Success in the AEC Industry: Our Female Leaders Weigh In

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Alex Conner

University Recruiter

In commemoration of International Women’s Day, we’re honoring the invaluable contributions of Freese and Nichols’ female leaders.

These women spearhead project teams, serve on national boards to advance their profession, shape our company and work to make our communities better places to live.

We asked these pacesetters to share their advice for young women getting started in their careers, especially in male-dominated fields.

Toni Addison, Houston

Toni Addison is a construction manager in our construction services group, which provides full-time construction management and inspection services. Prior to joining Freese and Nichols, she worked for 12 years for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“This might sound a bit cheesy, but I have always found it important to be yourself. You don’t have to change who you are and how you behave to be (and I quote) ‘AN ENGINEER.’ Always look for opportunities that would require more responsibility and by pushing yourself, this will help develop your confidence. Confidence will help you win your first job, speak up in meetings, and produce the very best you. If it’s something your are passionate about and you believe you can do it, then go for it! Its only a matter of time, determination and attitude!”

Paula Feldman, Atlanta

Paula Feldman is an associate and co-leads our water/wastewater master planning and modeling team for the east coast.

“Find ways to challenge yourself and build confidence through success, whether in academics or other activities, such as music or sports. Also, seek out opportunities for leadership in areas where you are passionate. Hone your communication skills. Engineering is a team sport and being able to collaborate and communicate ideas effectively is essential.”

Tricia Hatley, Oklahoma City

Tricia Hatley is a vice president/principal and our Oklahoma division manager. Tricia is on the Board of Directors of the National Society of Professional Engineers, where she will serve as president in 2020, and a founding member of the Women in Transportation Seminar chapter in Oklahoma.

“Find a mentor/coach. The folks who have helped my career the most were all men. Your mentor doesn’t have to be a female. There are lots of great men out there who want you to be successful and will help you get there. Working for someone who will be your advocate and really cares about you is most important – male or female.”

Morgan McIlwain, Raleigh

Morgan McIlwain is a program/project manager in our Raleigh office. She has experience providing large-scale project coordination and program management for municipal clients, including the City of Hickory, the City of Fayetteville and the Town of Chapel Hill.

“Be confident in your abilities! Here are some ways to project that confidence: First, always have recommended solutions to a problem. Second, when presenting a problem, tell them the problem and how many recommended solutions you have at the beginning. State the problem and all solutions clearly and concisely. Then you can expand on them if applicable. Third, try to stay away from those soft or apprehensive words. Instead of ‘I believe/think/feel the right solution might/may be X,’ try ‘the solution I came up with is X’ or ‘I recommend X.’ Last, dress professionally. You want people to pay attention to what you have to say, not what you’re wearing. Do not undermine your abilities with what you wear.”

Cindy Milrany, Fort Worth

Cindy Milrany has been our Chief Financial Officer since 1994 and is also our Chief Strategy Officer. A Certified Public Accountant, Cindy oversees the company’s financial activities and customer-focused systems. She manages all corporate functions except human resources and leads strategic planning and the continuous improvement program.

“You can’t say yes to everything, and that’s OK. Don’t overextend yourself. Focus only on the things you’re incredibly passionate about.”

Elizabeth Palasota, San Antonio

Elizabeth Palasota is a transportation engineer in San Antonio, specializing in municipal roadway and state highway design. She is the immediate past president of the American Public Works Association-Texas South Central Branch.

“I think something that is stressed a lot is the difference between women and men. What I like to focus on instead, is doing my absolute best and putting in the time and effort to do a great job. A couple of times, when I was starting out, I heard ‘Well, you just got that because you are a woman.’ And you know what I said to them – ‘SO?!?’ You need to be confident in yourself and the skillsets that you have learned this far because that is what people are looking for – you as the whole package.

Karen Perez, El Paso

Karen Perez​ leads Freese and Nichols’ water, wastewater and stormwater expansion efforts in the El Paso metropolitan area and New Mexico. Before joining Freese and Nichols, she ran her own consulting firm and served as an elected Doña Ana County, N.M., Commissioner in 2007-13.

“Women add a different dynamic that is vital to the development of engineering projects, including the ability to multitask and communicate effectively. As a woman, your perspective is unique and valuable. Be positive, be strong and be confident – above all, have a sense of humor. Enjoy the fact that you can learn from everyone, and be assured that questions do not make you appear to be weak – they show your appreciation of your team, your natural curiosity and your ability to recognize your strengths and weaknesses.”​

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Alex Conner is the University Recruiter in Fort Worth.