Building the Future: Women’s Leadership and Community Engagement in the Construction Industry

The rise of women as leaders and mentors in the construction industry marks a shift towards greater diversity and inclusion. In Hill’s Pacific Northwest region, a team of dedicated women is challenging traditional boundaries by investing in their careers and in each other, demonstrating a commitment to personal growth and industry progress. Through their professional roles and local engagement, they inspire and guide the next generation of women in construction. Furthermore, their stories highlight the value of diverse leadership and community involvement in shaping the industry’s future.

New Leadership, Fresh Perspectives

In Hill’s Seattle office, women leaders are instrumental in bringing unique perspectives and strengths to the team. First Vice President Becky Blankenship, FDBIA, bridges the gap between industry success and thoughtful leadership, developing a culture where female colleagues are encouraged and empowered to excel and lead. Her approach underscores the importance of supporting and elevating women in leadership roles, contributing to a more diverse and dynamic workplace.

“I’m committed to fostering an environment where every voice matters,” says Becky. “Supporting women in their professional growth goes beyond providing opportunities; it’s also about creating a space where they can confidently bring their whole selves to the table, challenge norms, and innovate. It’s incredibly rewarding to witness the women on my team embrace diverse approaches and drive positive outcomes.”

Gregory Heinz, Hill Senior Vice President, Western Region Manager shares this sentiment: “I’m humbled by the collective strength and talent found in this group of women in our Washington practice. They each consistently demonstrate outsized ability and show their willingness to promote the values important to Hill and to our industry at large.”

An expert in alternative delivery, Becky plays a key role in shaping the design-build sector through her involvement with the National Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) Fellows Nominating Committee. In this capacity, Becky’s responsibilities include identifying and recommending candidates for the DBIA Fellow designation, a prestigious honor. Her work involves evaluating professionals based on their significant contributions to design-build. Previously recognized as a DBIA Fellow herself, Becky’s contributions to engineering, architecture, and construction are widely acknowledged. At Hill, she makes a substantial impact on project delivery, especially in the planning stages, guiding clients through critical decision-making processes.

Noelle Brooks recently joined Becky and the Seattle team as Business Development Director. She brings a diverse background, most recently as Northwest Region Director of Business Development and Operations at CMTS, LLC. In this role, Noelle was responsible for operations and business development in the region, overseeing a staff of 30 colleagues and contract values of $27 million in transportation and infrastructure with a focus on aviation and water/wastewater projects.

Previously, Noelle oversaw marketing and land acquisition for commercial and residential real estate developer ICON Construction. She also retains her principal broker’s license. Her involvement in the field is further highlighted by her active roles on boards for rezoning and code revision, and her former appointment as president of her local chamber of commerce. Noelle’s experiences lend a fresh perspective on managing client relationships and project dynamics within the industry.

Noelle remarks, “I’m excited about collaborating with Becky and the team to expand our relations in the region. I look forward to learning about the alternative delivery methods she and her staff have honed. So far, it’s been rewarding to work on collaborative efforts targeting key transportation projects, aligning our team’s strengths with our clients’ visions and creating an inclusive atmosphere in our presale engagements with partners and stakeholders.” She continues, “I’m impressed by our involvement in local CMAA, DBIA, and WTS Chapters and I’m pleased to join a team that shares my commitment to nurturing meaningful, long-term relationships with the communities and clients we serve.”

Stacy Shewell, the newly appointed Director of Project Delivery in the Seattle office, brings to the team a wealth of knowledge and expertise in project delivery with an emphasis on progressive design-build delivery. Her previous roles, including Facilities Manager for the City of Spokane and various positions in project management and leadership at OAC Services, have established her as a leading figure in the design-build industry. Notably, Stacy has supported numerous owners in navigating their first design-build projects. Her involvement as a member of the DBIA NW Region Executive Board further demonstrates her commitment to the field.

Stacy emphasizes the collaborative nature of her role, stating, “Leading project delivery involves integrating a variety of expertise and viewpoints and orchestrating diverse talents and skills. Each project is an opportunity for us to come together, overcome challenges, innovate, and learn.”

Forging Ahead: Nurturing Growth Through Professional Development and Support

Tracy Wiyrick, DBIA, PMP, a Project Manager on Becky’s team, demonstrates how professional development supports her leadership growth. Tracy recently earned her Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate. Awarded by the Project Management Institute (PMI), this certification highlights Tracy’s proficiency in managing complex construction projects, confirming they are executed efficiently, effectively, and to the highest standards.

Reflecting on her achievement, Tracy says, “Achieving my PMP certification feels like unlocking a new level in my career. I’m grateful for the support of my team and looking forward to bringing this knowledge to the projects I’m passionate about.”

