Katie Twomey has a big job as senior vice president at Seattle-based Clark Construction and a track record of success, including her role as project director for the $1.7 billion expansion of the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle. The project is slated for completion in 2021.
Twomey has three decades of experience in the construction industry, including overseeing the design and construction of some $3 billion worth of work involving major projects around the nation. Consequently, Twomey, who earned a degree in civil and structural engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, has more than proven her mettle in an industry that historically has been dominated by men.
As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Twomey shares some insights about the challenges faced by women striving to achieve leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also shares some advice for the upcoming generation of female leaders.
Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.
My work is challenging and drives me to think outside the box as no two projects are the same. I love witnessing the achievements of my colleagues and mentees as they progress throughout their careers. I am immensely proud of their work and watching them grow into project leaders is rewarding. To know that I had a hand, even a very small one, in their development brings me so much joy. An especially high point in my career has been to witness the growth of a woman who I trained right as she entered the workforce after college. She was recently promoted to vice president at Clark.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?
Throughout my career, I’ve learned the value of taking initiative, especially in times when I feel static in my personal and professional growth. At one point after learning of a new design-build project Clark had won in a different state, I picked up the phone, asked to be transferred to the project, and soon after launched my success at that jobsite. It is important to remember that you are often your own best advocate. I know the value that I bring to my work and my people.
Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?
Most of my greatest mentors don't even realize they were mentoring me. I learned through observation of others’ actions, initiatives and values that they brought to the job every day. Of all my mentors, though, Jim Clark, our company’s namesake, has been the most inspirational. From his philanthropy, to jobsite visits, to team meetings, Mr. Clark demonstrated that people are truly at the heart of this business. And at the end of the day, investing in your people is an investment in your company.
What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?
Read and understand the contracts, rules and regulations of your business. That is a basic philosophy of mine. So many folks do not study the “rules” and find themselves at a disadvantage.
What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace?
Do your job, put in the hours. If you want to be treated as an equal, show up and do an equal — or better — job. What can men do? Remember that women are your peers, and sometimes your superiors. If you have sisters, daughters, girlfriends, you would want them to have as much success as they can. We should focus on creating an inclusive environment in which people are provided with opportunities based on their passion for the work and ability to perform — not on gender.
Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.
My work inspires me. Books, shows and podcasts are my entertainment. I particularly enjoy Broadway shows and am a season ticket holder at the Paramount here in Seattle. And HGTV shows are my favorite. I love to see the variation in designs!
Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking, and how do you expand your contacts?
I’m so inspired by recent graduates entering the workforce for the first time. This new generation is full of creative ideas that foster positive action within our teams. Continuing to expand your professional network is important and can be fun, especially when moving to new cities.
I’ve found LinkedIn to be a great source for expanding connections, and of course I encourage anyone to attend as many networking events as possible. I specifically attend industry events with Women Leaders in Construction, National Association of Women in Construction, and the Downtown Seattle Association. Volunteering is also a great way to build your network while contributing to the community.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader?
Good leaders provide real and timely feedback to their team. It is so important to help team members see the bigger picture. And while thoughtful feedback can be difficult to receive, those on the receiving end often appreciate the honesty. What leadership traits are overrated? False leadership through metrics dashboards.
What would you do differently in your career, if you had a do-over.
Sometimes I think I would live in one place instead of moving to the large projects with opportunities and challenges. Every new location means starting over, learning the local laws, meeting the local companies. It certainly would have been easier for my family if we remained in one area. But then again, staying in one place may be very boring with the lack of variety of projects. My family has had the opportunity to experience many cities, so I don’t regret my choices.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
I have been with Clark for 30 years and have moved 10 times, so I would title my autobiography: “Construction Road Warrior.”
We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. Feel inspired? Join us for our second Daring Women event on May 21, 2019.
Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.