Female Disruptors: Agata Krasniewska and Karen Conrod of NAWIC On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
Agata: Be in charge of your own career. No matter whether you are a student trying to enter an industry or an industry veteran. No one would be a better champion of your person than yourself. An advice that I received was to join various professional networking groups, find one that suits you the most and get involved. Building your own network and having a mentor is crucial for a successful career. It takes a lot of work and effort to build your own network yet it is definitely worth it.
Karen: Never stop learning. Always look for things that you don’t know or understand and learn about them. That includes people. Challenge yourself daily to learn something. Listen passionately and then if you hear something you don’t know about or understand, learn about it. Maybe it is just learning something new about your coworker or the person you see every day at the grocery store. Not only will you grow but it develops lasting relationships.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Agata Krasniewska and Karen Conrod who lead the Sacramento Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, a national nonprofit dedicated to the employment and advancement of women in the construction industry.
Agata Krasniewska is a CPA and currently serves as chapter President for NAWIC Sacramento. She provides accounting and consulting services for privately-held small and mid-size companies. Agata is involved with several non-profit organizations including Girl Scouts Heart of Central California’s Under Construction Camp and Copper for Kids Committee- Stanford Youth Solutions.
Karen Conrod has over 20 years in construction and is a member of the Senior Management team in Western Operations for the Boldt Company. Karen is currently the Vice President of the NAWIC Sacramento chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction and the current Chair of the Construction Industry Education Foundation with SRBX. In 2018 Karen was named as one of the Business Times Most Influential Women in Bay Area Business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Agata: I was introduced to the construction industry at work where I prepared financial statements for various clients within the construction industry. I love the aspect of client service. I enjoy preparing job schedules for clients. People within the industry are very down to earth and friendly which makes my job fun. I became deeply passionate about the promotion of women within the industry and industry itself after I joined NAWIC Sacramento Chapter. When I first joined, our group was very small. Learning more about the construction industry, NAWIC’s mission as an organization and its endless possibilities made me realize that it is time to get more involved and grow it.
Karen: In my early career I worked for a lumber wholesaler and later in facilities and administration at a University and had not specifically chosen the construction career path until I discovered Boldt. I was looking to restart my career in a new location and wanted to work for an organization that cared about its employees and the community. Over and over, I kept hearing about Boldt and so 18 years ago I made the leap into the construction industry and I never looked back. Since then, I have discovered an amazing industry of strong hardworking individuals who want to make a difference in the communities they work and live. Over the years I have had the pleasure of working in various states across the country, working with amazingly talented people. I started as a finance, administration and risk management subject matter expert and while doing that learned about our industry and the work we do and have had the opportunity to grow into leadership roles in the organization.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Karen: As a woman in the construction industry I believe I have a responsibility to help develop and grow other women. We have lived the challenges and have the ability to help other women through those challenges and can also help drive change for women or minorities in our industry.
We are both committed to the development of Women in the construction industry and believe NAWIC and leading that organization gives us the opportunity to support these efforts. Women working in construction numbered 1.5 percent of the entire U.S. workforce and now make up 9.9 percent of the construction industry in the United States. NAWIC is all about helping women see and take advantage of the opportunities in construction.
Whether you want to embark on a new career, establish a networking base, be a mentor or mentee, make a difference in your community, continue your education, or invest in great friendships, NAWIC offers a variety of opportunities — large and small.
Our organization brings together talented women from across all facets of the construction industry to strengthen and amplify the success of women in the construction industry. We are committed to championing women to impact the direction of the construction industry while developing them individually as leaders in this industry.
Agata: I became inspired and started to participate in rebuilding NAWIC Sacramento Chapter after I met one of the construction industry experts from Sacramento who shared with me her experiences of how she was at the beginning of her career and participated in creation of another professional networking group within the Sacramento region back in the 1980s. Working with various people within the industry made me recognize the value of building your own network and the importance of positive relationships. NAWIC helped me grow as a professional and gave me an opportunity to be in leadership of the chapter.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Karen: I haven’t found most mistakes I’ve made very funny, at least not when they happened, as like most women, I am pretty hard on myself. Don’t get me wrong I have made tons of mistakes and each of them has taught me something, even if it was just to never do that again. Mostly I have learned that you have to allow people, including yourself, to make mistakes as that is how we grow.
