February 10, 2020 in Insights, Leadership, Newsletter, and Uncategorized

Celebrating women in the AE industry

We interviewed some of the women at GMC about their career experience, including challenges, opportunities, industry insights and advice for others entering a historically male-dominated industry. Here’s some of what they had to say.

Stacey Bennett

Marketing & Business Development (Nashville, Tennessee)
15 years of experience; 2 with GMC

 

 

What challenges, if any, do you feel women face in the architecture and engineering industry? Have there been any obstacles you’ve had to overcome, and if so, how did you overcome them?
I think women have made tremendous strides in what has traditionally been a male-dominant industry. However, with the advantage of technology and the greater exposure of the industry to young women as a viable career path, we are well on our way to having a more balanced workforce. I’ve seen a lot of very talented women succeed in the AEC industry, and I fully expect that trend to continue. I feel fortunate to work for a company that values women in the workplace. We have a very balanced mix of male/female employees, and that trend can be seen from the very top of our corporate structure.

What has helped you most in your career so far?
Relationships. Each achieved milestone in my career has been the result of a good relationship – someone backing me, supporting me, rooting for me, giving me advice and believing in me. It started with my dad believing in me 15 years ago, and I have now built trusting relationships with so many people along the way.

 What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I enjoy the details that go into my work and into every aspect of the AEC industry.  The specifics matter, and I try to bring that attitude to work each and every day.  Quality work is important to me, and I enjoy a clean, final product.  It’s a representation of not only myself, but my employer as well

 

Lizz Bragg, PE

Project Engineer (Birmingham, Alabama)
5 years of experience; 3 with GMC

 

 

Why did you choose to go into your current field?
I have been fascinated by construction since I was really little. In fact, I have a picture of 7-year-old me hand-mixing concrete in a sundress and Birkenstocks (safety first). Civil engineering felt like a natural choice.

What opportunities do you see for women in the industry?
Tons! Technical skill and knowledge are fundamental to career success, of course, but soft skills and emotional intelligence, which women historically possess, can be a major competitive advantage for women in the industry.

 

Carla Percival Young, AIA

Senior Architect (Dallas, Texas)
37 years of experience; 14+ with GMC

 

Why did you choose to go into your current field?
Two common family events had an influence on my decision to be an architect. One, my family often took Sunday afternoon drives into new sub divisions being built around our town. I would listen to my parents discuss the effect these had on our town such as traffic, urban spread, and loss of open lands. They would discuss whether what was being built added to or took away from the beauty of where we lived. Often, we would go explore the buildings as they were being built and my father would point out the good and the bad construction practices. He was an aerospace engineer and a builder at heart.  Secondly, we toured many historic sites and buildings during summer vacations, all the while being introduced to the value of protecting what was historical and learning what had endured the test of time. Both of the activities sparked my interest in the built environment, and I wanted to be a part of it. I still love the smell of fresh cut lumber and old libraries.

What has helped you most in your career so far?
Listening to my clients, those in my office with more experience, and those fresh out of college. And not thinking I know all the answers.

 

Mary Whitney Evins

Interior Designer (Birmingham, Alabama)
4 years of experience; 4 with GMC

 

What opportunities do you see for women in the industry?
We should have every opportunity in the industry. If you fight for it hard and long enough, you can do anything.

 

Denise King, PE

Engineering Project Manager (Mobile, Alabama)
10 years of experience; 10 with GMC

 

What has helped you most in your career so far?
People. I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by peers at GMC who have supported and mentored me into the project manager I am today. I would not have been successful if these people had not poured into me the knowledge, experience and time that they so graciously gave. I also am fortunate to have chosen a field that really suits my personal strengths. I am organized, a good communicator, enjoy being with people, and very detail oriented, all of which make me a better project manager.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I really enjoy working with municipal clients (cities, counties, and utility boards) to help alleviate problems they encounter and provide a better quality of life for their citizens/customers. I get to spend my time in an office with a group of people that I really enjoy both personally and professionally, and I spend the rest of my time out in the community. This balance between office/field work is a real benefit.

 

Kyonta Smith, AIA, NCARB

Architecture Project Manager (Birmingham, Alabama)
15 years of experience; 15 with GMC

 

What challenges, if any, do you feel women face in the architecture and engineering industry? Have there been any obstacles you’ve had to overcome, and if so, how did you overcome them?
Being younger, female, and a minority has had its challenges.  This is especially true in the field of construction where it is very rare to see those traits in tandem.  To overcome issues that have arisen over my career, I have always endeavored to be competent and confident in my work.  I strive to make myself as prepared as I can be and try to help others in situations where I can impart my knowledge. I look for opportunities to bring awareness or enlightenment to a situation so everyone can use the experience to grow.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Architecture is one of the few professions where an abstract concept can be formed into a tangible entity. What’s most enjoyable and rewarding about what we do is seeing the effect it has on the people we work for and the greater populous who also use and experience our work. Probably 99% of the people who ultimately engage with our projects will never know who we are, or what it really took to get a project realized, but knowing the positive impact our work has in their lives and their communities is enough.

