Why Not More Women?

Tess Wakasugi-Don, a Principal + Sr. Project Manager at GLY Construction, and Marie Ternes, a Structural Project Manager at Coughlin Porter Lundeen, were collaborating on a project when the talk turned to women in AEC. They discovered a shared passion – encouraging and supporting women in the industry – and found their conversations snowballing into an idea.

Despite remote work, can we continue the important discussion around the small number of women in the construction and engineering disciplines? Can we support and unite women in this uniquely challenging environment? Can we create an approachable platform to raise awareness and share stories?

Together, they dreamed up a virtual chat series that would allow their companies – Coughlin Porter Lundeen and GLY Construction – to do just that. The series was designed to be comfortable and collaborative (channeling our beloved lunch and learns!), to encourage candid, honest conversation (with both panels of in-house faces and small group discussion), and ultimately, help both organizations move toward a more inclusive and successful work environment.

It included two sessions: Work/Life Balance and Building Partnerships, and Why Not More Women: Our Journey and Our Outlook.

The sessions were met with great enthusiasm and were well attended, with more than 100 participants tuning in via Zoom. Attendees included both men and women, and staff of all levels. We’re happy to report that they achieved the goal of continuing conversations, allowing us to better understand others’ perspectives and experience, and ensuring that COVID-19 and less in-person collaboration didn’t halt progress!


Panelists shared their approach to managing a healthy work/life balance and the positive impact of building strong partnerships professionally and personally as gender roles are being redefined. Following panelist presentations (attendees were invited to submit questions for panelists in advance), small groups discussed the topics presented, then reconvened for a final Q&A.

Panelists Included: Heather Johnston (Design Manager, GLY), Tim Campbell (Principal + Sr. Project Manager, GLY), Laura Grignon (Senior Civil Project Manager, Coughlin Porter Lundeen), and Jason Whitney (Structural Project Manager, Coughlin Porter Lundeen).

Key Takeaways:

  1. Don’t underestimate the value of a true team.
    You never know what others are going through behind the scenes. But with the right team, and the right trust, you don’t need to. This isn’t exclusive to women or parents! If you’re able to rely on your partners and peers and they’re able to rely on you, you’ll all achieve better work/life balance. Ingredients for success: Communication, trust, and an understanding of each person’s responsibility to the team.
  2. Be the best mentor/mentee you can be!
    Mentorship is essential to building strong professional partnerships. There were good insights for mentors and mentees. The panel agreed that the mentee should drive the relationship and that mentors very much appreciate seeing the mentee put in effort and take initiative. Mentors should be as generous as possible, whether fulfilling the traditional mentor role (someone being tapped for knowledge, expertise, and guidance), or a “champion” role (serving as an advocate for the mentee at the leadership table).
  3. Blazing a new path is more common than you’d think.
    Post-session feedback revealed a few themes, and one standout was that younger employees in particular were encouraged to hear about the uniqueness of career paths. Panelists assured listeners that there’s more than one way to be successful in our profession. Some women feel like their lifestyle is not adequately represented among leadership and they cannot see a clear path forward. To a young employee, this can feel like a significant disadvantage. It’s a good concept to remember when facing insecurities, uncertain futures or difficult workplace situations.


In Session 2, panelists shared their individual professional and personal journeys and their outlook for women in construction and engineering disciplines. Following panelist discussions, small groups explored the topics together, then reconvened for a final Q&A.  

Tess Wakasugi-Don (Principal + Sr. Project Manager, GLY), Ti’Akka Johnson (Project Engineer, GLY), Rebecca Hix Collins (Senior Structural Project Manager, Coughlin Porter Lundeen), and Jackie Sempel (Civil Associate, Coughlin Porter Lundeen).

Key Takeaways:

  1. Join in!
    Building a work community is invaluable. Keep an eye out for committees, clubs and volunteer opportunities. Getting involved yields much – meeting new people, learning new things, understanding different perspectives, and adding balance to your workload. Remember, more isn’t more here. It’s okay (preferable even!) to be selective and choose extracurricular activities that you’re sincerely interested in.
  2. Trust Your Instincts.
    Our instincts are often right, and panelists assured participants that honoring them is a positive thing! This can take the shape of big changes, like creating a new career path and goals, or small things, like speaking up in a meeting when your gut is telling you to challenge something. For the former, it was refreshing for young employees to hear that career paths are fluid and that it’s okay to change your mind, realize new opportunities, and try different paths.
  3. Be Yourself!
    Seems simple enough, but panelists and participants alike vouch for the fact that being your true self in the workplace is easier said than done. Professional women often feel pressure to conform their lifestyle to a certain template if they want to fit well into a leadership role. And others may be inclined to change their personality to be a better “fit.” The panelists were the perfect contradiction to this, validating the fact that these differences are assets! A diverse team is a strong team. So, embrace your uniqueness!

We’re grateful to GLY Construction for their support and partnership in this endeavor. We believe that true collaboration extends far beyond project work, and look forward to continue working with our partners to explore important topics to our community and industry.

Want to get involved? Here are a few ideas from our team: CREW Leadership Series, NAWIC Puget Sound events, ACE Mentor – be a mentor, ANEW, PSBJ Women Who Lead Event Series.

For the third year in a row, Coughlin Porter Lundeen is honored to be awarded the 2021 ACEC Inclusion Award for Midsize Firms. This award honors ACEC member firms that are champions in advancing diversity and fostering a culture of inclusion within their workforce, their teams, and the clients they serve. In the words of ACEC, the winners of these awards have shown a corporate commitment to diversity and inclusion and have a track record of achievement at implementing a successful diversity and inclusion program.