Early in my career, I had a boss who was always looking to blame someone, and she never took any responsibility herself. I drove her crazy when she was wanting a name to blame someone specifically and I always answered “it doesn’t matter who made the mistake. It is my fault for not training them correctly”. Of course, I let the individual know what they did and I knew they wouldn’t make that mistake again… just a different one. When I catch myself judging or redirecting, I try to remind myself of the importance of accountability and that a true leader should understand that rarely does someone want to make a mistake or do poor quality work. There is usually an underlying reason that we can solve together.
Agata: English is my second language. I have made countless mistakes throughout my journey. I would always be overly cautious of what I am saying, not get lost in translations in order not to offend anyone by any chance. Luckily, I was able to learn from my own mistakes and grow. Also, my English is much better now. Asking questions is a key to learn so do not be afraid.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Agata: One of the reasons that I initially joined NAWIC Sacramento chapter was to find female leaders within the industry that could be my mentors and guide me throughout my career. I am inspired by strong women who support women. There is so much to learn from everyone within the industry. Now I have not only one but many mentors that help me navigate through both my professional career and personal life. All our members are welcoming and willing to share their advice. Also, through the opportunity of this membership, I have gained multiple great lifelong friendships. We truly have a great group of supportive women within our membership.
Karen: This may sound corny, but my parents have always been great role models for me. Both of my parents were educators. They each had their own way. My father was a loud, inspiring leader who motivated people. My mother was a counselor who is the most caring individual I have ever met. With how different they were they both taught me to accept everyone and their differences, forgive, be tough but be there for support and that compromise is not defeat but a part of relationships and growth. Professionally I have had two mentors, one early in my career and one more recently. They both were bosses and they both had such strong beliefs in me and my ability that it allowed me to develop that confidence within myself. They allowed me to learn and make mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, they called me out when I made mistakes but supported me through correcting them and learning from each one.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Karen: I feel the intent usually determines if disruption is positive or negative. Often in my role, I have to ask tough questions to help drive results. Asking those questions to help bring out issues to solve them together or to help people learn and grow is a positive disruption. If those questions are being asked to point blame, self-promote or not collaboratively bring about positive change, then the disruption is negative. Educating and monitoring women to encourage increased representation in the construction industry is not to reduce or discourage males but to help fill the shortage in our workforce, bring different perspectives to the industry and improve the construction industry as a whole.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Be in charge of your own career. No matter whether you are a student trying to enter an industry or an industry veteran. No one would be a better champion of your person than yourself. An advice that I received was to join various professional networking groups, find one that suits you the most and get involved. Building your own network and having a mentor is crucial for a successful career. It takes a lot of work and effort to build your own network yet it is definitely worth it.
Don’t take “No” for an answer. Be persistent and find someone that will support your ideas and share common interests and passions. Throughout the years I have heard many times of how resilient I am. I recently saw these 2 quotes on one of the social media platforms: “When your ‘why’ is big enough you will find your ‘how’ and “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” These two quotes remind me of the last 16 years of my journey since I came to the U.S as a very young adult. If you care enough about something you will find a way, figure it out and make it happen, so keep being passionate and follow your dreams.
Stay true to yourself. Always be a hardworking and honest person who treats everyone kindly with respect. Always live by your own standards and don’t change who you are to please other people.
Always be proud to look in the mirror. Be honest, hardworking and willing to do what it takes even if it does not always seem to be the most popular or well-liked direction. If at the end of the day you can look at yourself in the mirror and say you did everything with the best intentions for the right reasons and gave it your all then that is all anyone can ask. I have had difficult working relationships that felt like they were ending my career and I wanted to give up but every day, at the end of the day, even if in tears, I could look in the mirror and say I made mistakes but felt proud of making the best of a tough situation and didn’t change who I was because of the actions of someone else. In the end, it helped me persevere.
