out, Mike Zeppieri. He is always keeping an ear out for opportunities for me and is truly invested in my growth and development in the company.

The construction industry is fundamentally changing. We are seeing innovation take hold at a rate unprecedented in years past. How can women play a leading role in this change?

I see so many women in construction technology roles, which is very exciting and leads to many opportunities to lead the charge. I think women tend to be more empathetic and therefore can listen, interpret and work on the best way to lead changes without negatively impacting our day to day operations. While change is happening, we have an opportunity to become lynchpin resources by maintaining relationships with both our internal project teams and our external technology partners.

Sabrina Odah | Smart Lab Director, Suffolk


Upon completion of a complex hospital project, Sabrina took her dad, a career architect and licensed general contractor, on a site-walk.

What has been the most surprising part about being a woman working in construction?

I am most surprised that women still need to ask to take a seat at the table. Our industry is experiencing an increase in labor shortage and a flatline in productivity. Global infrastructure investment will double over the next 15 years. Diversity in the workplace increases innovation, creativity, and productivity.

Let’s shift the discussion from whether we should to how we can create a more diverse and inclusive workplace across all roles and leadership positions. Not only will this improve the bottom line, but also, it’s the right thing to do.

 Mentorship and sponsorship are crucial to supporting and     empowering anyone in the industry. Tell us about a mentor or sponsor who shaped who you are. What made the relationship special?

I’ve had very strong mentors throughout my career who have taken the time to invest in my capabilities, skills, and development. When I reflect on who has shaped who I am today, one specific mentor comes to mind. At different points in our professional relationship we have worked for the same company, and for different companies. Through similarities and differences, he remains a strong supporter and proponent of mine. In my experience, an impactful mentor is someone who invests in your growth and development, even when they do not have anything to gain by doing so. Knowing he has my back has given me more confidence to try new ways of working, to speak my mind, and to rise to challenges.

Have you seen men as allies in your office? Do specific examples stand out to you? Have you seen men make conscious efforts to promote female presence in positions of leadership and in the field?

I’ve seen men make a conscious effort to promote female presence in positions of leadership. In fact, some of the strongest allies in my career to-date have been men. Many of these mentors have taken me under their wing and strengthened my understanding of building relationships and becoming a better builder. Some common characteristics in the best leaders – both male and female – that I’ve encountered throughout my career are empathy, compassion, grit, and a clear moral compass. I believe we advance in our careers and into leadership positions through a healthy alliance with male (and female) colleagues, along with proven performance and a willingness to advocate for ourselves and each other.

Salla Palos | Director of Transformation Services, Microsoft

At Microsoft Salla works with various disciplines across the AECO, pushing the industry to the digital frontier and reimagining what the digital built environment can be in terms of physical, social and digital space. She describes real estate owner-investor is the starting point of any building project, the cure must start from there.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

My current role focuses on the internal needs of Microsoft as a real estate owner. I am directing and managing the delivery of a complex, future-oriented, digital transformation strategy for Microsoft Global Real Estate and Security. Microsoft as a corporation provides me the bandwidth to collaborate with all disciplines of the AECO industry, pushing the AECO industry to the digital frontier and reimagining what the digital built environment can be in terms of physical, social and digital space. Having a specific focus allows me to diagnose what is the root problem of the AECO industry and start fixing it. Real estate owner-investor is the starting point of any building project, the cure must start from there.

Describe a problem you see throughout the AECO. What are you doing to solve it?

The AECO industry has been very good at describing the symptoms and finding ad-hoc alleviation to the small individual indicators rather than addressing the big root problems. I am creating clarity to the entire industry by developing the Digital Building Lifecycle. The AECO industry is so complex and complicated that it is not easily resolved one problem, but it is very multidimensional cluster of problems where everything affects everything. With the Digital Building Lifecycle approach, I am clearly defining the critical needs of each stakeholder. The critical needs define critical decision-making points. Once each stakeholder knows what decisions they need to make, they can address who needs to support the confident decision making by providing accurate data, reliable information, comprehendible intelligence, and suitable application of knowledge.

