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Bold Leadership: Highlights from our International Women’s Day Panel

Explore more from our discussion on leadership perspectives, and navigating career growth and confidence

During the month of March, we proudly honor Women’s History Month and highlight the vital contributions of women throughout history. At the focal point of this month is International Women’s Day, spotlighting key issues of the women’s rights movement and the path to gender equality. In celebration of this impactful day, our team hosted a women’s leadership panel, sharing stories from their early days in the industry and reflecting on lessons learned throughout their journey. Principal, Dawn Riegel, led our discussion by asking each panelist a question about a unique career experience and their perspectives on leadership.

We kicked off our conversation by diving deeper into the meaning of leadership. Yamini Mudaliar, Studio Manager, Architecture defines leadership as a journey, not a title or a position.

Civil Design Manager, Jessica Johns, continued this point by highlighting the impact leaders have on the people around them. She says the difference between a manager and a leader is not just about helping others feel successful, but also making them feel valued and supported in their role.

It’s also important to consider that there isn’t just one type of successful leader. Jessica recalls in her career feeling like all leaders were extroverted – a leadership style that she did not relate to. She learned along her journey though, that honest leadership is actually defined by confidence. She found that by leaning into her technical expertise, she was able to position herself as a natural leader to her team and feel confident while doing so.

While a leadership mindset is key to fostering a successful career, actionable steps are also essential for continued growth. Regional Director, Christina Kolkas, shared that setting small goals which pushed her outside of her role helped jumpstart the conversation into more leadership opportunities. She also encourages being vocal with your managers about taking on more responsibilities and showing an active interest in the business.

Our panelists closed out this discussion by sharing some thoughtful advice with their peers. When asked about advice you would give to other women pursuing a leadership role, Director, Science & Technology, Luciana Arim, confidently noted – take risks.

All panelists agreed that it’s not always about the title of your role, but rather your commitment to the role and the confidence you carry.

We also asked about advice they wish they had received earlier in their career, and many of the responses centered on the balance between career and parenthood. Jimena Fernandez Navarra, Director Interior Architecture & Design, reflected on how she always had dreams of being both an architect and a mother, and she wishes more people encouraged her to pursue both. She says that although it can be challenging at times, having a successful career and being a present parent is both possible and rewarding.

Many on the panel agreed that balancing a career and parenthood should be seen as a positive asset to a person’s skillset. Yamini points out that leadership still continues at home. Showing your devotion to both career and family can help inspire children to be devoted leaders as well.

These lessons, rooted in passion, hard work and bold leadership, inspire future generations to keep pushing progress forward. Even more, they instill the confidence needed to achieve greatness. We are proud to live and work alongside with strong, devoted women, and we continue work towards a more equitable future for all.

Thank you to our moderator and panelists for sharing your experiences and continuing to be an inspiration and mentor for our team.

Dawn Riegel, Principal | Oak Brook

Luciana Arim, Director, Science & Technology | Pleasanton

Jimena Fernandez Navarra, Director, Interior Architecture & Design | Mexico City

Jessica Johns, Civil Design Manager | Denver

Christina Kolkas, Regional Director | Canada

Yamini Mudaliar, Studio Manager, Architecture | Atlanta

WM Canvas


Ruth Brajevich