By: Saba Carmel Meidany
On September 13, 2018, the ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative hosted Patricia Hauserman, Senior Vice President and Building Repositioning Lead at Aecom Tishman Construction, to share her career and leadership experience. The gathering was one of three concurrent sessions that took place at the WLI’s popular Summer School: Learning from Leaders event that was generously hosted by Robert A.M. Stern Architects.
Patricia Hauserman went into construction due to her interests in architecture. To pay for her graduate school, she worked as an administrative assistant for a development company in New York. Soon after, she was tasked with site supervision for the construction of 780 3rd Avenue. Being the only woman on the job site, she described some of her challenges of having to work in a tough and often misogynistic environment – and how she was able to overcome it through perseverance, strength and wit.
For many women working in a male dominated industry, self-assertion can be challenging – and as Patricia emphasized – should be a skill developed early on. Patricia went on to stress that a lack of self-assertion is not a phenomenon specific only to women in the industry, and that men and women alike have to overcome this is by acknowledging the elements of self-doubt and insecurity that come with working in new environments. This is closely linked with the development of one’s ability to speak up in meetings and group settings, which she advised could only be done through practice.
Patricia’s role in leading the Building Repositioning Division puts her in a unique position to influence the company’s culture by encouraging the hiring of more female employees. She described how the number of female project managers had more than doubled in her tenure at Tishman Construction – an improvement she also attributed to the senior leadership at the company. She stressed that leadership should be nurtured on a non-gender basis by identifying talented and engaged individuals who have the capacity to solve problems independently without always seeking guidance. Since the retention of top talent is always an issue in a company, it is important for those companies to provide for the growth of promising individuals.
Providing mentors is one way that senior leadership can guarantee that a continuing and lasting legacy is built in a company. Patricia described how she was able to advance at different stages in her career through the guidance of mentors who helped her through challenges she was facing. One piece of advice that she said she found useful was to garner the ability to manage situations without reacting to them with an equal degree of severity. Some situations in the workplace warrant a stern and more persuasive approach. However, most do not, and it is key to be able to find the balance to deal with those situations in a more professional and controlled manner. This, she added, is a crucial people and leadership skill that is usually sought after in large organizations.
On an individual level, Patricia encouraged the people in the room not to plan their lives on the work or projects that take place, but to allow family life considerations and self-fulfillment to guide one’s professional decisions. As she said, “there will always be an important project” or “there will always be that promotion opportunity.” Throughout her career she has witnessed a developing shift towards work-life balance that favors planning one’s career around one’s life and not vice-versa.
In conclusion, while I was the only man in the audience, all professionals in the industry could use Patricia’s advice on specific approaches to everyday situations that we encounter at work. We all face situations of insecurity, regardless of gender. Work-life balance should be as important to men as to women. In an industry dominated by men, it is also important for men to think of a non-gender approach to mentorship to help level the playing field and bring forward the best talent. Advice hereby forwarded!