What opportunities do you see for women in the industry?
The exact same opportunities there are for men.

 

Jane Reed Ross, PLA, ASLA

Senior Landscape Architect (Birmingham, Alabama)
37 years of experience; 12 with GMC

 

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I enjoy getting into the creative zone when collaborating with others and talking about the design potential of a project. The question of how to capture the essence of a place and the culture of the people using the space are ideas I love to explore. It is very rewarding to learn with time how important our work is not only to people’s mental well-being and to enhancing our environment, but for the economic development of our community and overall quality of life.

What challenges, if any, do you feel women face in the architecture and engineering industry? Have there been any obstacles you’ve had to overcome, and if so, how did you overcome them?
Traditionally, the architecture and engineering fields were predominately male. I was the first woman ever hired in my first job as a summer intern in Washington DC for the Veterans Administration Site Planning Department in 1980. The men in that office were not happy that I had been hired and protested and demanded a reversal before even meeting me. The head of the department ignored their concerns and stayed the course with my hire.  It was an important experience for us all. By the end of the second summer, the men had learned it was not the end of the world to work with a woman. I learned that I might not be welcomed through every door immediately, but I could work with people to make a better situation and gain understanding. Over the years, I stayed in contact with those landscape architects and maintaining some of those relationships helped in future endeavors. Eventually I had my own business and was able to win a federal contract with the Veterans Administration.

What opportunities do you see for women in the industry?
I think the old limitations have softened considerably and should not hold anyone back. Women can tackle any of their heart’s desires within pursuance of work. In my early years people had reservations about women in the workforce because it was unusual to see them in different fields. Women are now present everywhere and the comfort level of seeing women in different positions has increased. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but it is much better.

 

Judy Jones, SR/WA

Right of Way Manager (Montgomery, Alabama)
International Secretary, International Right of Way Association
33 years of experience; 31 with GMC


What opportunities do you see for women in the industry?
Opportunities are a woman’s to make. When you feel defeated and want to quit because of unfairly given obstacles, don’t stop. Hold your head high and keep doing what you are doing and persevere. A woman should always accept the fact she is just as good as a man, and sometimes better, and keep proving you can do anything laid before you.

What has helped you most in your career so far?
I never would be where I am today if not for the strong support given to me from the beginning by individuals at GMC like George Goodwyn, David Reed and Derril Strickland. I was given an opportunity to create an area of expertise few engineering companies have, that being right-of-way acquisition services. In fact, we sometimes have clients that have another engineering firm designing their project that will utilize GMC to provide right-of-way services.

I’ve also found great support from the International Right of Way Association (IRWA). I joined more than 15 years ago and became very active in the Alabama chapter, serving on numerous committees and also on the Board elected to serve in all offices. I continued on with my leadership, serving at the regional level for six years with the past two years as the Chair of Region 6, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Last year, I was elected at the international level to serve on the International Executive Committee as International Secretary. Up until my election, an executive committee member had not served in this position from Region 6 since 1996. With approximately 10,000 members, I have unlimited resources through IRWA.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?
Everything! Especially when you have a project that involves relocating someone in unsanitary conditions to a safe and sanitary home. Those projects are priceless.

 

Mary George

Engineering/Architecture Administrator (Greenville, South Carolina)
1.5 years of experience; 1.5 with GMC

 

What challenges, if any, do you feel women face in the architecture and engineering industry? Have there been any obstacles you’ve had to overcome, and if so, how did you overcome them?
The assumed stigma of being a female in a male-dominated industry is a huge detriment to success and a slippery slope. By viewing colleagues as partners instead of superiors/subordinates, males/females, architects/engineers, young/old, it’s easy to shift from an attitude of entitlement and defense to one of respect and collaboration. A rising tide lifts all boats – be the tide!

What advice do you have for those just beginning their careers or aspiring to work in the architecture and engineering field?
Have a positive attitude and don’t be afraid to work hard. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison

 

Melanie Long, IIDA

Senior Interior Designer (Montgomery, Alabama)
30 years of experience; 12 with GMC

 

Why did you choose to go into your current field?
As a child I would build floor plans out of Lincoln Logs and take furniture from Fisher Price Little People, placing it through out each space. Little did I know at age 8, I would make a profession out of it. It was a field I always loved doing.  My father is also an electrical engineer, and I was always very curious watching him draw and design.

What opportunities do you see for women in the industry?
I think with this generation, the opportunities are endless. If a woman wants it, she can achieve it.

 

Amy Bell

Vice President, Architecture (Atlanta, Georgia)
13 years of experience; 13 with GMC

 

What opportunities do you see for women in the industry?
Any opportunity that you set your mind to. Believe in yourself and others will too. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. Surround yourself with those who support you to fuel your fire.

What advice do you have for those just beginning their careers or aspiring to work in the architecture and engineering field?
Find what you are most passionate about and go for it. Whether it is management, design, detailing, determine that and make it known. Managers will want to put you in places that you will excel.