DPR’s Andrea Weisheimer once walked into a meeting she was leading, and a subcontractor asked her if she was there to take notes. She replied, “No. Are you?”
Weisheimer and five other professionals, who work across the AEC industry, recently spoke on a Women Who Build panel in Austin, discussing how to connect, inspire, develop and advance women in the industry as they build meaningful careers—whether it’s as a PE, a PX, an architect or an owner.
Melissa Neslund, Armbrust & Brown; Janki DePalma, DCI Engineers; Katie Blair, Charles Schwab; Pollyanna Little, STG Design–along with DPR’s Weisheimer and Bryan Lofton–shared experiences and career advice with more than 60 attendees. The discussion was focused on promoting change in a traditionally male-dominated industry that is only 9.3% women (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
The issue of the dearth of women in construction, as well as many other STEM fields, is complex, and there is not one simple answer. A confluence of factors ranging from unconscious bias learned at an early age, to a lack of women in the STEM pipeline, to recruiting, retention and development of women in technical and leadership positions will not likely be solved by any one quick fix.
What the panel provided was a forum for sharing experiences and supporting each other. Weisheimer spoke about how she often feels the need to prove herself for people to accept that she knows what she’s doing, a sentiment echoed by the other women.
“You’re always trying to be a little ahead of the expectations of your role,” she said. “When you learn the technical details of how to build, it gets to the point where people do respect you, regardless of gender.”
Learning how to advocate for themselves was a common theme among the panelists. DePalma remembered how she moved to Austin from the Bay Area without a job in 2008, the height of the economic recession. She pitched an idea for DCI Engineers to hire her for a two-month trial in a business development role to help its fledgling office make connections in the local market. Nearly nine years later, she has helped DCI triple its office size and secure projects that have changed Austin’s skyline.
Neslund agreed that advocating for herself has been an essential skill in her success throughout her career in land use and entitlements at Armbrust & Brown, PLLC.
“I have always advocated for the promotion, or the extra resources I need for my team. I have advocated for respect, walking into a room and giving my 150% effort,” she said. “Even if you don’t have all the answers, speak with confidence. Believe in yourself, show that you care, and advocate for what you deserve in your career.”
The panelists discussed letting go of the sense of perfection that many of us put on ourselves. No one is perfect all the time, and many of them had to embrace the fact that they are enough in every one of their roles–as builders, designers and family members.
“The hardest thing with confidence is that we are always comparing ourselves with everybody else. Be unique, set yourself apart, and go for it,” said Weisheimer. “The biggest mistake is not asking for help if you need it.”
Leaders like Weisheimer and the others on the panel showed the next generation of builders that success in the AEC industry doesn’t necessarily mean looking like everyone else, or fitting into any stereotypes. As Weisheimer likes to say, “be confident, be bold and be brilliant.”