Giroux Glass CEO and President, Nataline Lomedico, recently had the honor of being featured in a piece by ENR (Engineering News Record). A conversation with ENR’s editor-at-large prompted a discussion about being a woman in leadership, especially in a historically patriarchal industry such as ours. Below are her heart-felt answers, unabridged.
When asked about how her role as a female CEO in the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) sector has changed perceptions about Giroux Glass, and about how perceptions of women in executive leadership roles have changed in our industry niche, Nataline replied:
I actually replaced Anne-Merelie Murrell, a woman CEO who is now our Chairman of the Board. Anne-Merelie purchased Giroux Glass over 25 years ago, and I have been with the company for 16 years having been appointed CEO from CFO and Treasurer. Through the years, the perception has changed at Giroux Glass as Anne-Merelie Murrell grew the company from a small glazing company which focused on service work, to one of the nation’s top 20 largest glazing companies. She also grew a strong family-like culture which focuses on accountability. Today, our culture of accountability has shifted to include one of ownership since we are on the road of becoming 100 percent employee-owned.
Prior to Giroux Glass being woman-led, it was a small glazing outfit, begun 70 years ago, and appeared to be a business which focused on a much smaller picture. The current employees at Giroux Glass have an average tenure of over 10 years. Many have seen the change of growth, with the majority of those years reflecting growth in profitability.
There are few woman-led glazing contractors overall, and even less when looking at the nation’s 50 largest glazing companies. In the past few years, we have focused more intently on marketing and public relations, our presence online, as well as our involvement at construction industry networking events. During these events is where it is most clear that the industry is surprised that Giroux Glass is woman-led. In fact, our executive team is 50 percent female.
The perception of some seem to be that we are a much smaller company than we actually are, and that we don’t handle larger, complex projects. We take pride proving that “we handle the unique and challenging projects that other glazing contractors tend to shy away from.” Our industry knows, or learns, that we focus on collaboration and determination to find solutions. Trust is also a word that we commonly hear. Through the years, I have been told many times that the trust comes from having women in our leadership roles. We have an incredible team of skilled and talented men on our leadership team and together we take advantage of our broad range of perspectives. Giroux Glass has always focused on hiring and retaining the best people, regardless of gender, but we do focus on bringing a diverse group of people together to broaden our perspectives. Through being diversity focused, we are led to women.
When asked how to “change the mindsets of skeptical male bosses” and convince them that diversity is good for the bottom line, Nataline responded:
I believe the focus should be on “skeptical people” instead of just men. I have been blessed to have been mentored by many men who have shown me nothing but respect. Ironically, when I was interviewed at Giroux I had to interview with Anne-Merelie and 7 men including an outside CPA and recruiter. Of the group of 7 men and 1 woman, Anne-Merelie (the one woman), was the one who was hesitant to hire me. She later admitted to me that because I was, “a woman, single and young” that it would be difficult of me to be taken seriously. She, herself faced challenges being top of her chemistry class at USC in the 1940’s, when science courses were greatly dominated by a male population. A sense of protection came over her. The men convinced her to hire me! Through the multiple interviews I was quizzed and grilled. I believe that I was finally hired because I was able to find a major error in their estimating template. In doing so, I gained their respect.
From day one, I strived to find better ways of doing things and work hard to do so. It’s difficult for people to stay skeptical when they see what women can bring to an organization once given roles of authority. Different mindsets bring creative solutions. Women bring different and creative solutions. Women are natural nurturers. We will nurture a business like we nurture our family. We take pride in proving our worth and are willing to show what we can do instead of telling what we can do.
One of my most influential male mentors told me many times, “Don’t focus on your disadvantage of being a woman. Seek and take on the challenges, never compromise your integrity and prove yourself.” I believe that women’s biggest barrier is not believing in ourselves. It may also be our biggest advantage. It makes us work harder to earn our keep. If a skeptical person gives a woman a challenge that they are bold enough to accept, he/she is going to be pleasantly surprised.