This month we celebrate Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8th. We wanted to take this opportunity to highlight three women at CADD who are leaders and experts in their respective field and inspire us daily! Meet Purvi Gandhi Irwin, Sarah Wallace and Marissa Gagne who discuss gender in the industry and what inspired them to break barriers in a male dominated field.
Purvi Gandhi Irwin, AIA LEED AP BD+C
Practice Manager, Architecture
I have strived to become a leader in our industry not just for myself but for women and other underrepresented groups (I am after all a First Generation Indian American Woman). My maternal grandmother and my mom are two of the strongest women I know and they have made me who I am today. My mom taught me that I can achieve whatever I want in life and always supported me in all my endeavors. I truly believe that this support has made me the strong person that I am today and has instilled in me a responsibility to support those who may not have the same support and resources that I have.
As leaders we can help to close the divide by being role models, using our connections to help others, and provide opportunities for women to succeed. We must start this at a young age, educating all children that anyone can be whatever they want, that no one is better or more deserving than someone else, and that we should all help each other to achieve our goals. I have hope for the future as I see my daughters, son and their friends be accepting of all people. We must be what we want to see, only then can we have true diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility for all. Take a look at what Purvi is doing for AEC diversity!
Consultant, Operate Practice
I am proud to be a member of an emerging group of women leaders in the AEC career field. If I’m being honest, I can say that the thought of this field being male-dominated never occurred to me. I am fortunate to come from a long line of strong, successful women and all my professional accomplishments are in honor of their bravery and sacrifices.
As far back as I can remember, my Mother discussed my future and occupational options with me. She made sure I understood that I could pursue any career I wanted. I believed her, I knew I could be successful if I wanted it bad enough and worked hard. I am so grateful my mother has always supported my professional journey and encouraged me to never settle.
In 1920, at the age of 18, my Great Grandmother boarded a ship headed to America from her home in Scotland in pursuit of a better life. I cannot imagine the bravery it takes to leave everything you know behind and head off blindly to another country. She entered Ellis Island and soon was employed at the Nabisco Biscuit Factory in New York City to support her dream. My Grandmother was forced to leave high school at age 17. She did not accept being a high school dropout and worked to earn her GED, attend college, and become a Real Estate business owner. She accomplished all this during a time when young girls were raised to be a good wife and mother or pursue a career as a teacher or nurse.
I consistently strive for success and it is my privilege to be an example to my daughter, granddaughter and any young women working toward a career in a male dominated field.
Practice Manager, Civil Infrastructure
Growing up, I was very aware of the gender divides that existed in many professional fields. I remember visiting my Dad a few times when I was a kid at the Civil Engineering firm where he was working as a Surveyor and noticing that there was only one female in the entire Survey department. I remember visiting my Mom at the headquarters of the large oil corporation where she worked and noticing the lopsided ratio of female assistants to male executives. I remember driving by construction sites and wondering why there were no women there. But I was very lucky. I was surrounded by strong, smart, female role models who taught me that I could be whatever I wanted to be.
When I was a kid, my Grandmother was the Property Manager of the apartment complex where I grew up – a job that required her to maintain and manage over 800 units and a large support staff. My Mom was a strong, smart, talented, and confident woman who taught me so much of what I know about life, including how to just be myself, how to stand up for what I believe in, and how to work hard to achieve my goals. I was also very lucky to grow up with a loving Dad who was proud of who I was and encouraged me to follow my talents wherever I wanted them to take me.
Working my way to my Masters in Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, and even throughout the years of my current career, I have occasionally been faced with reminders of the gender gap that does still exist in the AEC industry. But in each instance, the support of my family and the lessons I had learned allowed me to hold my head up high and brush it off for the ignorance it really was. I am so grateful for these lessons, and as a leader, I feel it is now my responsibility to pass on this support and guidance to those who need it. I do my best to teach my daughter and other young ladies (and even young men, for that matter!) that I encounter to be proud of who they are, be confident in their abilities, work hard for what they want to achieve, and never let anyone tell them what they cannot be.