Tricia Forrest
Managing Partner and Principal
Urban Projects Collaborative, LLC

With over 20 years’ experience in project management, operations and strategy, Tricia leads UPC’s K-12 education practice and has worked on new schools and renovation projects throughout the New York region. She has a Bachelor of Arts in International Business, Management & Finance and a Master of Science in Economics, Global Business and Finance.
ForrestQuestion: What led you to a career in the construction industry?

I am a business and finance person, with graduate degrees in both. One of the beautiful things about that is how much versatility it has given me, from a career perspective. I’ve worked in several different industries over the years – from logistics to communications and tech, even moving! In a roundabout way, I found myself working within this industry.

One of my first AEC roles was to revamp the operations platform for a construction firm. Once I had successfully done that, I was invited to do the same for an architecture firm. From there, I really fell in love with this industry and moved on to an owner’s rep firm, and I was hooked. The versatility of my experience and qualifications made people and project management a natural next step for me, and 15 years later, I’m still here!

Being an owner’s rep allows us to navigate all areas of project management—from inception to completion—and it draws from all corners of the industry. We work with and manage teams of architects and engineers and construction firms, and developers, and we navigate city, state, and federal agencies as we advance our clients’ goals.

Question: How has the context of being a woman in the industry changed since you started your career?

I’ve definitely started to see more women in positions of leadership. We’ve seen more women come in, which points to a gradual and steady increase—not only entering the industry, but growing into and holding leadership roles. I think this shift is driven by several factors, including increased outreach, education and training developed for women, positioning this industry less as a ‘man’s domain’ and more as a place where women can grow and thrive and have really meaningful careers.

We’ve also seen changes in industry culture and attitudes, which of course are societal as well. This is no longer a field where only men are recognized as being capable of the work or leading. Women have long been able to access the same levels of education and training and just as capably perform or master their duties. We’ve also been helped tremendously by legal requirements that mandate equal employment opportunities for women in all areas.

Despite this change, gradual and steady though it is, it’s small. Women still face barriers with discrimination, expectations of performance, unequal pay, and in some cases a lack of female role models or mentors who embody the possibilities. I strongly believe that as more women succeed in the industry, these barriers will continue to diminish and hopefully, one day, disappear.

1. How do you leverage your position to help recruit and retain more women in the industry?

I’m always eager to draw more people in, especially women. There are so few women represented here, and UPC is one of the very few woman-founded and women-led firms within this space. There’s definitely room to expand and bring more women in. Another fun fact is that we recently converted to a cooperative, making space for potential ownership for anyone who joins our team and wishes to take that journey of responsibility. Whatever your career trajectory is, we want to help you get to it at UPC.

Personally, I stress the importance of serving as a mentor and role model for other women at all stages of their career, because I’ve had other women mentor me, and I think it’s important. It’s beneficial to have support as you make decisions about career – and life. Ultimately, giving people support and resources can only bring more women into the field. Of course, once they’re in, finding a path to thriving and succeeding is critical. We also do a lot of networking. I believe in building and expanding networks for women, in general, not just those in the industry. Providing and sharing resources, and offering opportunities and support as they need it, to travel along whatever path they’ve chosen.

I’m also vocal about the challenges we face as women in the industry, and in society in general. The hurdles that women have to clear, and finding ways to thrive despite them, that’s just not something men have to deal with. The expectations for men are very different than those for women. There are so many layers to this—from a mother’s perspective—and the pull between work and home as a caregiver. Also from a Black woman’s perspective in a predominantly white field, not just a male-dominated field, but one that ethnically, has a particular structure. Rising to leadership roles as a Black woman itself has its own layers. If you’re able to navigate that, then you have to continue to advocate for change for someone else coming in.

I actively use my role and voice to encourage and practice diversity and (true) equity and inclusion in the workplace. By extension, my efforts and those of my colleagues support policies that can provide equal opportunities for all women regardless of race or socio-economic background or ability within our company. This will not only make UPC more attractive to prospective candidates, but if widely practiced, will help make the industry more attractive to women. I often say we gatekeep, consciously or unconsciously, at our own expense. We should be actively and intentionally making space for others if we want things to change for the better.

