No. 1 Must-Have: “My tribe of people. I could have never had the career I have had without the support of those surrounding me — my husband, my family and close friends I lean on daily who make up that tribe.”
Robyn Artis Lawler has enjoyed a long, distinctive career in the world of construction and design. She began in design and architecture before transitioning into construction administration and construction project management. She fell in love with design-build and architecture, and she relished jobsite visits. Lawler said, “That’s where a lot of my education outside of schooling came from. I found that early on, you just learned so much more being out on the jobsite than in an office.”
Lawler was extremely calculated in her career to learn as much as she could, making her way through almost every position at a design, architecture and engineering firm, then she entered into sales, marketing and operations positions to learn that side of the business. She joined a Division 10 construction company to work in sales and management with an ultimate goal of starting her own design-build firm. She achieved that goal and ran her own firm for several years. “I grew up in this industry,” she said. “I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
After running her own firm, Lawler now applies her years of experience and unique, varied set of skills to a new career at Clayco, where she serves as the company’s construction and design integrator, as the key communication link within the design-build process including internal processes, systems, collaboration and integration. Clayco is a real estate, architecture, engineering, design-build and construction firm. The company is ranked No. 1 on the Engineering-News Record’s (ENR) Top 100 design-build firms and No. 24 on ENR’s Top 400 contractors.
Lawler recognizes the challenge women face in the industry. She endured her share of adversity in her career. When she entered the field, she was usually the only woman on most jobsites. On one occasion, men on one site found it amusing to give her a pink hardhat while they all wore blue hardhats. “It wasn’t cute. The pink hat sat in my car. I got a blue hat just like everyone else,” said Lawler.
She encourages women in the industry to stand up for themselves, be courageous and clearly communicate their expectations — to not only ask for a seat, but take the seat.
Although Lawler has felt marginalized at times, she is deeply encouraged by the surge of women in the industry. “I think that we have a long way to go as far as equality and really recognizing female leaders and female leadership, but I do think we have made some major, major strides. You see a whole lot more females on jobsites and in leadership positions now than you did 20 years ago.”
Her desire to strengthen women’s roles is evident. Lawler chairs the ClaycoNOW (Network of Women), which is Clayco’s initiative to increase female leadership in the design, construction and real estate development industry. They aim to educate, bring awareness and empower women. Lawler considers the role as ClaycoNOW chair as one of her greatest professional achievements.
“And that has been one of the top honors, to turn around and help that next female who really wants to come into this market and grow, and to give her the confidence to do that and the leadership skill to be able to really succeed in this industry, which is extremely possible. It’s a very, very bright future. If any female wants a position in this market, there most definitely is one.”
According to Lawler, finding a mentor is the most important task for a woman entering the industry. “I tell people constantly, ‘You’ve got to find a mentor.”
“And as you’re going through your career, your mentors will change. Sometimes you’ll outgrow them. I have, and that’s a natural progression within your career. As you change, your needs, vision and opportunities will change, and all of that has to do with growth.”
Over the years, Lawler has worked with many people throughout the United States. She values those connections and credits those mentors with shaping her and helping her excel in her career.
While Lawler is encouraged by progress in the construction industry, she hopes for substantial change in the future.
“The industry is on its way with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts to advance women’s roles in leadership positions, but we have a far way to go — together.”
After 25 years in the industry, Lawler has no plans to slow down: “I’m definitely here to stay. I have a lot more to do, that’s for sure. A lot more.”