Allison Robin, LEED AP
Owner & Co-Founder
Envoie Projects LLC
Allison is the Owner and Co-founder of Envoie Projects LLC, a boutique WBE-certified project management firm based in New York City that specializes in representing nonprofits undertaking major capital projects. Allison excels at organizing systems, leading collaborative teams, and negotiating contracts, and is passionate about helping other women rise in the industry.
Question: What led you to a career in the construction industry?
I grew up watching “This Old House” with my parents, and always liked buildings and watching them transform. My parents told me, “You should be an architect,” because no one tells a little girl, ‘You should work in construction.’ But when I was in architecture school, it just didn’t feel like quite the right fit. The professors kept asking us to be creative and iterative. It was too theoretical for me - I just kept thinking ‘But how are we going to build this?’ So I ended up changing my degree towards a city planning path, and got an internship working for a big general contracting firm in DC, where I was like ‘Wow, this is really what I want to do.’ It wasn’t until I then that I actually saw how the construction business was a career path that a young, intelligent woman could be a part of. After working as a project manager for several years, I got my masters in construction management at NYU Schack and then switched to the owner’s rep side during the 2009 financial crisis. Now I’m a business owner. I never thought I would be, but it’s the most amazing and challenging opportunity I’ve ever had, and I have zero regrets. It’s changed the way I feel about work every day.
Question: How has the context of being a woman in the industry changed since you started your career?
Where I started was very male dominated. I was able to excel, though – partly because I knew how to do stereotypically gendered tasks (photocopying, filing, faxing) for male supervisors who did not know how to do them. Because of that, I was very useful, but I also had technical skill and learned quickly, which helped me advance. In 2009, I moved to a predominantly female company and have consistently worked in a firm that is predominantly female, like the one I own today. That has been far more impactful in my career than any overall change in the industry. The industry has not changed remarkably; there are still mostly men in positions of leadership. I also changed my context by surrounding myself with women mentors, by joining organizations like CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) and PWC (Professional Women in Construction), where I’ve been able to develop my own network of meaningful relationships. My participation in these organizations wasn’t just about finding a new project for my firm; I learned I could actually build up my own network, my own brand, and have access to professional development I wouldn’t get in the office. There are so many intangible benefits about being involved in the industry outside of your day-to-day job. A lot of people expect that when you do good work, people will eventually give you opportunity, but in a lot of environments, you really need to proactively advocate for your own advancement.
How do you leverage your position to help recruit and retain more women in the industry?
Part of my involvement with CREW is about building a pipeline. I’m currently serving on the CREW Network Foundation Board, which gives scholarships to women who are seeking careers in commercial real estate and conducts outreach programs to both university and high-school-level women. In my day-to-day, it’s about empowering my employees to be their best, giving them opportunities to be true leaders, supporting them when things are particularly challenging or difficult, and helping them see that they’re capable of persisting, or affecting change. Also, being a compassionate employer and giving women flexible working schedules, whatever it is they need to be able to show up at work and be their best but also to take care of whatever they need to take care of at home. ‘Being a working mom myself, I totally get it.’ As long as you show up for the client and do your job professionally, whatever it takes, whatever schedule you want to have, it’s fine with us. As a woman business owner, I try to be proactive in hiring a diverse group of people for our firm and giving opportunities, especially to women who we think have a lot of potential. And then we mentor them to be fantastic project managers. ‘I’m really proud of the group of people we have.’
What improvements can the industry make to help women succeed in the construction business?
I think flexible work should be here to stay. It was a really useful outcome of the pandemic to realize that people can be very efficient working from home and should not be penalized for opting to work from home when it makes sense. We also need to see more women leaders so younger women have someone to aspire to; they need role models. Yes, there are more women in construction, but we need to keep helping women get to the top. We all rise together. But it all comes down to the pipeline. It needs to be built from the very bottom. We need to help get young minorities—women, Black, Hispanic—interested in this as a career; there’s so much opportunity. There’s no lack of talent, we just need to get them in the industry if we want to see more in positions of leadership. There’s a strong responsibility of industry leaders to help mentor and educate young people about all of the opportunities that are in the real estate industry.