The problem the AECO industry has is that it lacks the clarity on people-business-technology, in that specific order. People are the decision makers, evaluators of value and worth, and end-users of the physical, digital and social environments which all blend together. Business is the driver of what is implemented, how and at what cost. Technology delivers the digital transformation that supports people making the educated business decisions.

What has been the most surprising part about being a woman working in real estate and construction?

Women do not support other women enough with their career ambition and development.

Mentorship and sponsorship are crucial to supporting and empowering anyone in the industry. Tell us about a mentor or sponsor who shaped who you are. What made the relationship special?

Greg Howes, CEO of CutMyTimber and co-founder of AEC Hackathon was the single person who got me over my severe fear of public speaking and unleashed the knowledge locked in me. I owe him the thanks for getting me on stage in front of a small groups and talk. Greg has been encouraging me to speak more and to variety of audiences, he has kept the dialogue going to dig into my brain and get the thoughts out. Now I feel confident going in front of very large audiences and speaking about the digital transformation solutions and the change the AECO industry desperately needs.

In VIATechnik’s article last year entitled, “The Construction Industry Has a Problem and Women Are going to Solve It”, we discussed 4 actions to take to empower women. Describe your reaction and if any of these solutions resonate with you.

  • The majority must begin advocating for the minority – People must begin advocating for people. Everyone should advocate for others to get variety of voices heard. How might we be inclusive as an industry?
  • Women must embrace standing out – People must embrace standing out. How might we create the opportunity for anyone to speak up about the ideas they have without needing to shout?
  • The industry must amplify the voice of women – The industry must amplify the voice of those who offer solutions. If the industry keeps repeating the same process with the same tools, how can it expect a different outcome?
  • And you should blaze your own career path in the industry- This is true. Nobody else is interested in your career but you yourself. You need to put in the work to succeed nobody else can do it for you. Others can be good allies and support. The big question is that how might we blaze wider career paths for more people by embracing open innovation and supporting each other’s career paths forward? Following in someone else’s footsteps doesn’t make you a leader even if you are the second person in the world to adopt to something new. True leaders carve new paths for others to follow. They are the spearheads who do it for the passion of doing something better but different and thrive fearlessly at the bleeding edge. Leaders can work side-by-side.

The construction industry is fundamentally changing. We are seeing innovation take hold at a rate unprecedented in years past. How can women play a leading role in this change?

The AECO industry keeps vocalizing how traditional it is. Women can take on what is the new frontier and unknown. There is likely to be very little competition in a scope that is not the status quo. In addition, definition of leadership could be redefined in the modern world. In the traditional AECO industry leadership has the cling of “authoritative management” and “boss lady”. It tends to confine the role into something very traditional and hierarchical with limited growth options. Leadership is about growth mindset and influencing others to do what is best, not about being the figure head.

Jamie Redmond | Director of Operations, Redmond Construction

Text Box: It might sound cliché, but I am truly learning something new every day in order to tackle the growing pains of a rapidly expanding company. Whether it’s navigating banking partnerships, changing our recruiting and hiring practices, implementing new software, or developing a new business relationship - it’s a constant state of learning. I get to impact so many different roles within our company and I feel like it’s a ton of responsibility but also very rewarding. 

This year was really special because I got to see our new hiring practices pay off. Our Project Team is now 50% female, and we hired our first female Superintendent. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment hitting that milestone after spending the past three years working to build a team that was diverse, and gender balanced.

While in grad school at University of Wisconsin, Jamie traveled with a group to help build hiking trails at the Cloud Forest School.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

In the past year what have you done to encourage another woman to take the leap into the industry or to advance in her role within the industry?

