Throughout March, CSI is celebrating Women’s History Month, honoring the countless contributions women have made to the architecture, engineering, construction, and owner) (AECO) industry.
The month is set aside annually to honor women’s contributions in American history. The 2022 Women's History theme, “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” is both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during the ongoing pandemic and a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.
Here, CSI sits down with 2021 Class of Fellows Honoree Susan Bliss CSI, CDT®, CCS®, CCCA®.
Please share some of the professional achievements and special projects that have the most significance to you.
This year I became a Fellow of the Construction Specifications Institute and this same year received the Douglas C. Hartman Special Service Recognition Award from the Dallas CSI Chapter. From Institute to Chapter, both of these honors are very special to me.
There was also a moment in time when my role switched from being the mentee to the mentor. Although that doesn’t mean I suddenly knew all the answers—and still don’t—I realized I was answering and teaching others as well as being taught.
What first intrigued you about a career in the AECO industry, and how does it continue to both challenge and reward you?
I did not seek out the AECO industry; my career was providentially directed into it. I have been thankful for this industry and career for 45 years. Through these years it has been just the right amount of challenging. There is always more to learn, and there is always someone who knows the answer. Through relationships in CSI, I have found that person who is always ready to teach me. The constant growth is rewarding.
Who are some of the other women in the industry who have mentored or inspired you?
In my earlier years, I did not know any women in the industry. I was in a small town that only had one architect, my (male) boss. I believe almost all of the product reps who called on our office were not local, and I don’t remember a single woman among them. Once I moved into Dallas and joined the Dallas CSI Chapter, I began to meet other women in the industry. In the Dallas area, there were no other women specifiers though they were certainly out there across the country. I regret that I didn’t meet these great women sooner. Their mentorship, which I know they would have offered, would have been a blessing.
What advice might you share with women just beginning their careers—or that you wish you could have given yourself?
To actively look for mentors. As mentioned, I did not know, and I did not go looking for, women mentors. I would also suggest that you become involved outside of your own office. Many of the larger firms have in-house training and programs, but no matter how great they may be there are all sorts of resources and people available with good counsel, experience, and inspiring ideas.
Are there specific opportunities—or roadblocks—you see for other women in the industry now?
I’m sure there are still roadblocks, but the women ahead of us have paved a great road for us to follow that have reduced roadblocks significantly. A career as a specifier is wide open right now. There is a huge need for specifiers. I also believe the door is more open to women throughout the AECO community than ever before—design, construction, sales—take your pick. I see women being respected for their knowledge and contributions.
In your role as a mentor for young professionals in the industry, how do you hope to help more women succeed, and maybe become role models for the next generation as well?
First, lead by example. Second, ensure people know that you care about them. Gently offer suggestions and counsel, letting them think for themselves and make their own choices. Challenge and encourage them.
The 2022 theme for Women’s History Month is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” How can—or do—CSI members do exactly that right now?
By staying out of all the negativity and anger that is bombarding us. Keep a positive outlook. One of my favorite quotes, in my own words, is “Don’t curse the darkness, light a candle.” Let’s find solutions, not complain.