Melynda Retallack | Crain's Seattle

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Melynda Retallack

Background:  

The Ink:built design team takes design from pen to built form – translating imagination to realization – and listening into action. The firm strives to catalyze change through projects that focus on inclusion, equity, justice, health, and community. Its practice utilizes processes that fortify a restorative mindset.

The Mistake:

I have been a licensed architect for more than two decades. I have directed development, construction, tenant improvements and sustainability projects as an employee for various real estate development and design firms. I’ve played a key role in elevating corporate reputations and establishing development practices, implementation and operations to be primarily sustainable, responsible and regenerative.

Until Ink:built, I did this all for other people, for other companies as an employee, or as a contractor – never as the person in charge. What I’m finally realizing is I could have started my own company years ago and didn’t. I held myself back for reasons I am still figuring out.

Partly, it was a lack of self-confidence, despite my 20-plus years of experience in the industry. It was only in the last six years or so that I finally understood my own value and demanded equivalent acknowledgment from my employers. It should have and could have happened much earlier in my career.

Some of the lack of self-confidence comes from the struggle of just happening to be a woman in this very male-dominated construction/development industry. I started my education in the industry in the late '80s to early '90s. At that time, architecture schools were still only about 15 to 20 percent women, whereas today it is almost evenly split.

Very early on in my career, I quickly gained responsibility and was running design and construction projects. In this capacity, I encountered and worked with predominantly male consultants and male general contractors, superintendents and their workforces. They saw me first as a woman, and a young woman in her late 20s at that. I was responsible for providing feedback and offering solutions to issues on the job site. I had to learn how to earn their respect quickly and still retain a sense of authority among the boys.

Real estate development always seemed like something that was out of reach for architects – too complicated, too much finance knowledge required – and the work to do it took too much away from the focus on design. Having worked for multiple real estate developers, now I know the truth.

It’s a risky business. It takes a general understanding of the building industry, of future financial trends, and even some knowledge of banking and loans. Being the owner’s representative on multiple projects gave me the epiphany that I already had that general knowledge. I also began to question why it was I was not starting one of my own projects, one that I could fully control. Having worked in this industry for 20-plus years, I know as much, if not more, than most developers I have met.

Real estate development is complex but not that complicated, and many people with far less knowledge of the industry dive into it all the time.

The time to set and achieve those goals, for me, and I hope for many other female professionals, is now.

The Lesson:

After working with the people who are now part of my Ink:built team, I knew it was time to take the plunge. I thought we could do this – start our own firm and maybe even help to steer the industry in the direction we know it needs to go – to be more sustainable, resilient and regenerative.

We know high-efficiency building envelopes, we know solar systems, green roofs and green walls, we know water reclamation systems and rapidly renewable materials. And we have been through multiple development projects from start to completion.

Success springs from making connections with people, connecting the dots for your colleagues and overall, giving back and supporting other women, your peers, and the next generation.

There are career lessons that have been historically handed down the patriarchal lines from highly educated fathers to their sons and grandsons – and women need to start doing the same thing for their daughters. 

It is true how they say that we are all six degrees away from everyone else. Coming of age in your career is that time when you realize that you have a nearly unlimited resource in your peers and colleagues – and as women we need to use those resources to achieve our goals.

The time to set and achieve those goals, for me, and I hope for many other female professionals, is now.

Follow Melynda Retallack on Twitter at: @Meldonare

Pictured: Melynda Retallack | Photo courtesy of Melynda Retallack

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