Diversity success: The stories of 10 GTA women in the construction industry

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Across a variety of sectors, women play key roles in the construction industry, taking on leadership responsibilities, providing support, and working in front line positions shaping and building our communities and world.

This month we introduce you to some of the women representing the industry today. We’ve selected 10 individuals for this feature to give you a sense of the career diversity and new opportunities for women. The listings here not ranked – all of the women are worthy of exceptional recognition.

Dawn Tattle

Dawn Tattle is an award-winning business leader and geo-structural engineer with more than 30 years of construction industry experience. She is also president and CEO of Dawn Tattle Enterprises Ltd., a consulting business that allows her to apply her expertise as a geo-structural engineer, business consultant, keynote speaker and worksite safety educator.

Tattle began her career in structural design and then moved to contracting, where she gained 30 years of experience as a partner and then president of a leading design-build heavy construction firm. Now, she says, she has come full circle and is providing consulting services to Isherwood Geostructural Engineers. She is also a board of directors member for the Guarantee Company of North America and partners in a business developing construction worksite safety applications.

“I love to learn and challenge myself by trying new things,” she says. “I have always made it a priority to take a variety of educational courses in the areas of technical engineering, business and leadership to ensure that I am always growing and ready to take on new challenges and roles.”

She was recognized in 2008 (Trailblazers and Trendsetters category) and in 2010 (Professionals category) as one Canada’s top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Womens’ Executive Network (WXN). She also serves on the Toronto Construction Association’s (TCA) Board of Directors, with the Prevention Council of Ontario (MOL), is a member of PEO (Professional Engineers Ontario), and a Certified Corporate Director and a member of Institute of Corporate Directors.

Tattle’s engineering keynote speaking engagements and lectures are popular at universities, colleges, schools and business associations.  In addition, she provides safety information to students, raising their awareness of their rights to proper training, orientation and safety information.

Tattle says she has found a career that she loves and highly recommends to others. She enjoys satisfaction as an engineer and construction professional because she sees the tangible results of her work.

Clarice Crocker

Clarice Crocker is a project co-ordinator in the Special Projects Division at Melloul-Blamey Construction Inc. She is also vice-president, operations with the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC).

Crocker started her career as a residential construction labourer. She then shifted into the ICI/multi-unit residential sector where she completed her carpentry apprenticeship. Clarice recently made a lateral move from the construction site into the company’s corporate office as a project co-ordinator in the company’s Specialty Contracts Division.

She says she is proud of her unwavering dedication to remain in the industry.

“It has been approximately a dozen years since I first entertained the idea of working in construction,” she says. “I began to mentor others very early on and, as my career matures, I am able to draw from that experience to guide others interested in receiving advice – both men and women. In addition, I am extremely passionate about sitting on industry boards or panels.

“Providing advice to the government surrounding policy as it relates to underrepresented groups is of particular interest. I feel I am able to make the most impact by focusing my energy on these endeavours.”

Alena Tokareva

Alena Tokareva is EllisDon Corporation’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) manager. She says her path to the industry was not straightforward but her architectural background, passion for technology and training at one of the best schools allowed her to enter the industry as a project co-ordinator and shift into a BIM (Building Information Modeling) co-ordinator role shortly after.

She is a member of Canada BIM Council – CanBIM, the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC), the Toronto Construction Association (TCA) and the YCL – TCA’s Young Construction Leaders group.

“I had the honour of serving on board of CAWIC. The learning curve was steep and the work took a lot of energy but seeing the impact that we created made it absolutely worth it. I feel the most proud when I am able to empower others and see how much they can achieve when they believe in themselves. That is why I am passionate about exploring and discussing mentorship in construction.”

Christine Kellowan – TCA Young Leaders Committee

Christine Kellowan is a lawyer with GSNH LLP, where she has been an associate for the past two years. She is also a member of TCA Young Leaders Committee.

Kellowan says the construction law group at GSNH LLP is known for being a leader in construction law and highly involved in various industry groups. “Through networking I met some of the associate lawyers in the construction law group. A few years later I decided I wanted to take my career to another level and reached out to the group to find out if there was a position. Fortunately, there was a position and I’ve been here ever since.”

She says today she is proud to work with the firm’s hardworking and innovative construction clients and that she has learned a lot about business and dealing with people through her clients.

“I would definitely recommend working as a construction lawyer to other women,” she said. “You get to work with all facets of the industry. The new Construction Act is a significant change for lawyers and it will be interesting to see how the law and industry evolves in its wake.”