Never stop learning. Always look for things that you don’t know or understand and learn about them. That includes people. Challenge yourself daily to learn something. Listen passionately and then if you hear something you don’t know about or understand, learn about it. Maybe it is just learning something new about your coworker or the person you see every day at the grocery store. Not only will you grow but it develops lasting relationships.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We want to promote our chapter, the NAWIC organization as a whole and all women that work within the construction industry. Our next goal is to increase membership within the Sacramento Chapter and continue to engage students from local colleges within our association. Through professional development, mentorship, leadership, and inclusion we are committed to champion all women to enter the construction workforce with confidence. We genuinely care about our community and the promotion of the construction industry to help bridge the gaps in diversity and inclusion, decrease the skilled labor shortages, and foster mentorships with our youth who will be our future leaders.
Agata: As a young professional I would love to see NAWIC Sacramento create a great mentorship program for young women entering the workforce. Joining a male-dominated industry might be challenging and intimidating. Having support from someone more experienced and established within their career can tremendously impact someone’s experience.
Karen: As Chair of Construction Industry Education Foundation (CIEF) and Vice President of the Sacramento National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) I have the opportunity this year to truly influence workforce development and the development of women in the industry. I plan to get further engaged in the community in support and participation with WEAVE, United Way and March of Dimes. I will be focusing on a new large hospital project for UCSF this coming year and it is an exciting and challenging project being delivered with great partners.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Karen: There are a couple of things I would consider challenges facing women.
First is the challenge of confidence, acceptance, and boundaries within themselves. We don’t have to do it all and each of us has to find the strength and confidence within ourselves to do it “our” way, not the way it has always been done. Women can multitask and work differently and need to feel comfortable enough to do it differently and just as well if not better.
Second, don’t settle or accept behavior that you know is wrong and don’t keep it to yourself. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect so when you aren’t, be polite and professional but don’t accept it.
Third, we are allowed to be, and should be, passionate, assertive and have emotions around topics without judgment from others. I have heard “wow you got really emotional” when the other male individuals were just considered passionate or driven. Emotions don’t have to be negative but can bring compassion, empathy and strong leadership to an organization.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Agata: “It’s the Manager” by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter. This book defines various management qualities that are needed in leadership and their impact on an organization and its success. It’s a very good read.
Karen: “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. A new paradigm for sustainable success”. This book on leadership goes beyond most current models of leadership and looks at sustainable leadership on three levels: Personal Level, Organizational Level and Planetary Level written to take current leaders themselves, their organizations and their communities to new levels of success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Karen: If I was truly a great influencer and innovator, I would drive to inspire a movement to further fund and develop programs around mental illness. Create a caring culture that accepts and understands the struggles and the impacts mental illness has on so many people. Mental illness comes in so many shapes and sizes and is still something that is hard for people to talk about and accept. I think of what change could occur with regards to homelessness and domestic violence as mental illness is often a contributing factor in those issues. For now, I will try to build up women not only in construction but overall so that we as Women can be influencers moving forward and have a larger impact on the future of our cultures and society than we have had in the past.
Agata: I believe kids and youth are our future. As a community, we should take more time to mentor. Young people need lots of guidance especially ones in orphanages or foster care. I believe that by simply putting time and effort in mentorship we could positively impact their lives in so many different ways.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Agata: “There is no passion in playing small, in settling for a life that is less that the one you are capable of living” — Nelson Mandela
This quote reminds me to dream big, set up goals, work hard to get where I want to be. I have come alone to the United States as a young adult without knowing English. Coming from a family of two educators, education is a must. I have never imagined that I would graduate from college with an Accounting Degree, be a Certified Public Accountant or President of the National Association of Women in Construction Sacramento Chapter networking and building relationships with the most talented people within the Construction industry. It’s truly an honor and a blessing and I feel lucky to be a part of it.
Karen: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” — Shirley Chisholm.
For me this quote is not just about being a female influencer but for everyone in every situation. Don’t wait for others to make room for you, join the group, come forward, participate. If there isn’t a seat make one, bring one or stand tall and lead the way.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can also visit the national website to find your local chapter at nawic.org
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!