Innovation through female leadership at a global BIM Consultancy

by Mallary White, Project Manager and Shivani Soni, Head of Co-Innovation Lab for Microdesk

As the capabilities of BIM expand beyond building design to include asset management, carbon reporting and energy efficiency information, the goals of AECO industry experts must evolve as well. 

Identifying opportunities for building faster and more sustainably has become a critical element of modern consultancies. Shivani Soni and Mallary White are among the internal talent at Microdesk tapped to develop innovative offerings, including digital transformation, large-scale collaborations and carbon neutrality initiatives.

Both Shivani and Mallary were prompted to join the AECO industry by challenges they witnessed in their everyday lives on a micro and macro level, and here they talk about their experiences and the obstacles women may face in our industry.

Shivani:  I am the head of the Co-Innovation Lab, the research and development arm charged with co-researching, co-creating and implementing objectives such as net zero to meet the demands of globalization and urbanization. I champion the innovative work of our solutions teams as they continue to push boundaries within the industry.

Mallary: As Project Manager, I am responsible for all West Coast architecture projects by day and work on internal side projects by night. I manage a team of 15 AECO professionals across 10+ projects at any given time. Additionally, I’m co-chair, alongside my colleague, Sana Nassar of the Project Management Office, which ensures our project managers have the delivery tools and workflows they need to succeed on projects of every size.

Mallary: I’ve learned I’m a problem solver by nature. At a young age my parents said I wasn’t ready to take the training wheels off my bike, which prompted me to find the right tool and take them off myself – and I haven’t slowed down since! It was then my parents found out I was a problem solver, and I was never going to take no for an answer. Figuring out how things work and problem solving are what drive me; I get the most enjoyment from innovating and streamlining around workflow obstacles.

My love of art and mastering the detail of painting led to studying Architecture in college. I thought if I could master the tools, I could create good designs more easily. Throughout school and into my first internships I gravitated towards technology. As I went down this path, I found what truly excited me and that was finding beauty in the most unlikely of places, by helping people. By developing streamlined, fully-packaged technology workflows and cutting through all the software out there to find only the pieces that work in synergy is an art in and of itself, and that’s what has influenced me the most.

Shivani: I’ve found I’m driven to solve problems by learning new ways to simplify complex problems. I never understood why there were so many homeless people and wanted to find ways to build better communities and find more effective, less time-consuming methods. As Bill Gates once said, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” – that’s me! I believe in and encourage a healthy work/life balance, and oddly enough, that makes me more productive.

Studying at one of the leading design universities, the University of the Arts, London, and furthering my studies at Middlesex University in Building Information Modelling Management really opened opportunities for me to think, explore and creatively push the industry. It opened great networking opportunities and provided a platform where we could share knowledge, learn from truly inspiring industry experts, and use it to make positive changes. My thesis on the impact of research and development on the AECO industry embedded the importance of innovation creating real change in today’s world.

My post-graduate experience was also impacted by the female mentors at my previous job. They weren’t only leaders of a large organization, but were held in high esteem in specialized skill sets globally. It was refreshing and inspiring that not only did the organization recognize the efforts and value of women in the industry, but genuinely practiced diversity and inclusion. Witnessing women succeeding in AECO, combined with a mentor, helped build my confidence in the industry early on, and I firmly believe this contributed to my current role.

By the time both women joined Microdesk they already had a wealth of knowledge to draw on.

Mallary: I came with first-hand knowledge adapting BIM and Revit for historic preservation for ‘Pier A’ located at the tip of Manhattan.

Shivani: I was fortunate to work on a team developing the National Center for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR) hospital in the Middle East, implementing BIM protocol and methodologies that would create a positive impact on the local community.

Shivani and Mallary credit Microdesk’s commitment to innovation for enabling them to further expand workflows and programs for both internal and external opportunities.

Mallary: The leadership has supported my many wild ideas and crazy initiatives to push our teams forward to be the best of the best. Being able to support and be supported at the same time is hard to find in any company, let alone in the fast-paced AECO industry.

Shivani: At Microdesk, you’re surrounded by the pioneering mindset of innovative people: this leads to exploring and ultimately being original. Starting as a humble solutions specialist, I’ve been able to truly push boundaries for clients and myself. Today, I have the opportunity to really channel and push innovative solutions that augment real transformation for clients. More importantly, my current role allows me to not only work with a great close-knit team, but also have the opportunity to make a real impact on communities around the globe.

Mallary: As women, we’re not conditioned to take charge of a situation or to command a room. One of my greatest career challenges has been coming to terms with my own lack of confidence, imposter syndrome, and second guessing myself and my work based on what other people will think.

The funny thing is, I’m most proud of the work I’ve done outside my comfort zone, those instances when I’ve had a crazy idea and ran with it. Those are the most rewarding situations because I’m leading and not following, gaining confidence because of the ambiguity of the situation where there is no right or wrong way to do something – that’s where the subjectivity comes in!

Shivani: It’s very easy for individuals to pigeonhole you. However, when you can break those glass ceilings, you have the opportunity to inspire, and that’s what I’d say is a great accomplishment – the ability to inspire others so they can inspire others.

The Women in BIM network is one resource Mallary and Shivani have found invaluable in terms of female camaraderie in a male-dominated industry.

Shivani: I rely on the support and shared knowledge that comes from the organization’s members.

Mallary: I signed up to become a mentor and I was perfectly paired with Lindsay Prichard-Fox of TiverBuilt. We have similar backgrounds in laser scanning and BIM which set us both up to strategize on how to grow professionally. We’ve been able to collaborate on several projects – we even spearheaded the adoption of BIM with Lindsay’s local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

They note more women are joining the AECO workforce and agree female leadership and trailblazing will be crucial to the industry’s evolution.

Mallary: The best advice I have is to ask for forgiveness, not permission. Strike out on your own, don’t be discouraged by others, do your own thing and follow those preposterous ideas because you never know where they might take you.

Shivani: Believe in yourself. It may not be straightforward, but as you push yourself, question yourself and don’t be afraid to question others on processes and protocols! You’ll grow, and you’ll encourage yourself and others to implement strategies that can make an impact – no matter how small you may think it is.