Recognizing women who are making a difference in the construction industry

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Special Feature

Arzani Group of Companies Inc. is a proud sponsor of the Ontario Construction Report’s November Women in Construction feature.

A fast-growing Canadian base group of companies based in Toronto, Arzani started as a trade providing Excavation and Demolition services across GTA.  As the company grew, the range of services and expertise expanded into a muti-disciplinary firm offering a wide range of professional construction services to meet our continually changing and demanding client requirements.

This year’s theme for Women’s History Month was Make an impact, in honour of the courageous women and girls who have made a lasting impact as pioneers in their fields.

Ontario Construction Report recognizes the contributions that women are making to the industry and salutes the growing number of women choosing skilled trades careers.

The first records of women in construction date back to the 13th Century and there is evidence that women worked as labourers and material suppliers from then through the 17th Century.

During the 1800s, women were being recognized as architects and engineers and during the Second World War many took over entire industries.

Today there are a growing number of initiatives – government and private sector – aimed at attracting women to the industry.

One of those programs is the new EllisDon Gender Equality Group, 2gether (2: Balance Harmony Gender Equality Team Human Empowerment Redefined) which discusses gender equality at EllisDon, identifies areas for improvement and sets in motion plans to achieve equitable opportunities for everyone.

“Thank you to all the skilled tradeswomen who have contributed to the construction industry and those who continue to help build a better Ontario,The Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) stated in recognition of Women’s History Month.

Here are some of the women making a difference today in Ontario’s construction industry:

Darya Moghtader, corporate vice-president at ARZANI Group of Companies Inc., followed her father and grandfather’s footsteps into the construction industry.

“They were both Civil Engineers and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Also I always had a keen interest in Technology, Math & Physics!  I always did well in school for those subjects and it was just natural for me,” she said. “So, I guess Engineering was always in my blood.”

She started working as a project administrator, changing jobs every two years into more and me challenging positions and slowly move up the ladder and joining ARZANI.

“I knew as a woman in engineering field there would be lots of challenges and in order to succeed you have to start from bottom of the field and gradually move up” she said.

“Now I’m working as Construction VP and what I enjoy in my role is that there is a lot of variety. My day can start on site and dealing with daily presented challenges or working in office ensuring reports and any aspects of the project elements are completed or running between meetings with clients and ensuring my team is completing the project within the specified deadline and is meeting the clients’ expectations.”

As the world emerges from the pandemic, Moghtader says her priorities will be to bring in more challenging projects and expand the company into additional construction sectors.

Looking back at her experience, she offers advice for young girls and women considering construction careers:

“The construction field is one of the most male-dominated fields in North America, so in order to survive do not second guess yourself, be confident, stand up for what you believe. Be humble and it’s OK to admit that you don’t always have the answers.  Find a mentor that can support you.”

Camelia Borz, excavation division manager at ARZANI Construction, has followed her dream of studying civil engineering and working in the construction industry.

“I always love the architecture, design, history, and the meaning behind any construction, whether is a building, a bridge, a road,” she said.  “And I wanted to be part of it.”

While she had a clear vision of her career, it was a long journey for Borz with peaks and valleys – success and failure, but her determination always kept her on track for success.

Throughout the bumpy journey, she “felt joy because I wanted to impact the people around myself and grow together with them.”

In her current role managing the busy excavation division at ARZANI, she said she enjoys working on the team and helping colleagues whenever possible.

“What is the best thing about my job? Even if I plan daily, weekly, and monthly, every day is different, and it comes also with challenges. I take these as a way for me to grow and help the company succeed,” she said.

She is also looking forward to sharing her experiences in the industry with young women considering careers in construction.

“I know how hard I’ve been working all these years and it wasn’t always easy. I think it’s the time now, when I think more about others and how I can share from my experience with them to grow and be successful.

“It’s always been an industry of tough people. I think if you have the passion, patience, humbleness, and desire to succeed, this is one of the best places to be and work.

Margaret Taylor, executive director at the Ontario Association of Demolition Contractors, has been a main player in the construction industry for over 20 years.

She got her start in the family-owned Biggs & Narciso Construction Services Inc., working in administration and dealing with insurance, bondage and banking.

She was previously director of operations for the OADC before taking on her new role.

Her priorities beyond marketing include training, safety, strengthening the recruiting partnership with the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) and advocacy.

