In recognition of International Women’s Day ReNew Canada highlights just a few of the remarkable women in the Canadian construction industry

Lisa Laronde

Lisa Laronde, the first woman president of RSG International, a global leader in road safety infrastructure, has been named to the Board of Directors of the Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA).

“I believe this is an indication that the industry is changing. Although I might be the only woman on the board today, we must start somewhere. I have a voice, and I will use it,” explained Laronde at ORBA’s 97th annual convention. “I think this is the beginning of something extraordinary.”

“We are excited to welcome Lisa Laronde to ORBA’s Board of Directors, where she joins leaders of Ontario’s transportation infrastructure industry,” said Walid Abou-Hamde, CEO of ORBA. “Lisa’s versatile skillset and experience will support the Association in implementing its strategic plan and advancing its members’ interests.”

Laronde was recently recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women; is the president of the Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) and is widely known as a fierce advocate for women in leadership. Laronde is passionate about building psychologically safe work environments where diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of any organization she’s a part of.

“Lisa is a trailblazer who breaks barriers and paves the way for others to follow; her appointment to the Ontario Road Builders’ Association is a testament to her exceptional leadership and a beacon for the future of women in the industry,” stated Jamie West, board director for CAWIC and president of Peninsula Construction, a division of RSG International.

Catherine Karakatsanis

Catherine Karakatsanis was recently elected as president of the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), becoming the first female president in the association’s 110-year history.

Karakatsanis is COO at Morrison Hershfield Group (now Stantec), a consulting engineering and management firm. She is responsible for more than 900 professionals in 26 offices across Canada and the United States and one in India.

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“I feel humbled by the trust shown in me to represent this brilliant industry organization on a global scale. I feel extremely fortunate and honoured to be able to serve my profession and industry through FIDIC and I will be working hard to ensure that I do so in a way that makes a difference,” said Karakatsanis.

“I have worked and volunteered in consulting engineering continuously for over three decades. As a structural engineer and the chief operating officer of Morrison Hershfield, a consulting engineering and management firm, I am familiar with, and indeed still experience the many challenges facing our industry—challenges that I believe FIDIC helps the member firms address.

“I know first-hand that our industry is in a position to directly enhance the wellbeing of society through the critical work we do. Our world is facing key and urgent challenges on many fronts including clean water, clean and affordable energy, good health, infrastructure needs and climate change, all amid wide disparities in standards of living and the threat of an unstable world. As a result, our industry will continue to be as important and vital as ever. And I strongly believe that we are in the enviable position that a public otherwise worried about the future can trust us as professionals who put the public welfare above all else.”

Mary Van Buren

After six successful years as the president of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), Mary Van Buren announced that she will be stepping down.

As the first female president in the association’s more than century-long history, she guided CCA into a new era that is digital first and inclusive. Her focus on modernization was critical in CCA’s ability to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, while advocating on behalf of the industry and continuing to deliver member value in the face of a global crisis.

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Under her leadership, CCA developed an expanded focus on innovation and best practices, and is currently piloting a digital contract service, which rolled out earlier this year.

“The construction industry is essential to Canada’s economic success and quality of life, yet it doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. I am so proud to have brought more attention to an industry that has such a profound impact on our country and affects positive change in our communities every day,” said Van Buren.

“To see the growth in member engagement in advocacy and the resulting effects that a strong, unified voice for the industry has, is especially rewarding. I am so fortunate to have an excellent team who are committed to advancing the industry’s interests across the services we provide.”

“The Board of Directors sincerely thanks Mary for her stewardship of the association over the last few years. Through her commitment to advancing member issues, she has raised the industry’s profile, and her legacy of leadership will be long lasting. While we are sad to see her move on, we understand she is interested in taking on new challenges and wish her all the best in this next stage of her career,” said Brendan Nobes, chair of CCA.

Tamara Pongracz

British Columbia Institute of Technology’s (BCIT) Tamara Pongracz is continuing to help lead the province’s efforts to attract, retain and support women in the trades through her position at BCIT and her new role with the Construction Foundation of BC’s (CFBC) Board of Directors.

Under encouragement from her father, an Indigenous plumber pipe fitter and union activist, Pongracz entered the trades in 1988 as a welder’s helper in the Kootenays. A combination of genuine interest in the trades and the prospect of financial independence played major factors in her initial career decision.

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“Having an Indigenous father who was a brilliant tradesperson, he was my role model,” said Pongracz. “He was leap years ahead of his time to encourage me to go into the skilled trades… I found the work interesting, but the money is what grabbed me. Trades work offered me my independence.”

Years later Pongracz is now an Interprovincial Certified Plumber and holder of a Master of Education Degree from Simon Fraser University. Under Pongracz’s direction, BCIT introduced a holistic approach to their women in trades curriculum.

Most recently, a commitment to CFBC’s Board of Directors will allow Pongracz to channel her passions and past expertise towards the guidance of CFBC’s programming and initiatives alongside a number of BC’s industry leaders.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to have the opportunity to join the folks at the Construction Foundation of BC,” said Pongracz. “I have watched the enthusiasm of Abigail [Fulton, CFBC executive director] …I’ve seen the amazing work that they have been doing.”

Pongracz’s advice to women looking to enter the trades?

“Be a part of the change, but don’t change who you are because people won’t respect you for that. Be confident in yourself and be yourself.”

[This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 edition of ReNew Canada]

Featured image: Lisa Laronde is the president of RSG International, a global leader in road safety infrastructure. (CNW Group/RSG International)

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