On February 20, 2020, more than 300 construction professionals met at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst for The Construction Institute’s fifth annual Women Who Build Summit. Attendees of the day-long event – filled with keynotes, panels, and breakout sessions – represented more than 20 different professions in the built environment from 100 different organizations. This year’s theme centered around driving cultural change in the construction industry, focusing on leadership and forging a path for [collective] success.
Jane Edmonds, Vice President for Programming and Community Outreach at Babson College kicked off the day with an opening keynote – “Shifting to Face the Winds: Challenges and Opportunities of Leadership in the New ‘20s” – focusing on the importance of using our collective power as women to make a difference and drive change.
In her keynote, Edmonds discussed the importance of using your voice and perspective to shape the industry and navigate pathways to success. She talked about how events in life may shape our experience, but it’s important to figure out our purpose, and stay true to ourselves without blowing off course.
“When we work for change, it can feel like uncharted waters,” says Edmonds. “It’s important to remember to ask yourself: What do I want? Why do I want it? How do I get it?” While it’s not easy work, through determination and a strong network – anything’s possible.
5 Key Themes from the Event
Following the keynote, attendees were treated to an agenda of inspirational and insightful speakers – both women and men – that talked about their career trajectories, characteristics for success, and lessons learned along the way. A snapshot of the speakers included:
- Denise Berger, Senior Vice President and Chief Operation Officer, Northeast Region at AECOM;
- Luciana Burdi, Deputy Director for Capital Programs and Environmental Affairs at Massachusetts Port Authority;
- Katherine Faulkner, Vice President Design at Katerra; and
- Siggy Pfendler, Director of Improvement & Innovation at Columbia.
While each session had a different topic, key themes began to emerge and become central to the event. Here are five key themes that stayed top-of-mind for me throughout the day:
1. Network, Network, Network
Networking is critical to career growth as it fosters industry relationships that will help develop and improve your skillset, provide access to career resources, and introduce you to prospective mentors, partners, and clients.
Each speaker touched on the importance of networking for them, as it helped to lead them on the right path, and find opportunities through mentorship and sponsorship that may not have been otherwise available. By expanding your network, you have the opportunity to influence and shape the success of others, which is critical for growing the industry. It’s about using individual and collective power to make a difference and drive change.
“Being the only can be tough,” says Edmonds. “Bring others along, and create pathways for their success. That’s the value of networking.”
2. Welcome Change
To enhance the industry and bring in new talent, we need to welcome change. Talent differs, but it is these differences that drive change in the construction industry. There are items that marginalize inclusivity – from the gender wage gap to racism – but vigilance and voice are key to rise above and create diversity and inclusion, and drive growth.
Aisha Nadar, Senior Consultant at Advokatfirman Runeland demonstrated how challenging conventional wisdom helped in building her career. She spoke about the importance of challenging the status quo and testing gender norms. Through determination, patience, and discipline, she broke down barriers and was never afraid to ask “why?.” “We need to fix the system,” says Nadar. “Don’t accept the conclusion of others. Embrace new challenges and have an open mind – that will help you strive for better.”
3. Be Courageous
Courage means not being afraid to ask questions or take risks. These were points that were touched upon throughout several sessions. By finding your voice it helps you develop strengths and qualities for leadership opportunities.
Catherine Walsh Associate Vice President, Facilities Management at Northeastern University shared some staggering statistics around the confidence gap in men and women when applying for jobs. Men apply for positions if they meet just 60% of the requirements, while women only apply if they meet 100% of them.
“I’m willing to take a chance on someone that is honest and eager, over someone that knows everything,” says Walsh.
“Jump in, stretch high, and don’t sell yourself short.”
4. Identify a Champion
“Don’t just open the door for the person behind you, but hold it for all,” says Barbara Kroncke, Executive Director, University of Massachusetts Building Authority.
This powerful statement was echoed by the panelists in the session, “Powerhouse Owners.” By identifying a champion, it will open the door to opportunities and position you for success. It’s all about getting a seat at the table and acquiring skills that will support your future success.
Each panelist spoke about their approach to nurturing talent and developing a culture where people can flourish in their trade. Firms need to promote smart people, because it not only benefits the individual, but also the firm.
“Leadership is not a title, but a way of behaving,” says Berger.
5. Don’t Stop Learning
Continuous learning propels you. It challenges and opens the door to new opportunities. Each speaker talked about the importance of continuing education, and how as leaders, it’s their responsibility to influence the next generation. If you don’t learn, you don’t become better.
Some tactics discussed for creating an environment of learning include:
- Create a comfortable space and share feedback regularly;
- Designate people for leadership opportunities and develop programs to develop their skills;
- Encourage participation in networking groups; and
- Promote education and career development opportunities.
Preparing for the Construction Industry of Tomorrow
It’s not about what’s now, it’s about what’s next. The Women Who Build Summit provided a glimpse of the rising cultural shifts building a better construction industry. But only by coming together can we facilitate real change. Always be open for the next opportunity, and don’t forget to bring others along.
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