In addition, Tracy’s involvement in the WTS Puget Sound Chapter Board and Gala Committee member further illustrates her commitment to the industry and professional growth. The gala is the chapter’s largest fundraising event and provides scholarships to female-identifying students in the transportation industry.  As a committee member, Tracy plays a key role in organizing and executing the awards gala, including selecting scholarship recipients, coordinating logistics, and executing day-of-event activities.

Tracy remarks, “I enjoy serving with WTS Puget Sound because it fosters relationships with other women in the transportation sector, celebrating their accomplishments and spotlighting their valuable contributions, along with those of their allies.”

Brittney Lao, Document Control Specialist in the Seattle office, highlights the importance of support and empowerment among women in the workplace. Drawing inspiration from Serena Williams’ quote, “Every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another,” Brittney shares her experiences of working in an environment that fosters collaboration and growth.

Brittney recalls her experience working with Tracy on the Sound Transit’s E360 light rail project: “Tracy took the time to sit down with me and explain the details of the construction documents. Her willingness to share her knowledge and treat me as an equal was incredibly empowering. It’s this kind of support that accelerates learning and growth in our field.”

Brittney’s participation in WTS events further highlights the significance of community and professional growth. “Being part of WTS Galas and events, surrounded by inspiring women in construction, has been inspiring. It’s a testament to our company’s commitment to empowering women in the industry,” Brittney notes.

Leading Together

Senior Project Manager Lorraine Mead, PE, DBIA, who has worked in Hill’s Spokane office for the last decade, is a prime example of how women’s leadership drives teamwork and success in construction. Her role in managing the Spokane County’s Public Works Maintenance Operations Building and the renovation of the Spokane Riverfront Pavilion, a relic of the 1974 World’s Fair, underscores the power of collaboration. This project, honored with several awards including the Design-Build Project of the Year award, showcases her commitment to a team-centric approach.

Her focus on teamwork exemplifies how women leaders like Lorraine are key in cultivating effective, unified teams and fostering inclusivity within the industry. Equally vital to the success of these projects is Debbie Selzer, Office Manager for the Seattle practice. Known as the backbone of the office, Debbie’s role is crucial in supporting all staff and projects. Her organizational skills and support facilitate smooth office operations, enabling teams to focus on their tasks without interruption.

Debbie, reflecting on her role, shares “I strive to create a supportive environment where our team can excel. It’s fulfilling to know that my work helps keep our teams aligned and our projects on track.”

Committing to Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a work-life balance is a critical challenge, especially for women. Ryanne Truex, Senior Project Controls Manager in Hill’s Spokane office, has been pivotal in the Post Falls North Channel Dam Rehabilitation project. Her leadership in schedule development and fostering collaboration among stakeholders earned her the Junzi Partnering Champion award. Beyond her professional achievements, Ryanne is deeply involved in her community, serving as a board member for United Way ELS and as a PTO president.

Reflecting on her commitments, Ryanne shares, “Finding balance between my professional responsibilities and community involvement is challenging but fulfilling. Each aspect enriches the other, making me a more effective leader and an engaged community member.”

Merry Valdez, Project Controls Manager at the Spokane office, also demonstrates the ability to juggle diverse roles effectively. As a member of the WTS Spokane Coeur d’Alene Chapter, she is instrumental in organizing empowering events for women in transportation. She credits her growth in understanding the design-build process to the supportive environment at Hill.

“My colleagues, especially leaders like Vice President Colin Anderson, have been my mentors and supporters. Their encouragement is invaluable in balancing my professional growth with my commitment to empowering other women in the industry,” Merry comments.

Becky adds, “Ryanne and Merry are exemplary in managing their professional and personal commitments. We’ve worked together to tailor flexible schedules as they transitioned into parenthood. This flexibility, coupled with a team that supports each other, make certain that we always meet our clients’ needs while also taking care of our families.”

Beyond the Workplace: Shaping Industry Success

Mentorship plays a crucial role in cultivating future talent, particularly in empowering women. Assistant Project Manager Joylyn Thurman joined Becky’s team in 2022. Outside of her role at Hill, she serves as a mentor within the College of Built Environments program at the University of Washington. Joylyn imparts her expertise to students studying architecture, urban planning, and construction. Her mentorship provides a practical framework for students, combining academic learning with real-life applications. Joylyn also offers career advice, aids in professional development, and facilitates networking opportunities for the students.

She says, “Mentoring at the University of Washington allows me to connect theory with practice. It’s rewarding to see students, especially young women, grow and develop a passion for shaping our communities.”

Becky concludes, “The success stories of these women highlight the importance of mutual support and embracing new opportunities beyond conventional roles. When women expand their influence, they contribute unique viewpoints and creative solutions, which are vital for driving innovation and growth in any sector.”

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