I brought on a Marketing Intern, Eleanor, last summer who had never worked in our industry but was interested in learning about construction and real estate. I exposed her to every facet of the industry that I could, from subcontractor shop tours to real estate events and architecture meet & greets. I’m proud to say that she is graduating this spring and has accepted a position with CBRE. She’ll quickly be a rising star in the commercial real estate world, so watch out!

In VIATechnik’s article last year entitled, “The Construction Industry Has a Problem and Women Are going to Solve It”, we discussed 4 actions to take to empower women. Describe your reaction and if any of these solutions resonate with you.

Amplifying women’s voices is particularly important to me. I initially entered the workforce thinking that women had to be competitive and prove themselves to the men around them, even if it meant stepping over other women. This past decade has profoundly changed my thinking about how women support each other. I know that I am where I am today because women decided to take a chance on me, to advocate for me, and to mentor me. The mantra I live by now is that as you succeed as a woman, in this or any industry, you have a responsibility to hold the ladder for women climbing behind you, not pull it away from them.

That’s easy to say but hard to put into practice. One of the ways our Leadership Team has worked to address this is by using a technique we call “leading with qualifications”. This means that when we introduce any member of the team, we intentionally mention their qualifications as part of the introduction. We’ll say, “This is Liza, she’s a Project Manager and she just closed out our largest project to date. She’ll be a great resource for you because of x, y, and z”. When your Project Executive or CEO is introducing you to someone and immediately shows they trust in your expertise, it validates that person on the spot. This is especially powerful for the young women when they are meeting senior level men in our industry.

What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I’m happiest when I’m outside, preferably hiking or working in my yard. When the weather is nice, I’ll spend all weekend in my vegetable garden and I’m way more comfortable in overalls than corporate attire. Give me pruning shears and a shovel and I’m content for hours.

 

Erica Storck | General Manager, Kapture Prefab


Kapture Prefab represents a new way of building: a simplified, innovative, and streamlined design and production process that offers greater precision in a more productive and safer environment. Using Lean principles, preassembly allows us to shift our mentality from traditional construction to a manufacturing mindset.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

The most exciting aspect is seeing how the industry is shifting. Through prefabrication and technology, we are changing the way that buildings are built.  With the labor shortages we are able to significantly reduce the amount of onsite labor by prefabricating components of a building including fully finished exterior wall panels.  Prefabrication being in a factory setting, also exposes the industry to people who have never worked in construction.  I have seen first-hand, women who have never been in construction, become the best finishers on a factory floor. 

In the past year what have you done to encourage another woman to take the leap into the industry or to advance in her role within the industry?

I believe we need to expose young girls to the industry and debunk the perception that construction isn’t for them. One of my current projects, I have partnered with a non-profit organization in Charlotte, NC called the Dottie Rose Foundation. Dottie Rose introduces young girls to STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and this summer we are doing a weeklong camp to blend STEM and construction so the girls can see first-hand the potential they have in our industry.

Mentorship and sponsorship are crucial to supporting and empowering anyone in the industry. Tell us about a mentor or sponsor who shaped who you are. What made the relationship special?

Early in my career I had a male mentor who was instrumental in helping launch my career by giving me the opportunity, unwavering support and confidence to know that I can do anything I put my mind to.  He has remained for the last 19 years a mentor and friend even after he retired. As I have developed in my career, I have also been blessed by many of my fellow women in construction who have been significant mentors, strategy partners and friends.  It is so energizing to see the amazing women in construction banding together to support one another and mentor the next generation of builders.

In VIATechnik’s article last year entitled, “The Construction Industry Has a Problem and Women Are going to Solve It”, we discussed 4 actions to take to empower women. Describe your reaction and if any of these solutions resonate with you.

All of them certainly resonate but blazing your own career path stands out the most.  In my journey, it hasn’t always been the easiest but when I choose to take the leap and blaze the path, that is when great things happened for me.  I also relied heavily on my mentors during much of these trailblazing times to give me the strength and courage to know that I can do it.

The construction industry is fundamentally changing. We are seeing innovation take hold at a rate unprecedented in years past. How can women play a leading role in this change?

