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Women in design leadership: emerging women leaders at LAN

by Kristina Crawley, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
Commercial Market Sector Leader, LEO A DALY, Washington, D.C.

This spring when college graduation season was in full swing, commencement speeches flooded websites, news outlets and social media. There is one that stood out above the rest – Abby Wambach’s Barnard College commencement speech. Her quote sets the tone for this blog:

leo a daly abby wambach“As you go out into the world: Amplify each other’s voices. Demand seats for women, people of color and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made. Call out each other’s wins and just like we do on the field, claim the success of one woman as a collective success for all women.”

“Joy. Success. Power. These are not pies where a bigger slice for her means a smaller slice for you. These are infinite. In any revolution, the way to make something true starts with believing it is. Let’s claim infinite joy, success and power – together.”
Abby Wambach, Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and FIFA World Cup Champion

Finding Their “Wolf Pack”

In a large architecture-engineering firm, it is often difficult to meet emerging leaders who are spread across international offices. During my LEO A DALY Leadership Institute experience, I met Jeff Thomas, senior associate and facilities team leader in the Houston office of Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN), a LEO A DALY Company.

Shortly thereafter, he kindly introduced me to two leaders in LAN: Daphne Florán-Meléndez and Kristie Tiller. Matt Manges, a fellow Leadership Institute 10 graduate, senior associate and team leader, introduced me to Elizabeth O’Brien, a rising leader on his team in Houston.

Today I’m focusing on these three women who are at different points in their paths toward leadership. Their perspectives heed Abby’s advice to find their “wolf pack,” each in their own way.

Q+A with Daphne, Elizabeth and Kristie

leo a daly daphne florán meléndezDaphne M. Florán-Meléndez, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
Daphne is a registered architect in the state of Texas, NCARB certified and a LEED-accredited professional with a specialty in building design and construction. Over the last 13 years, she has been involved in the design of a variety of government and corporate facilities, including higher education facilities; schools; corporate interiors; mid-rise residential and performing arts facilities. Daphne is a project architect in Houston.

KC: What was a turning point in your career so far?

Daphne: Deciding to finish a Master of Architecture degree in another state, which required leaving my family, was a major turning point. The next major turning point was completing the Architect Registration Examination and Intern Development Program to get my license during the recession in 2008, which required a lot of moves to different cities.

KC: I often come across many aspiring architects – either through hiring or professional organizations or mentorship – who are unsure if they want to become licensed. What advice would you give to someone who is on the fence about getting licensed?

Daphne: Fight to get your license! That’s the best opportunity to get recognition for your work and be a presence in your professional community. I have learned so much since I got my license because architecture is a dynamic subject and there is always something new to learn every day. Never stop learning and keep dreaming because hope is the last thing you can lose. We need to believe that architects can make a difference in the world, despite all the negative things often spoken about this career. After all this is a profession that has survived for centuries, and we should be proud to be called architects.

KC: Who do you lean on for motivation and mentorship?                            

Daphne: I look up to all my colleagues on our facilities team for motivation and an example of committing the work ethic to get the job done. In addition, some of the leaders in other groups at LAN, such as Joseph Scarborough, Wayne Swafford and of course, Dennis Petersen.

leo a daly elizabeth obrienElizabeth L. O’Brien, Engineer-in-Training

Elizabeth earned a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M in 2015. She’s been with LAN for 3.5 years and contributes to the stormwater group in Houston.

KC: What keeps you inspired?     

Elizabeth: I’m very goal oriented and like a good challenge. That allows me to stay on track. I like to set smaller goals that lead to accomplishing my big goal. Additionally, I do things in my free time that refresh and reenergize me – like traveling, exercising and spending time with family and friends. In the past year, I have been to Budapest and Mexico City, and upcoming trips include Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Bali, Indonesia.

KC: What is the most difficult decision you have made in your career to this point?

