Women in Construction Interview - Jonelle Lawhorn

Jonelle Lawhorn
Director of Marketing
KBE Building Corporation

“My advice? If you believe in what you’re saying, stand your ground. Don’t get talked over and don’t let someone else restate your idea as their own. Support other women in being heard.”

Jonelle has worked in the AEC industry for more than three decades, providing marketing and communications services to architects, engineers, and construction firms in a variety of roles. She has been with KBE Building Corporation since 2002 and has served as its Director of Marketing since 2008. She leads a team of five marketing professionals to support the KBE Companies and the KBE Foundation.

Question: What inspired you to get into the AEC industry?

I remember being out on a drive with my dad when I was little, and we drove under a beautiful bridge. The sheer beauty and symmetry of it struck me – and I told my dad that. He asked if I wanted to learn to build bridges, and I of course said yes. His reaction made me realize that I could be part of something so impactful when I grew up.

Life goes along its own path though, and I ended up attending art school and then switching to an English Lit/Creative Writing major since I was writing all my art projects, instead of drawing. I was always drawn to the A/E/C industry, though, and kept exploring ways that I could be involved.


Question: Tell me a little bit about your current role and the career path that led to it.

Words are my passion. Finding ways to connect people and ideas through language -whether spoken, in print, or on the web – is the daily challenge that sparks my day. I have been lucky enough to earn my living as a writer in one capacity or another.

After college, I worked as a journalist for several years at a small local paper and then at the Hartford Courant.  Along the way, I’ve written by-lined non-fiction articles in national publications, wrote book reviews for the Boston Herald (I even got to review a posthumously published Hemingway novel, an English major’s delight!), and published a short work of fiction.

I found my way into our industry when I landed a marketing position in a large Northeast architectural/engineering firm. After that, I worked for many years as a communications consultant to firms in the A/E/C industry, as well as for financial, health care, and higher education clients.

I joined KBE in 2002 as a Proposal Writer, was promoted to Proposal & Marketing Manager within two years, and was named Director of Marketing in 2008. In my current role, I manage the firm’s new business proposals, marketing, public relations, social media, websites, and other communications. I’ve had so many great opportunities: helping us win many major projects; develop branding for our company name change and our expansion as a national firm; help launch our philanthropic program, the KBE Foundation; and of course the opportunity to work with a lot of truly amazing people.


Question:   What is one characteristic that you believe every woman in construction should possess?

Confidence. We know more than we give ourselves credit for, so don’t be afraid to speak up.


Question:   What message do you have for other young women interested in following in your footsteps?

Every day is a new adventure in this business. Every project is different, which always keeps it interesting and energizing. I would LOVE to see more women in the field and in positions of leadership in all areas. We bring a level of detail and focus that makes our work better and more efficient.

My advice? Stand your ground. If you believe in what you’re saying, stand firm. Don’t get talked over and don’t let someone else restate your idea as their own. Support other women in being heard.


Question: What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career thus far, and how did you learn from it?

The most life-changing experience I’ve had in my professional career was the incredible week-long Leadership Challenge workshop that KBE has offered to many of its associates over the years. Seeing how differently my colleagues think and the myriad of ways we approach a problem has had such an impact on my work. We learned how to collaborate better and how to really hear each other, which has not only improved our work but has made the process so much more rewarding.


Question: Do you have a mentor? Are you a mentor to someone else?

I have been so blessed in the many people who mentored me and supported me over the years. I was given chances, opportunities, and encouragement that really shaped my career. And because of that, I try to give back wherever I can, putting in a good word for a younger person starting out or connecting them with someone who can help them. In my daily work, I hope I am passing on some wisdom and useful knowledge to those I work with!