At Vocon, we are so grateful daily for all the women who consistently crush it, both at work and in their personal lives. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting a few Team members throughout the next few weeks. With the underlying theme of “It Takes a Team,” we are excited to highlight eight Team members representing both our Cleveland and New York locations and all studios (Design, Technical, Project Management, Administrative/Marketing).
Read about our Team member’s thoughts on Women’s History Month, advice for future women joining the industry, and their favorite Vocon projects below:
What inspired you to choose your career?
Antoinette Belson (Senior Project Manager, New York): I learned what an Architect was because of my father. I was inspired by architecture the first time I went abroad to Italy and saw buildings that were over 500 years old that were still in use.
I studied environmental psychology and architecture to learn how people experienced their space and to design the best space for people based on their specific needs.
I quickly graduated into a project management role because people realized I had a subtle but super skills for time management, clear communication, and problem-solving. I love being a project manager because I am basically a professional problem solver. I love creating solutions for designs, budgets and schedules. As a project manager, you manage processes, projects, and people. Something that I had always been good at, staying organized and problem solving, is something I get paid to do.
Susan Downs (Senior Project Manager, Cleveland): For me, Interior Design is the perfect combination of art + science, right + left brain. I truly enjoy the balance of the mathematical and technical side with the color + creative side.
Morgan Miller (Project Technical Designer, New York): Growing up, I loved playing the Sims! I loved building big beautiful houses, finding & creating custom content, and the storytelling throughout the gameplay. Each house & character was unique, similar to all of the amazing projects and clients I work on here at Vocon.
What advice would you give to young women today?
Antoinette Belson (Senior Project Manager, New York): The best advice I can give young women is to ask for help which will allow them to learn and grow. Find mentors and friends that you can trust to create your own “executive board.” When seeking advice on great life or career changes, run it by this team. Listen to their recommendations but remember, ultimately the decision is your own. Be open and honest with yourself and others about your goals and expectations. Find support and create systems to make your life easier. Work smarter, not harder. Make a plan with milestone goals and strive for them. You don’t have to be great at everything or make everyone happy. Be true to yourself and focus on what success means to you.
Gabrielle Cardillo (Project Designer, New York): When it comes to building your career, don’t be afraid to get after it! I truly believe not just having a career but excelling in a career all boils down to self-confidence. Never let anyone tell you what they think you “should be doing,” but show them exactly WHY you do what you’re doing. Speak up when you have an idea, question people when you disagree – be a force that demands the respect of others. Set your goals high, and don’t quit working until you reach them – the reward is worth it!
Susan Downs (Senior Project Manager, Cleveland): Create your own definition of success! Success, both personal and professional, is not linear. Take the time to truly understand what makes you happy as an individual and work towards those goals. It will not look the same for everyone.
Elaine Gleason (Senior Project Technical Designer, Cleveland): Having it all and having it all be perfect is a myth. Choose what is important every day. Allow yourself to be ok with the things that aren’t “magazine material,” be as kind to yourself as you are to others.
Hannah Hughes (Office Manager Executive Assistant, New York): I would suggest adopting an “on to the next” attitude. For instance, in a moment of failure, instead of allowing the failure to fester, craft it into a lesson learned. Form your successes into a solid foundation to build your career and confidence. Just keep moving. Forward, sideways, even backward; the journey is just as important as the end goal.
Morgan Miller (Project Technical Designer, New York): One of the best pieces of advice I learned at Vocon was never to be afraid to ask questions! Ask questions to consultants, GCs, Subs, and vendors and get their insight into their area of expertise. Never assume you know more than everyone, and be open to learning and growing every day. Use the resources around you to become a better architect and leader.
Emily Scheffler (Designer, Cleveland): This isn’t groundbreaking advice, but rather a way to live by “stay curious and ask questions.” One of the first books I read, when I finished college was “Ask For It – How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want” by Linda Babcok and Sara Laschever. I would encourage anyone who is intrigued to learn how to empower themselves and the others around them to read this book. By sitting down with this novel, I realized my worth as an individual and the potential I will always have for growth. And when I feel doubt, I sit down to reread parts of this book to remind me of what I am capable of.
I feel this advice or rather mantra is important because of every part of life comes with its own challenges and opportunities for meaningful change. Everyday there are new inspirations or obstacles we face, but by being curious and open, we can find new answers we never considered before. There are abundant resources out there to help you conquer each step in life you desire to take, but the only way you will get there is if you seek the answers and look around.
Katie Soditch (HR Generalist II, Cleveland): It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do. I went to school for one thing, and 20 years later, I’m doing something else, which is okay! It’s okay to pivot and switch paths if something isn’t working personally and professionally for you. If you don’t stop investing in yourself and stay open-minded, you will find what truly makes you happy.
What are some of the biggest challenges you believe women still face today?
Antoinette Belson (Senior Project Manager, New York): Unfortunately, many people underestimate or categorize women in a specific role just because of their gender. Don’t make yourself small, so others feel more comfortable. Embrace your muchness. I am a woman, a manager, a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a colleague, and a friend. You, too, are likely many things to many people, but the most important person you support is you. If you are not mentally, physically, and emotionally in a good place, then everyone who relies on you or whom you support will also suffer. When things get tough, I try to take a minute to center myself and remember my reason why. I recommend that you always remember your why and try to take some time every day to step away to refuel and reconnect to your own why.