Susan M. Allen

Susan M. Allen is a real estate executive with over 19 years experience in commercial real estate operations and management in both the office & retails sectors. She is currently BOMA Toronto’s (Building Owners and Managers Association) president and chief executive officer.

BOMA Toronto is the second largest BOMA Association in North America and represents 80 per cent of the commercial real estate owners and managers. She has been with BOMA full time since 2015 but has a strong history with the organization as a volunteer, an awards judge on local, national and international levels, chair of both BOMA Canada and BOMA Toronto Award Committees, and is a former board member and chair of the Board of Directors. Prior to her BOMA Toronto role, Allen was the general manager of the four million sq. ft. Toronto Eaton Centre, one of Cadillac Fairview’s flagship assets.

She says she was initially offered her current position in 2014 when the then-president of BOMA left the organization. She agreed to accept a part time contract position for four months to “keep the lights on and ensure a seamless transition for the organization” at the same time completing her dual MBA from Northwestern University-Kellogg School of Management & York University – Schulich School of Business while on a career sabbatical.

“Admittedly, I am not a very good ‘keep the lights on type of person’,” she says, “and so my part time role continued to evolve. As the former chair of the Board of Directors, I was keenly aware of those areas where we could grow as an organization and enhance the BOMA Toronto brand. Hence, a role that grew on me!”

“I am most proud of mentoring and supporting young professionals, throughout my career, watching them grow personally and professionally and thrive in the commercial real estate world which drives tremendous value for our industry.”

She is a member of NAIOP, ICSC, the Toronto Region Board of Trade, BOMA International, and in 2017 she was elected to the WLI Championship Team through the ULI (Urban Land Institute Women’s Leadership Initiative). She also sits on the Advisory Council for the Real Estate Management Program at Ted Rogers School of Business at Ryerson University.

Catherine E. Willson

Catherine Wilson is a member of the TCA’s Environmental Committee. She has practiced civil litigation for the past 25 years, including construction law, commercial litigation, employment, family, and equine law with Goldman Sloan Nash & Haber LLP; Catherine Willson is legal counsel at GSNH LLP since 2014.

Prior to that, she was founding partner at Willson Lewis LLP, a Litigation law firm in Liberty Village, Toronto for 20 years. She is on the Board of Directors of the Toronto Construction Association and chair of its Environmental Committee. She is an Honorary Governor of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and a member and past member of many boards.

With a practice in construction, contracts, litigation, and employment law, she offers a broad perspective and years of experience to her construction clients. She lectures extensively across Canada on issues in construction and litigation and has appeared on Canada AM as a civil litigation expert. She publishes in national magazines on a variety of legal issues and can be found on YouTube also talking construction.

Catherine came to construction by chance at the start of her legal career and found its people to be warm, engaging, and interested in doing the best for their businesses. She says she finds the industry to be welcoming to women and offers so much opportunity to its members. “If you have drive and enjoy people, the construction industry will reward you well.”

Lisa Brown

Lisa Brown is service manager, Power Systems, Toromont CAT and CAWIC’s president. Over her 15 years with her company she has progressed from project manager to her current role where she works with a large team of trades, supervisory and support staff.

She says her greatest industry challenges have also been the most growth oriented, those experiences where you are brought into a “crisis situation” with many players, complex dynamics, high stakes and high urgency, where you have to be agile, innovative and diplomatic in identifying and executing a solution.

“The pressure and stress levels can really escalate, but the opportunity to develop your versatility as a leader and feel a sense of achievement upon a positive outcome, often make it all worthwhile,” Brown said.

She says her CAWIC affiliation has been her most significant vehicle in paying it forward to women considering or beginning a career in this industry, and girls embracing the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. “It is a cause very near and dear to my heart and I continue to devote my personal time to.”

In 2015, Brown received McMaster University’s Arch Award, which recognizes success in personal or professional endeavours; interesting, innovative accomplishments, and contributions to society. She was recognized by the university again in 2017, as one of their Top 150 Engineering Alumni.

Rounding out the top 10 list are:

  • Charmaine Peters, co-ordinator, retail design and construction with Oxford Properties and formerly a CAWIC administrator;
  • Nicole Bigioni, a project co-ordinator and estimator with Blackstone Paving & Construction Ltd., and member of the TCA Young Leaders Committee;
  • And finally, Giselle Matin, executive vice-president with Powerline Plus, who you can read more about in this feature.

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