With innovation and technology, we are seeing rapid change and it is extremely exciting.  Technology opens opportunities for various career paths and with those opportunities we are seeing more women enter the construction space.  Technology minded people bring fresh innovative ideas that are completely changing the way we do things. I believe women are more creative in their solutions and they will continue to be huge influencers in our industry. 

Trina Warren, LEED AP BD + C | Senior Project Manager, Devcon Construction, Inc.


Trina’s most recent Habitat for Humanity trip to Paraguay involved hand digging foundations and septic tanks, rock subgrade, concrete work, and lots of masonry work in extreme temperatures.  She finds the opportunity to meet and help a community, rewarding.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

One of the great things about construction is that it is always changing – the projects change, the design trends change, the technology evolves & innovates – which gives us the opportunity to keep learning and keeps things interesting.  The continual learning blends with training and mentoring the new generations entering and growing in the construction field.  Working with talented individuals to create a fantastic product is exciting.

In the past year what have you done to encourage another woman to take the leap into the industry or to advance in her role within the industry?

I am happy to meet with young people, whether they are a friend’s kid or college students at my alma mater, to discuss career options and possible roles in the industry.  More and more women are interested in the field and I am happy to share the broad range of options in design, engineering, construction management, and field supervision that are available.  I am especially excited to see women in field supervision roles as the number of females has been low in this sector.  I worked with an entry-level engineer to get her voice heard, initially just at a volume that could be heard in a loud construction site but also as a confident professional.  So, after working together for a few years, I am thrilled to see her develop her knowledge, her voice, and her interest in the fieldwork side of construction and become a confident field supervisor this year.

What is something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I love to volunteer for good causes, so utilizing my construction background makes Habitat for Humanity a perfect fit and is a chance to get my hands dirty.  I have volunteered for local community builds and have also travelled to Nepal and Paraguay to build homes.  My most recent trip to Paraguay involved hand digging foundations and septic tanks, rock subgrade, concrete work, and lots of masonry work in 105 degree temperatures, but we had a fun & hard working international volunteer team and we had a blast building a new home for the family.  The opportunity to meet and help a community is so rewarding. 

Leshya Wig | Partner and Lead Development of Mixed-Use Projects, Wig Properties

When Leysha isn’t working she is spending time with her daughter.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

 Every day is different.  I get to work on wide ranging issues from financing to permitting to leasing, and from design to construction to property management, and to top it off, I get to do all of those things across all different asset classes (retail, hospitality, multifamily, office).  It’s exciting because every one of these areas could be an area that I specialized in exclusively – but because I don’t – I have tremendous opportunity to grow and learn every day. 

 Describe a problem you see in the real estate and construction industry. What are you doing to solve it?

Affordable housing is a massive problem in our communities, and it appears as if it is getting worse, not better.  Amazing companies such as Katerra and McKinstry have been working to address these issues from a constructability standpoint.  We need that important work to continue.  But we also need to tackle this problem with local cities, to ensure that developers are incentivized to build housing so that the housing supply can continue to build, which will help keep prices down. 

In certain communities, it does not even make economic sense for developers to build high rise market-rate housing, and then permitting times can drag on for years and years which only makes the process even more costly.  This creates even bigger issues for affordability since if market rate housing cannot be justified, then affordable housing will certainly not be built without public subsidies or other incentives.  The less the supply of housing, the greater the price increases we will continue to see. 

I have been advocating for changes to local land use codes, that can be provided at no cost to the local jurisdictions, for areas of the city that have been identified as appropriate for denser development, while also ensuring we respect the boundaries of our single family neighborhoods. 

Mentorship and sponsorship are crucial to supporting and empowering anyone in the industry. Tell us about a mentor or sponsor who shaped who you are. What made the relationship special?