Elaine Gleason (Senior Project Technical Designer, Cleveland): The world still expects women to be kinder than men. And often makes the mistake of confusing kindness and weakness. I’m working to overcome that challenge daily by being kind and strong.
Emily Scheffler (Designer, Cleveland): Leadership positions naturally select masculine traits. As a result, women either need to assimilate to expectations or challenge the ecosystem. Women leaders are naturally predisposed to lead with empathy. As a result, women create stronger bonds among peers and create trusting environments. As a society, we need to challenge what it means to lead. Together we need to realize that leadership takes on many forms. We need to give chances to those whose styles of leading may be different from what has been historically recognized as strong traits. There is room for everyone at the table, and women are just one of the valuable assets to have there.
Is there a woman that inspires you? Who and why?
Elaine Gleason (Senior Project Technical Designer, Cleveland): Elizabeth Warren—she “Persists” in speaking the truth, tackling complicated issues, and quietly fighting for right and fair in a world that doesn’t always want to listen. As a Technical Designer, I often need to answer the complicated questions that come up during construction. The answers aren’t always simple, and I appreciate her example.
Morgan Miller (Project Technical Designer, New York): I have been fortunate to be involved with predominately women lead teams in almost every project here. It is very inspiring to see how knowledgeable my project leads are on job sites and their ability to real-time problem solve difficult field conditions. Having strong women as mentors has been invaluable to my career development. I feel truly inspired by the many women-led teams here!
Emily Scheffler (Designer, Cleveland): There are several mentors who inspire me, but the one who stands out to me is Emily Pierson-Brown. She is an Architect, Urban Planner, Professor, and Advocate in Pittsburgh, PA. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work and be continuously mentored by her. As the leader of Women in Design PGH and DEI of her firm, she has always sought new ways to think outside the box and stand for what she believes in. With the utmost respect for others, she meets people where they are and starts the tough conversations others struggle to have. At my first job, I recall being in shock as she stood in front of the entire office and logically explained the issues women faced in the workplace. Emily was able to bring everyone together in ways I never imagined. Through her work and advocacy in life, I’m inspired to think differently, explore unique ideas, and, most importantly, stay true to myself. I’m truly grateful to have an awe-inspiring role model as a mentor and friend.
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
Gabrielle Cardillo (Project Designer, New York): I’m not really one to make a fuss or expect to be celebrated this month, but I do find a lot of value in reflecting on how far women have come over the years. I’m thankful to be a part of a generation that has the freedom to build a career and contribute to society through something that I love. I think this month is also a time to recognize and appreciate all the women that “do it all” – meaning, the wives and mamas out there that selflessly take care of their families while also making the time to build something for themselves through work. I know it’s not an easy task, so I’d like to shout out to all our working moms – you are the real ones!!
Hannah Hughes (Office Manager Executive Assistant, New York): This month is for all of us to praise the incredible women we have in our lives. For me, it’s beyond family and friends; this month reaches all past and present relationship levels. From the incredible women, I get to work with daily, to the women that made an enormous impact on me during the dawn of my career to my favorite college professors. This month is for you! This is the month to celebrate how we lift each other up.
Katie Soditch (HR Generalist II, Cleveland): Women’s History Month is so important to raise awareness about gender equality and the work that remains. We can take this month to remember all the great women in history and support those making strides today for the next generation. Vocon has made me feel like family from day one, and I’m so proud to work at a company that values women and diversity.
What are your favorite things about joining the Vocon Team?
Gabrielle Cardillo (Project Designer, New York): I love everything that Vocon stands for. Being from the mid-west myself (shoutout my Pittsburgh people), I found a lot of comfort in joining the Vocon Team in New York as my first job out of college. We have a very humanistic and realistic approach to everything we do – specifically, how we think about design and treat our clients. Vocon is humble, and I think that’s what makes us such a powerful force in the NYC market right now – because it’s not the norm. I also find working for a woman-owned company under some of the best designers in the industry (especially ALL FOUR of our lady Design Directors) so empowering. It reinforces my decision to seek a career in design and pushes me daily to be a better me and work towards my goals and dreams.
Susan Downs (Senior Project Manager, Cleveland): My favorite thing about being part of the Vocon Team is the opportunity for development!! We are encouraged and supported to carve our career paths based on our strengths, passions and work ethic.
Hannah Hughes (Office Manager Executive Assistant, New York): I continuously have to step back and admire how special a place Vocon is. Vocon is not only woman-owned, but it is women-led at all levels and departments. We have dangerously talented women on all fronts who work together to deliver vibrant, chic, and new solutions for our clients and each other daily. To be surrounded by such brilliance and comradery daily is something I don’t take for granted.
Katie Soditch (HR Generalist, Cleveland): My favorite part of joining the Vocon Team is how much it felt like family from my first day. From onboarding to having my manager truly listen and appreciate my ideas was a great way to start a new job. I love how new ideas, women and diversity are supported here at Vocon.
Thank you for following along in our Women’s History Month celebration and thanks again to all our participants!