Women's Leadership Advances Workplace Equity

Women@Langan—a model of good business practice to retain and advance women in the design professions.


This is our second in a series of posts following a conversation led by PGDG blogger, Sophia Lee, with three of our Cohort ’17 members, Charlene Drake, Kelly Vresilovic, and Maggie Reed. Our official topic of sustainability provided the framework for that discussion, with each of the women offering such unique content, we decided they each deserve their own post. Today we are happy to provide the platform for Charlene Drake to present the great initiative she's involved in—being a woman leader supporting women's leadership— @Langan. Let's learn from the model.               —Sylvia & Danielle

Women@Langan was created as an internal employee resource group about two years ago to foster an atmosphere of mentorship and support to empower women to achieve career and personal success. Over the past two years, I have connected with many women who want to create or energize a similar program at their own companies. It can be difficult and even scary to bring change to an established organization. To help you, I’d like to share how we started, how we are succeeding, and where we are headed.

To set the stage—Langan Engineering and Environmental Services is a multi-disciplinary firm that was founded as a geotechnical firm and has expanded to include site survey and civil engineering, traffic, landscape architecture, ecological resource management and many facets of environmental compliance and site remediation. The three founders of Women@Langan represent this diversity. Caryn Barnes, LSRP, leads our environmental practice here in Philadelphia, Michele O’Connor, PE, LEED AP, leads the site/civil group in New York City, and Cristina Gonzalez, PE is a leader of our geotechnical practice and the Principal-in-Charge of the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale offices. Inspired by a desire to mentor and advocate for women leaders, the Women@Langan founders consulted their professional networks and did their research. They reviewed statistics about the representation of women in science and engineering fields at the college level, at staff levels in industry, and at leadership and ownership levels in the engineering fields. They explored the benefits of implementing an employee resource group, specifically looking at retaining women at the mid-point of their career. The research showed that not only does implementing these programs attract and retain talent, but there are demonstrated benefits to the bottom line that come from diversity. Ultimately, the founders presented their proposal to our Board of Directors resulting in the launch of Women@Langan in September 2015.

Women@Langan’s Doylestown group dressed in pink during the Breast Cancer Walk to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month

“I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years and it’s still hard to find female senior role models,” said O’Connor. “Women are looking for other women to support them and help them achieve career and personal success, which is why we felt it was essential to create Women@Langan.”

Women@Langan had a good foundation, but it takes a lot of dedicated people to run a women’s resource group for a company of more than 1,000 employees, with over 40% women. There is a Women@Langan group in each of our 22 US offices and in Mexico and Panama. Women@Langan has even been active in remote offices with only one woman! Each office has a leadership team, and we report back quarterly on our activities. To foster communication, we are converting our sharepoint site into an external newsletter at the end of the year. Each office has a high degree of autonomy in the frequency and type of program they implement. Volunteers are encouraged to lead programs in their topics of interest to their office. Programs are open to everyone in the office, and are attended by women and men alike.  

Langan employees were treated to a sneak peak of the Philadelphia Rail Park during a Women@Langan-sponsored tour. Phase I of construction is on track to open in 2018!

The list of the over 100 Women@Langan events implemented by our team in the first year was unfurled at Langan’s Manager’s Meeting to resounding applause. Programs have ranged from monthly lunch sessions where we watch and discuss a TED Talk (on topics like time management, finding your motivation, and body language) to our flagship event last year: The Women@Langan Leadership Summit held in New York City. The Summit, Trailblazing a Path to Leadership, featured a panel of industry leaders, a keynote by Marilyn Jordan Taylor of University of Pennsylvania, and an informative training session on the attributes of leadership by Robyn Forman Pollack of Trellis Consulting. We’ve held mixers with other women’s groups, sponsored philanthropic activities, and invited guest speakers on topics such as public speaking and internal networking. In one of my favorite programs, Stacey Darrohn, Director of Safety and Loss Control at Turner Construction, held a workshop on effective communication on the construction site, which included informative and entertaining role playing on the challenges women can face in that environment.

Namaste! Women@Langan’s New York group prepared their minds for the day ahead during yoga session on International Women’s Day;

Ladies at Langan’s Panama City office enjoyed an internal networking opportunity (with delicious dishes) during a Women@Langan lunch;

Photo op at the first annual W@L Leadership Summit on March 29, 2017.— David Gockel, Caryn Barnes, Victoria Cerami, Anne Papageorge, Palmina Whelan, Michele O’Connor, Richard Anderson

“Because W@L is a relatively new, I’m always looking for ways to grow the initiative,” Barnes said. ”When I’m at networking events, I often ask people if they have an internal women’s’ resource group. I only get one of two answers; either “Yes, and we’d love to connect with you to share our successes!” or, “No, but we really want to and we’d love to hear how you started your program and hear about the successes you’ve had so far.” It’s been a great way to network with other like-minded companies who are looking to retain and advance women.”

Women@Langan strives to be a resource for women in the business community. If you are looking to invigorate your women’s resource group, or mustering your energy to start one, we’d love to connect with you. I’ve worked in brownfields redevelopment and environmental consulting in Philadelphia for the past 20+ years and I love my job, but I have to say that the chance to support women leaders through Women@Langan, Philly Girls Do Good, and the Urban Land Institute Women’s Leadership Initiative here in Philly has given me a whole new level of motivation. Being part of Women@Langan has created opportunities to network internally and externally, and I always have something to talk about if I am feeling awkward at a conference or happy hour.

Looking ahead, we want to keep up the enthusiasm and momentum. Some of our offices have incorporated men into their leadership teams and we have champions throughout the Langan leadership team. One challenge is to reach beyond our core group and engage more of our colleagues to express themselves and learn so we can avoid being in our own “echo chamber.” We’ll do this by continuing to be inclusive and offering vital personal and business resources and energy.

Even women who are just starting out can take control of their own careers by strengthening their network and learning leadership from leaders. Stay tuned to this blog for upcoming events and ways to engage. We have a lot of fun. Langan is always on the lookout for talented professionals; check out our website to learn more https://www.langan.com/jobs/.

Charlene Drake is a Senior Project Manager at Langan Engineering in Philadelphia. She is an advocate of women's leadership, a Tae Kwon Do black belt, and devoted recycler. She is a member of PGDG Cohort 2017.