Construction exec’s advice to young women: Don’t wait your turn; speak up

Marisa Palomo, executive director of the PENTA Building Group, poses in front of the company offices Tuesday, June 1, 2021.

Marisa Palomo has spent her entire career in a male-dominated industry. As executive director of the Penta Building Group, she has made it a point to reach out to young women, mentoring them and instilling in them the fortitude to follow their dreams, no matter where that path leads.

“I cannot think of a time in 20 years when I was not the minority female amongst a group of men,” she said. “Early on, I learned it was important to fight to get my voice heard, and I would often have a different viewpoint from those around me.”

Palomo helped charter a local ACE Mentor chapter — architecture, engineering and construction — that goes into high schools and encourages students to pursue careers in the field, and take charge of their own destiny.

“I’ve learned that instead of waiting for my turn, I need to make it happen,” she said. “Had I realized this sooner, the journey wouldn’t have been as hard; this is critical to know for women coming into the industry.

“Presentation skills is my favorite session to host for the students. Encouraging them to communicate their ideas in front of a group is key to their future success. I love encouraging young female students to find their voice, so their ideas and thoughts are considered, and they are not just learning to repeat the ideas of others out of fear of judgment.”

What inspired you to go into this field?

Right after college, I started working for an AEC firm in upstate New York. With a degree in human resources, I saw myself in more of a corporate office environment, working on compliance and employment law issues, perhaps for a large bank or insurance company. Shortly after joining the firm’s HR team, I visited the New Jersey office, where a project manager took me on a job-site tour of a high school he had designed, and which was under construction. I was instantly intrigued by the variety of people on the job-site, from the crews putting their hard work into every concrete pour to the architects watching their vision come to life. Everyone was so different from one another, yet equally passionate about their part in making the building come together. I knew at that point I wanted to be part of the construction industry; to contribute to the part of the business that encouraged, recognized and rewarded hard work and passion.

Our construction teams put their heart, mind and body to work. I have never seen such passionate, dedicated workers as in this industry, and that is what inspires me to help run a company that recognizes and supports those efforts.

How did the pandemic change your outlook on business?

Having worked through several economic ups and downs, including 9/11 and the 2008 recession, along with other challenges, I’ve never seen anything affect a business like this pandemic. In the past, I saw the value in supporting employees so they can do their job, but never really considered how much a company may need to do to help them personally, with challenges outside of work. Our company was considered an essential business, and our employees didn’t stop working, while schooling their children from home, dealing with sick family members, and sometimes working the job of several people and still getting the job done. We found creative ways to support them, such as remote work, school rooms at our offices, and care packages.

For me, this pandemic confirmed that when a team works on taking care of each other, they can accomplish anything. Never underestimate the value of a team coming together to find solutions and really caring about each other on a personal level. The pandemic broke through many personal vs. business boundaries and forced us to come up with solutions to help with both.

What do you see as the emerging hot spots for commercial real estate in Southern Nevada?

Nevada real estate and development is booming; buildings are coming out of the ground in every direction — so much so that it’s hard to identify a “hot spot.” I have personally witnessed growth in the southwest and continue to see exciting projects being built here.

What is the best business advice you’ve received?

Referencing my all-time favorite author and educator, Stephen Covey, “Begin with the end in mind.” As our company goes through strategy and business planning, this advice is critical. We cannot be reactionary; we must think ahead and know what we look like in the future. The pandemic has proven the path to the end may force us to take unplanned turns, but we still know what the end looks like. The makeup of our business may change over time, and in different markets and regions, but the company we are at the end is still what we envisioned.

Is there some business decision you’d like to have back and do differently?

As we look to recovery and continued growth in construction, I would like to have been less conservative on staffing this past year. With the current challenge of identifying and hiring talent, it would have been great to hire more people last year and have them ready to go now.

If you could change one thing about Southern Nevada, what would it be?

Having a strong public transportation system that provides regular, effective transportation from one end of town to the other. I know we are spoiled with rather short distances and little traffic compared to other cities, but I would love to not have to drive to and from work.

What has been your most exciting professional project?

Formalizing our company’s intern and scholarship program has been my most enjoyable project. Going through the annual process of screening and interviewing candidates, I am continuously impressed with the motivated students excited to join our industry. Many of the scholarship recipients have become first-generation college graduates, and seeing the impact the investment has made on their lives is very rewarding.

Describe your management style. How did you refine your management approach?

I would describe my management style as participative. Early on, I was much more authoritative because I constantly felt I had something to prove. Over time, I learned that open communication results in stronger solutions and better work product; the people you lead are more engaged and responsive when you include them in decisions. The hardest part of refining my style was finding the time. Communicating and getting buy-in takes more time and the busier you get, the harder it is to implement.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?

I’ve always fantasized about living in New Zealand, where, in my fantasy world, the weather is great, my skin is naturally repellant to all bugs, everyone is relaxed, and work is secondary. I have not yet been to New Zealand because I do not want to shatter my fantasy.

Whom do you admire and why?

I don’t have to look too far to find people to admire; I am surrounded by a group of admirable people, professionally. I do have to look a little further for female leaders I admire. Susan Wojciicki has always left an impression on me, especially after reading her Wall Street Journal article years ago, emphasizing the need for a strong maternity leave policy. Having four boys, I admire successful professional women who also have large families and understand the challenge of balancing family and work. I admire those who aren’t afraid to address the challenge of balancing motherhood with an aggressive career path. This is an internal battle most successful women deal with, but aren’t completely comfortable addressing openly.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

People who chew with their mouth open. This was drilled into my head so deeply at the dinner table as a child that I now am sensitive to anyone within 10 feet of me chewing with an open mouth. In true motherly fashion, I’ve passed this pet peeve along to my children.