Gregg Young has been a mentor of mine since I graduated from college and joined IDS Real Estate in 2003.  At every step, he has been available to listen and guide me, and to support my growth and advancement in the industry.  When I was 21, and right out of undergrad, he helped me get exposed to different areas of real estate, even though I wasn’t technically reporting to him at the time.  He then helped me apply and get admitted to Stanford Business School five years later.  And then, when I was trying to decide what path to take after having left the real estate field post business school, he bounced ideas around with me to help me get plugged back in.   Today, he is the reason I am connected to VIATechnik and am getting the opportunity to speak out in this article!

Thea Williamson, LEED AP BD + C | Senior Design Project Manager, Shake Shack


Thea in South Africa on a safari outside of Johannesburg.

Tell us about your journey to where you got today? What were some of the inflection points throughout your career? Are there any critical moments that you look back on that changed where you are today?

Believe it or not, I moved to NYC as a 17-year-old runaway from a small town in Missouri. I spent the first 3 years in this region working miscellaneous jobs in pursuit of finding my passion and eating a daily meal. A roommate introduced me to Nontraditional Employment for Women and within months I was a member of Union Local 28 in NYC and had kickstarted my current 14-year career within the industry.

Excelling within this male dominated field has been a challenge as an openly gay black woman. At the same time, some of my greatest moments were welcomed during challenges; such as being promoted to a part time instructor within my union school, becoming a manager for a drafting and fabrication shop in my 20s, and ultimately saying goodbye to my union and entering the corporate world on my 30th birthday. When I look back on my career, I can clearly see how every moment and every experience truly shaped my current reality for the good. But the positivity I allow it to bring to my reality is a choice.

What is the most exciting aspect about your current role?

As the Senior Project Manager of Design for Shake Shack, I am now able to see the entire life cycle of a space which was an experience that I’ve never been afforded. I will also be a part of project teams that span from coast to coast while working for a company who truly believes in “Standing for Something Good”. That mixture of ingredients has me extremely optimistic about the future of my career and my current role.

Mentorship and sponsorship are crucial to supporting and empowering anyone in the industry. Tell us about a mentor or sponsor who shaped who you are. What made the relationship special?

I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my career to have several mentors. The mentor who has consistently guided me professionally and personally is currently the Director of SMART, Leah Rambo. Her guidance has been critical to, not only the woman I am, but the knowledge I possess. For us, I believe the initial bond we shared that allowed our relationship to develop was based on familiarity. We are both African American women within a specific industry who had similar upbringings despite the 20-year age gap.

Unfortunately, I believe the familiarity of mentors to mentees is based on personal similarities. This can be viewed as a positive and negative, but it is also definitely one of the reasons why having diversity on all levels within an organization is critical.

About the Author
Danielle Dy Buncio is the Co-Founder and CEO of VIATechnik. Prior to VIATechnik Danielle managed large-scale building and infrastructure projects in Silicon Valley, Chicago, and Sydney. Danielle also serves on the Board of Directors of Ryan Companies US, a $2B real estate development, construction, and design firm and JF Brennan, a 100 year old heavy civil and marine contractor. Danielle is a 2018 Building Design + Construction 40 under 40 honoree and a 2019 ENR National Top 20 under 40. She received a BS in Civil Engineering from Stanford and an MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. Danielle remembers her first job site at age 3 shortly after her parents founded a heavy civil construction company in Chicago. From a young age, Danielle was fortunate to be surrounded by strong female role models in Civil Engineering and Construction including her mother, Leticia Villasenor, and her aunt, Lydia Villasenor.

VIATechnik is the global leader in virtual design and construction, with nearly 200 digital experts in nine global offices. We are on a mission to transform the analog world of design and construction into a digital platform, enabling efficient design, industrialized construction, and a digital real estate service model. Through this transformation, we believe we can solve the world’s housing and infrastructure challenges, deliver spaces that nurture life, commerce, and relationships. We are proud that women at VIATechnik comprise over 30% of our team, 3X the national average. VIATechnik is a WBE firm certified by the WBENC.

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