At UPC, we also effect change through education and partnerships with places of learning, from schools to community groups. We work to promote careers in the industry to girls and young women. Growing up, as a kid, boys get hammers, and girls get pots and pans and dolls. What if we reversed the roles? What if we made it so that this is something not specific to gender, as early as possible? Our intent is making it so children can start looking the possibilities for themselves earlier. I think that if we continue to leverage our positions in these ways, women can help create a more inclusive environment that’s welcoming to everyone.

2. How is the perspective different for you as a Black woman in the industry?

As a Black woman, specifically, I had to deal with additional challenges—long-held perceptions and expectations, gatekeeping and assumptions. I’ve often found that I’ve had to fight to be heard, to be allowed access to certain spaces, or be in certain rooms. I remember noticing, especially in the first 5 years, everyone, even my own colleagues, feeling the need to explain, to introduce me along with my education, when no one else had to have their credentials on display to justify their presence in the room.

Those kinds of things certainly can have a negative impact, but it just spurred me on to erode those barriers as much as I could, so anyone coming along behind me would not have to face them. I’m intentional about how I have the conversations around race and expectation, about how I set the tone for relationships, and how I communicate. I was also very intentional about my career path. I knew I wanted to rise to a place of leadership, because that is also how you affect change and make it easier for the next person. As I made decisions about my career, I instinctively chose places where I didn’t have to always fight those battles, or if I did, it led to a path of change.

Rising to leadership, I made sure that the firm’s cultural change was something I was behind—as it applied to relationships, how we went about recruiting, and how we ensured clients and project teams navigated with our people. Sometimes in our core agreements, we have codes of conduct built in. We encourage clients, where possible, to hire minority firms. We push for WBE firms to be hired. It was about being the change we wanted to see. By pushing for equal change for clients along specific lines, we’ve effected a gradual change in thought process about what’s possible, and interactions, and respect, and awareness about what might have been unconscious biases.

Also, how you have the conversation is important, too. I’m always frank about my objectives, about the kind of relationship I expect to have with people. I also expect the same from my colleagues. We have an open communication policy at UPC and have fostered that kind of atmosphere. Respectful communication is key. My openness to listen to your perspective creates a path to better dialogue and drives change for everyone else, too. It means I can show up as my complete self in all my interactions with you, and so can everyone else. One of the reasons I love what I do with the people I do it with, is because we are aligned about sometimes prioritizing the individual over the process, because it matters. I work with a team of extraordinary people who are committed to the same change, change that benefits everyone and can only improve things for everyone.

3. What improvements can the industry make to help women succeed in the construction business?

Provide equal pay and opportunities: Ensure that women receive equal pay for equal positions and work as well as have access to the same opportunities for advancement as their male counterparts.

Foster a culture that values diversity and inclusiveness and work to eliminate bias and discrimination in all forms.

Offer flexible work arrangements such as part-time schedules or telecommuting options to help all staff—especially women, who are often caregivers as well—to balance work and personal responsibilities. If this pandemic taught us nothing else, it taught us that the old ways of doing things are not the only ways. We were all forced to operate our businesses and thus manage our teams in a different manner, and the world didn’t crumble, productivity didn’t lessen beyond reasonable expectation, our people held it together. Trust them to continue doing so and reap the rewards of it over time.

Invest in ongoing training and development programs that provide women with the skills they need to succeed in the industry. While the fundamentals remain consistent, processes change as technology and needs drive change. Without ongoing learning, we stagnate and get left behind. Encouraging and facilitating ongoing learning benefits the industry long term.

Increase representation of women in leadership positions. Encourage the appointment of more women to leadership positions, including on boards and in executive roles, to serve as role models and help drive change within the industry.

And lastly, encourage and support men currently in leadership positions to mentor women. Despite the positive changes in recent years, the reality is that most firms in the AEC industry are still led by men. We need to structure mentorship systems so that existing leaders (mostly men) have to seek out professional relationships with women in the industry, mentor women in the industry, and support women to rise into leadership positions, which will be a critical component of creating change.

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