Daring Women: Kat Sims, Executive Director at Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties

"Our region is at a tipping point. Building more housing of all types for everyone in our community is critically important to our future."

This week’s Daring Woman is Kat Sims, executive director at Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

Read about her proudest moments, mentors and challenges she’s faced in her industry in the latest installment of our Daring Women series.

1. Tell us about the high point of your career. What do you love about your work? Describe your proudest moment.

I don’t think that I’ve reached the high point in my career, yet. I think there is a lot more important work to do and I’m having a blast.

Our region is at a tipping point. Building more housing of all types for everyone in our community is critically important to our future. I’m incredibly lucky to be leading an organization that has been dedicated to the homebuilding mission for more than 110 years. Our members and staff are deeply committed to rising to the housing challenge and I think we’ve got the expertise to contribute real solutions. I think it is time we start treating housing for everyone as an achievable goal. It is. We really can do this if we think big and work collaboratively.

I grew up in a very small farm town in Illinois. My grandparents were corn and soybean farmers. My dad was a hospital chaplain and my mom was an X-ray technician at a local hospital. My mom is one of the smartest people I know, but college wasn’t in the cards for either of my parents. Still, education was a high priority for them. Receiving my JD with honors from Syracuse was a great moment—almost a vindication of unrealized potential for my parents. Their pride meant more to me than the JD itself.

2. What challenges have you faced as a woman in your industry? How have you addressed them?

In the 25 years I’ve been in the professional workforce, I’ve spent most of my time working in law firms, in the forest industry, and in the commercial and residential development sectors. These industries are not especially female-friendly, and women are underrepresented in all of them. I’m proud to be MBAKS’ first female executive director in our association’s 110-year history.

Still, I think my biggest challenge has been leading a balanced life: one that is stimulating and rewarding professionally but also leaves bandwidth for my spouse, family, exercise, reflection and community involvement.

I’m an “all in” kind of person, so balance does not come easily to me. Delegating is key. Having a talented, reliable team with excellent judgment is the secret to effective delegation and we’ve built that team at MBAKS. I can walk out the door at the end of the day and know that my team has it covered. They’re all onboard with our objectives and live our core values. This is my key to maintaining balance.

3. Tell us about a person who has inspired or mentored you. What key lesson did you learn from them?

My former boss, Tom Lindquist, is hands down the person who has inspired and mentored me the most. Tom was the president and COO at Plum Creek where I worked in three very different roles over a decade and I learned something about leadership in every interaction with him. He repeatedly offered me growth opportunities and inspired me to take a leap from law into sustainability. This was a watershed move for me and opened my mind to new opportunities. Tom taught me how to hire talent, build a team, navigate uncertainty, think big, set goals, build momentum, and hold myself and others accountable. So much of what I do today as a leader at MBAKS is based on what I learned watching Tom run a land and timber company.

4. What advice would you give to a woman getting started in her career?

I have three pieces of advice. First, build a financial safety net. This financial freedom will make you feel like you can always walk away. Having a safety net will increase your personal power, prevent you from feeling stuck, and help you make better decisions. Second, identify folks you admire. Early in your career, having mentors is as important as the pay you earn. At nearly every job I’ve had, I have learned more from the people I’ve worked with than I have in any classroom. Open your eyes and ears. Take notes, this is a priceless education. And third, pay close attention to what energizes and challenges you. This information is your guiding star as you progress in your career.

5. What can women do to improve gender equity in the workplace? What can men do?

We all need to be aware of our own biases and create a culture where we call out those biases when we see it in ourselves or others. Both men and women need to listen to and take seriously other people’s experiences with bias and discrimination. We should be laser-focused on rewarding performance. If we set high performance expectations for all our team members, support them for success, and reward them equally when they succeed, we will be on the right track. Rewards must include growth opportunities, commensurate pay, mentoring, and feedback. Both men and women need to be proactive about avoiding discriminatory attitudes and practices when it comes to deciding who gets promoted and who gets paid more.

It’s not enough for women to speak up. Men need to be critical and vocal about this as well.

6. Tell us about a favorite book/show/podcast and why/how it inspires you.

One of my more inspiring recent reads was Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. I am awed by the hurdles that some folks leap over on their path to attaining an education. Compared to her, I’ve had a very easy journey and I have so much to be thankful for. Grit, courage, resilience, and the ability to move forward despite uncertainty are characteristics that I really admire.

8. Where do you find support and inspiration? How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

The single most important decision I’ve ever made is to marry Scott Elderkin. We’ve been married for 15 years and there is nothing like having a partner who weathers the storms through thick and thin with you: job changes, career changes, mergers, death of parents, loss of friends, illness. I also rely on a small circle of family, friends and confidants who I trust and admire as sounding boards. I’ve had at least one Newfoundland dog by my side for more than 20 years. If you know Newfies, I don’t need to say more. If you don’t know Newfies, I couldn’t explain it.

Networking with the right people in the right way is important. For me, this is less about “seeing and being seen” at “networking events” and more about making a deliberate effort to meet certain people and to engage them in meaningful conversations about topics that matter. Getting to know them as people: their values, their interests and their needs.

8. What are the most important characteristics of a good leader? What leadership traits are overrated?

Important characteristics: Judgment, EQ (emotional quotient), integrity, courage, communication, passion for the mission. Overrated: Being an expert. Being an extrovert.

9. What would you do differently in your career if you had a do-over.

I’d take all my vacation. Regular time away is critical to recharge, reflect, reconnect with yourself and your loved ones.

10. What would be the title of your autobiography?

With a Newfie by My Side

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.

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