This month I’m focusing on women in construction and thought I’d highlight someone I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with, Laura Burnes. I met Laura while working on a whole home project in Belmont with Adams and Beasley. She joined the team and helped us work through timing and coordination for materials and was a huge support to the on-site team. Laura was an integral part of keeping our weekly meetings on track, creating a fun atmosphere and team camaraderie and communicating with the Project Manager from ABA to keep all project task list “to-do’s” and project issues moving forward. You’ll see from her responses that she has an earnest work ethic and wonderful sense of self that was such a pleasure to work with and I look forward to working with her on future projects!
Women Who Inspire Q & A
Kristen: What’s unique about the product/service you provide?
Laura: There are a lot of things we do to differentiate our offering from others, including our communication, our care and the joy we bring, but what is unique about ABA is our commitment to women on our team. ABA strives to amplify the voices of women and welcome their perspectives at all levels. Over the last 5 years we have gone from 6 women to 17 and it has been fun to see how our culture and team have benefitted from having a better gender balance.
Kristen: If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Laura: It would have been great to shed the “shoulds” earlier in life. For too many years, I was afraid I was the wrong person for the job or to show when I didn’t know something. It was as if I was acting out a part in a play of the person I thought I was “supposed” to be at work, leaving behind parts of my true self. In an industry dominated by men, just fitting in meant leaving out a great value of my whole self, which is a different perspective. When I am comfortable being myself, things fall into place.
Kristen: What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
Laura: Having difficult conversations as soon as possible is the key to building trust and ultimately success in every project. No one likes delivering or receiving bad news, but addressing difficult situations in a timely manner is the best way to keep projects on track. We show we care and build trust by facing hard truths together with integrity and thoughtfulness.
Kristen: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
Laura: Every year for the first 10 years or so of my career I would ask myself, is this the year that I go to graduate school? And every year I would come to the conclusion that I was doing what I wanted to be doing, why would I need credentials to prove to the world that I am worthy of doing the same work. The meritocracy engineered by the higher education system is real and I was afraid that I would hit a ceiling that only a degree could break. Ultimately I decided not to go to graduate school and though it felt risky at the time, it also felt right. In my career, I have always stood on the bridge between building and design, but there was no school that catered to that connection. I forged my own way with support from fantastic mentors and generous peers and I don’t regret the choice for a moment.
Kristen: What accomplishment are you most proud of, and why?
Laura: I am most proud of the way our entire team handled the pandemic, especially early on when we were in triage mode every day. Through grit, creativity and sacrifice we were able to not only stay together, but thrive as a company. We took the forced closure time and used it to work on back-of-house improvement projects. We called it Project Lemonade. When we were able to get back on the job sites, we were in a much better place as a company having created things like a carpentry best practices document.
Kristen: What is currently the biggest challenge to your success and how are you handling it?
Laura: In this moment in history it is challenging to see people struggle from the COVID pandemic. People are weary of uncertainty, and as a result they are trying to control as many things as they can. This creates huge challenges in an industry that is inherently uncertain. The challenge is meeting everyone where they are and trying to move them back into the flow of things with understanding and compassion. I am having open and honest conversations, punctuated with humor, with everyone I encounter to acknowledge this shared pain and heal together.
Kristen: How did mentors influence your life?
Laura: I was incredibly fortunate to connect to two women in my early 20s who were transformational to my life. One, a designer, recognized and helped me develop my design eye, my organizational skills, and my way with people. She gave me the opportunity to build skills alongside her, helping me when I faltered and amplifying my voice when I needed it. The other was a Reiki Master, with whom I studied and practiced. Her wisdom, compassion and gentle but firm encouragement pushed me to find my own path in life, not just the one I thought should be mine. My work with her enabled me to be myself and find my true voice. The care and guidance from these two very different women gave me the confidence to make my own place in the design/build world and continue to seeking out the next opportunity.
Kristen: What’s your favorite way to spend your free time?
Laura: I spend my free time with my husband and two children. I love to laugh, sew, cook and work on my house and garden. I like to get my hands dirty, whether that be in cookie dough, garden dirt or new paint in the front hall. As a family, we like to adventure together, recently close to home and internationally when we can.
Kristen: What mantra do you live by?
Laura: No pretending. For me this means always bringing my whole self and recognizing the value of my experience and perspective while inspiring others to do the same.