How long have you been with Colliers Engineering & Design (CED) and what do you do?
I have been with Colliers Engineering & Design, formerly Maser Consulting, for 15 years. In fact, I just had my 15-year anniversary at the end of February. Currently, I am the Director of Marketing.
What attracted you to the A/E industry? What led you to become the Director of Marketing?
Working in the A/E industry was not by design. I was a Creative Designer, working freelance and raising a family. When I went back into the workforce, it was right after 9/11, and the creative and advertising industry was really struggling. I interviewed for a design position at a company called Schoor Depalma, an engineering firm. I was also a photographer at the time. Schoor Depalma needed a photographer and designer, so that’s how I ended up in the A/E industry. I have grown to really love it.
I grew in my career mostly because I saw challenges, came up with solutions and improvements that needed to be made, and then made them. I grew my career organically with each challenge I took on, from establishing and growing a formal marketing team to implementing the firm’s first CRM to founding the Women’s Organization.
What types of projects do you typically work on?
The types of projects I work on vary, but at the core all that we do is related to demonstrating CED’s unique value, branding our professionals as experts, and strengthening brand loyalty. It is about brand awareness, positioning our services, supporting our professionals, and being seen and respected in the markets we serve.
The Marketing department covers integration rebranding, digital and print design, qualifications and proposals, corporate communications, and public relations.
Marketing has changed over the years and so have the tools we use. So, many of the projects we work on involve leveraging new technologies to plan, execute, and measure campaigns. We are always evolving and improving the way we do things, that’s what makes it so interesting.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I love the creative process, so my favorite thing is a grand brainstorming session. One of the things I do well is problem-solve. I truly believe that every problem has many solutions.
I believe you need to create an atmosphere where people are comfortable to share ideas and come up with crazy solutions in a safe space. Sometimes we laugh together at the idea, but then we take that out-of-the-box idea, that creative solution, and morph it into something that fits our industry, and it ends up being perfect.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career at CED?
I have worked on a lot of great projects during my career. My team and I have won many awards, from redesigning our website, to creating an entire corporate package, to producing award-winning newsletters.
The thing that I am most proud of is co-creating the Women’s Organization. During our meetings, I feel inspired and excited to be part of such an amazing group. Talking to women in our breakout sessions and hearing from everyone encourages me to continue to work towards a world where we won’t need a resource group like this. I feel like we are fostering a bond and there is a purpose behind everything we do.
What motivates and inspires you to come to work every day?
Hands down, my team motivates me. They are talented, smart, dedicated, creative, and fiercely loyal. I am so proud of them. I built this team organically, selecting and recruiting many of them. Now I watch them building relationships and mentoring each other. Being a part of their professional journey and seeing them taking on challenges and thriving is what motivates me.
What is the next accomplishment or goal you’re trying to achieve?
In the immediate future, updating the company website to reflect the new structure and represent all that CED has grown to be. In addition, we are focusing on rebranding Bergmann and KFW, our recent corporate acquisitions, so that we are all under one brand.
However, if I am talking about my personal professional goal this year, it would be to organize and bring synergy to all the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) CED has to offer. I want to streamline and structure our ERGs to work together to create a better employee experience. In addition, we can work on improving the firm while better allocating our internal resources.
What challenges have you had to overcome as a woman in the A/E industry?
Fifteen years ago, this really was a man’s industry, and in some ways, it still is. Women coming into the industry would deal with the challenges of being the only woman in the room by keeping a low profile, laughing at jokes, and some even acting like a man to fit in. Women dealt with issues in whatever way they needed to be successful, and they had to develop a tough skin.
As I grew in my career, I knew I could do better. I changed from just ignoring things to changing things, especially when I had a daughter. I was responsible for the next generation. So, I had to take a stand for me, for them, for change. We have evolved. Times have changed. More women are in the industry and the newer staff, especially the younger staff, are better at speaking up for themselves.
What do you enjoy about being a woman in the A/E industry?
In some ways, it is hard to be in an industry that’s predominantly male dominated. Yet it is also rewarding to overcome challenges, to be the voice of change, and to see that change firsthand. I am seeing great changes from when I first started fifteen years ago. Now I see the younger generation coming in and see that there are more women – not just in our firm, but in the industry – and that is exciting and motivating.
Over the duration of your career, have you noticed any changes or evolution in how women are perceived in the A/E industry?
I definitely see changes. We are talking more about equality in general and that is always a good thing. We still have a long way to go. I think that there are many people who believe that there is a place for everyone. The women that are in the workforce today do not accept what the women in the workforce fifteen years ago accepted, and that is going to make the difference. I do think many managers are looking at the best person now, not necessarily whether they are male or female.
I believe the path to real change must be paved in the early years. We must help to expose girls to the possibilities of a STEM career early in their development —through programs like Girl Scouts or during high school. If we really want to achieve equality, we need female candidates in the room, we must reach them at a young age, and they need to see it to be it. That is our responsibility to the next generation.
What advice would you give to any young woman looking to enter the A/E industry?
I would say believe in yourself. Be confident.
When you feel that impostor syndrome creeping in, acknowledge it, but don’t give in to it. It is okay to acknowledge it because I think a lot of us feel that. Like, “How did I get here? What am I doing here? Was this a mistake?”
When this happens, rework your own narrative! You deserve to be there. You did the work. Ask questions and do not worry about being perfect because, as our founder Richard Maser told me, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing your job.” That gave me the permission to try things, even if I am not sure exactly how it’s going to work out. Then, I must learn from the experience and not make the same mistake twice.
What is one thing that you’d like people to know about you?
I have empathy and understand that you must look at things from every perspective. I work hard at not judging others, you never know what path they are on or what they have been through. I want people to know that I care. I genuinely care about people. Not just what they do in their job, but who they are, and how they are.
I remember when I first started working, the culture was work life and private life do not mix. You were to keep your private life private. I do not like managing that way. I try to make sure that people understand that when I say my door is open, it is not just about work. I would rather know you and know what your struggles are, and work with you to help figure it out. I think that CED really taught me this. We must help each other get through things… together. We all need to lean on each other at some point or another.
I have been through a lot in my life. As a woman, a mother, a leader, a mentor and a mentee. I am here to help, even if all I can do is listen.
Michele was interviewed by Learning & Development Manager and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee Member Kathleen Pearson.