Elizabeth: The most difficult decision I’ve made in my career was to accept a full-time job offer instead of pursuing a master’s degree in water resources. I was so unsure about the decision that senior year of college I pursued both full-time jobs and graduate school opportunities. I talked to many people about the decision, including my family, professors and current supervisor, Matt Manges. I ultimately decided that I would go into the industry and later pursue my masters if I had a true need for it. Fortunately, learning continues after college and I’ve been able to greatly increase my water resources knowledge.

KC: Who do you lean on for motivation and mentorship?                           

Elizabeth: I am very fortunate to have many great people around me who both motivate and mentor me.

Matt Manges is my supervisor and unofficial mentor. He guides me and gives me opportunities through which I can grow. He’s not afraid to give me a challenge and trusts me to get the job done. I turn to him when I have questions about nearly everything business related – from technical discussions to difficult career decisions. Matt is an incredibly successful team leader and I do my best to follow in his footsteps.

Sarah Strauss, LAN’s marketing manager for infrastructure, reached out to me when I was in my first summer internship. I was fresh out of my sophomore year of college and was entering my first corporate job. As the only woman on my team, I was incredibly grateful this “girl boss” wanted to go to lunch with me. Sarah helped me understand what it is like to work full-time at LAN and grow your career. Since then she continues to give me great advice. I hope to mentor someone in the future like she has mentored me.

leo a daly kristie tillerKristie J. Tiller, PE, LEED AP
Kristie has a degree in mechanical engineering, 13 years of experience and has been with LAN for nine years. She is a mechanical group leader in Dallas.

KC: What keeps you inspired?             

Kristie: My children keep me inspired in everything I do. Working, exercising, educating myself and everything else in life is more meaningful knowing I am setting a good example for them. Their little eyes and minds capture and mimic everything we do, so I try to set the best examples for them in everything I do.

KC: As a fellow working mother, I can relate to this and I have been asked many times about work-life balance. I won’t ask that question, but a different one: as someone rising in her career, do you feel supported by other working mothers (whether in the company or not) to rise higher in leadership?

Kristie: I absolutely feel supported by other working mothers to rise higher in leadership, both inside and outside the company. Working mothers are a special breed in this industry and have a lot to offer when it comes to leadership. Those of us on that path tend to stick together and support one another. We raise each other up because we understand the challenges it takes to get into a leadership role while also supporting a family. Our motivation stems from something other than notoriety or financial gain. I have been supported by both male and female leaders in this capacity, in that they recognize and understand the passion behind what I do and see how that can make me a more effective leader.

KC: What is the most difficult challenge you have had in your career so far?

Kristie: The biggest challenge I’ve had is being able to maintain and grow in my career while supporting my family as a military spouse. My husband spent almost 10 years in the military, and being a military spouse can make having a career challenging. I made the best of my situation by working outside of my direct field in some instances and getting experience in other non-traditional arenas. This made me a more well-rounded person and employee. It has allowed me to have a different perspective in my career outside the traditional design engineering path.

KC: Who do you lean on for motivation and mentorship?

Kristie: I have had many types of mentors in my career, including technical, managerial and personal. My technical mentor has taught me how to be a good technical engineer. Other mentors have taught me how to be more than a technical engineer – they have taught me leadership, patience and accountability. I lean on these people for motivation in my career and personal life. My co-workers, managers and those in my personal circles have all contributed to the leader I am today.

Be Inspired

No matter your position, I encourage you to listen to Abby Wambach’s full speech. Abby explains just how important it is for women to have the support of their “wolf pack.”

About the author

Kristina Crawley has more than 13 years of experience in commercial mixed-use, hospitality, retail, restaurant and workplace design in the United States and abroad, including commercial and mixed-use projects from Shanghai to South Korea to Dubai. Kristina encourages thought leadership and mentorship and is an enthusiastic supporter of women in the professions of architecture, engineering and construction. With a passion for contextual design and placemaking, she has published several articles on resilience, international architectural responses to climate change and post-disaster reconstruction.