In recognition of International Women’s Day on March 8 and this year’s theme, #BeBoldForChange, we are featuring stories from our leaders and employees throughout the month of March, describing their own bold moments in relation to workplace equality and honoring diversity and inclusion.
Looking back at my career, though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, I made bold decisions for change that contributed to my success in an inclusive working world. While these decisions were sometimes stressful and risky, they formed the foundation of my career and of the woman, wife and mother I have become.
A leap into the pit
During my summers in college, I chose to work in an open-pit copper mine. Without realizing it, I put myself in an all-male workforce and a completely foreign work environment, without the comfort of familiar co-workers.
At an early age, this job taught me to succeed by building relationships, trusting my co-workers, speaking my mind and collaborating with others — people with different backgrounds and points of view — to solve a common problem.
Making the move to the “Big Apple”
As a young interior design graduate of the University of Arizona, I chose to leave Arizona and pursue a career in New York City during one of the worst financial recessions of the 1980s. I was oblivious to the fact that NYC design firms were releasing hundreds of designers and that my resume from an “unknown design school” in Arizona would not help me secure employment.
This bold move taught me to not apologize for “who I might be” or “where I came from,” but to sell myself, my skills and the value of that combination as benefit to a design firm. Each interview I encountered — rarely with a woman — taught me how to present myself confidently, be proud of the work in my portfolio and focus on the ways my skillset would help meet the needs of a potential employer.
Changing careers and minds
Mid-career, I opted to leave the comfort of a long-term career in architecture to work for a construction company that was in the early stages of becoming a design-led, design-build firm. Without fully realizing it, I put myself in a position where I had to use my leadership skills with a diverse set of co-workers, not all of whom were on board with the changes happening at the firm, to drive results toward the new strategy.
This bold move taught me to listen — really listen to others’ points of view — and to use the diversity of gender, ideas and approaches to create new and unique solutions that exceeded clients’ expectations.
I’d like to use my bold moments as examples for young women: to mentor them to follow their dreams of success, whatever that looks like, and not be afraid to take measured risk, even if it’s uncomfortable. In an inclusive work environment, we can use each other’s differences to our competitive advantage. As our clients’ organizations also become more diverse and inclusive, it’s my hope that everyone’s bold moments can be used to harness the power of diversity and inclusion to foster innovation.
Beth Bernitt is senior vice president and Southeast regional business line leader for AECOM’s Buildings + Places group. She graduated with honors from the University of Arizona in 1982 with a degree in interior design. She lives in Palm Harbor, Florida, and serves as a board member in several community-based organizations. She is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers and is a LEED Accredited Professional.