Sandra Skivsky, director of marketing & business development, joined the Canada Masonry Centre in May 2006, taking on special projects, developing marketing information, coordinating development of products to consolidate and expand market presence, support government relations and strategic partnerships.

Prior to joining the CMC, Sandra has spent over 20 years consulting to the construction industry, mainly in human resource analysis. She worked with several trades on labour market analysis. She also worked on projects for the Construction Sector Council (now Buildforce) and the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum

Rosemarie Powell, executive director at the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), has been at the forefront of pivotal community development and organizing throughout her 32 years in Canada after arriving from Jamaica at age 16.

Ever since, she has worked to provide immigrants, youth, and racialized communities greater access to employment opportunities, following in her mother’s footsteps as a community organizer.

“Although my experience in Canada as a Black woman immigrant has been characterized by struggle, systemic racism, and discrimination, my story is also one of resilience, self-empowerment, and community support,” Rosemarie says.

Throughout her career she has pushed for change that is inclusive of everyone. From her early years in Montreal helping her peers write résumés for summer jobs to now leading TCBN and spearheading large-scale community projects in Canada’s largest city, Rosemarie knows just how meaningful community participation is to develop an inclusive economy.

Alexia MacLeod, partner and co-owner at Somerville Construction began working at the firm in 2004 as an administrative assistant. She came to Somerville with eight years of management experience which she gained working for The Sports Medicine Specialists and team physicians for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Alexia’s primary responsibility is managing Somerville’s financial operations and also coordinates business development including due diligence and pre-qualification of the firm.

She serves as controller and financial administrator on projects. Along with financial administration Alexia manages the day-to-day operation of Somerville’s head office and staff.

Susan Speigel, became president of the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) after she was acclaimed to the one-year position at an OAA Council meeting in January.

“A few years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I would find myself in this wonderful role,” says Speigel. “I’m honoured, excited, and eager to get to work.”

Her career has spanned more than 30 years in Sudbury, Ottawa, New York, Neuchâtel, and Toronto. As a young graduate—aware of the barriers faced by women in the profession—she and four other designers launched an all-women firm, Villa Villa, a group she describes as “brave and creative,” where she cut her teeth in the industry. Speigel then worked with her father-in-law to solidify her architectural education.

Rooted in her passion for community-building, activism, and innovation, she launched her own multidisciplinary design firm, Susan Speigel Architect Inc. (SSA), focused on architecture, landscape, and urbanistic public realm projects for non-profit organizations, the public housing sector, and private residences.

Agata Mancini, founding principal of Assembled Light, emigrated to Canada from Krakow, Poland with her family in 1989. After spending most of her childhood in the Niagara Region, she studied architecture at the University of Waterloo, completing its rigorous and highly competitive professional program in 2009.

Having gained work experience both within Canada and internationally, Agata relocated to Hamilton, Ontario in 2010 and quickly felt a deep connection to the city.  She established Assembled Light to foster an environment where clients and industry professionals could come together to collaborate on modern, detail-oriented design interventions that contribute to healthy home- and city-building.

Agata excels at big picture thinking, always keeping the project’s timeline and budget in mind when exploring the various methods available for helping her clients achieve their specific goals.

Jennifer Vopni, vice president of marketing and business development at MARANT, is a leader and advocate for women in construction.

She is described as a pioneer in the industry and is a remarkable business leader with 35 years in the Commercial Real Estate Industry, fourteen of them as Principal, V.P. Business Development & Marketing for MARANT Construction Limited.

Throughout her career she has been a mentor and an inspiration to other women in the industry. Here’s her advice for young women:

“Be fearless, and always act from the perspective of serving others to remain authentic. Add a healthy dose of humour to everything, it clears the air for progress. And remember that there is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. Diversity is important in the industry and your voice needs to be heard.”

Trudy Case, project manager with Ground Force Environmental, has over 15 years experience in various facets of the construction industry.

She manages various types of environmental remediation projects including spill response, insitu remediation, water treatment, drilling, soil remediation and demolition. She has over 15 years of experience in the construction industry including estimating, scheduling, cost control and project management.

Case’s interest in the construction industry for many years led her to attend Conestoga College, where she completed her Project Management education while starting her career in the same field.

Managing a variety of ICI projects from commercial swimming pools to waste water treatment plants, her experience has made her a strong leader. Trudy is expanding on her knowledge of the water treatment industry and focusing on remediation projects with Ground Force.

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