International Women’s Day in the BAS Industry

International Women’s Day in the BAS Industry featuring Therese Sullivan, Nancy Myers, Nicole Conklin, Stefani Szczechowski, and Jessica Wilson
Celebrating powerhouses from Cochrane Supply, CopperTree Analytics, Distech Controls, Tridium, and Yorkland Controls

Every International Women’s Day (IWD) is a chance to look at how far our society has come, and how far we still have to go. This year’s IWD is focused around promoting gender balance with the hashtag #BalanceForBetter. As IWD explains:

“Balance is not a women's issue, it's a business issue. The race is on for the gender-balanced boardroom, a gender-balanced government, gender-balanced media coverage, a gender-balance of employees, more gender-balance in wealth, gender-balanced sports coverage.”

As far as gender balance goes, our industry isn’t quite there yet. There are no hard and fast numbers that we could find about the building automation industry as a whole, but some piecemeal stats are notable. The Boston Globe shared a chart illustrating gender disparities in a variety of professions in 2017. It showed that women make up just:

  • 1.4% of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

  • 1.8% of security and fire alarm systems installers

  • 2.3% of operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

  • 2.5% of telecommunications line installers and repairers

  • 2.6% of first-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers

  • 3% of maintenance and repair workers, general

  • 3% of electricians

  • 3% of construction and extraction occupations

  • 3.5% of construction laborers

  • 3.6% of installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

  • 5.2% of computer control programmers and operators

  • 6.4% of mechanical engineers

Certainly the numbers would be higher if we took a big picture view of the building automation and construction industries, to account for the wide variety of both business and technical professions. But it is enlightening to think, for a moment, what it must be like for the 1.4% in HVAC; the 1.8% in security and fire alarm systems; the 2.5% of telecommunications line installers and repairers.

With that in mind, we’re shining a light on a few of the amazing women who help this industry prosper. We talked with people across business, product management and development, and engineering to learn about what they do, why they enjoy it, and what they’ve faced as women in a male-dominated industry.

Read on for insights from Therese Sullivan at Tridium, Stefani Szczechowski at Distech Controls, Nicole Conklin at Cochrane Supply, Nancy Myers at Yorkland Controls, and Jessica Wilson at CopperTree Analytics.

Therese Sullivan, Tridium

Therese Sullivan of TridiumTherese Sullivan is the Customer Marketing Leader for Tridium, working to facilitate a two-way conversation between the Niagara Community of Practice and the company. She’s been in this role for eight months, and has been a thought leader in the industry for years.

Therese’s path to building automation was somewhat circuitous. In 2007, she says, “I was balancing a career in technology marketing and being ‘Mom’ to two young children.” Juggling family and a full-time job didn’t leave a lot of flexibility, so she took a step back and decided to run her own consultancy. Living and working in the Silicon Valley meant that looked a little different, though. As Therese shares about the Valley, “Everyone seems to be involved in changing the world through technology. Even when you think you are stepping off the fast-track, someone entices you back on with their big ideas. So, it was with me.” It happened that her son’s karate sensei was an ASHRAE-accredited Electrical and Energy Consulting Engineer. He was working on one of the first Zero Net Energy commercial building projects ever. He asked, “Can you help me explain it to the world?” And Therese was sold.

If Therese could have any superpower, she says “I’d like to be a superhero that has the time-traveling hourglass that Hermione Granger used in the Harry Potter series. I could use that ability to be in two places at once, there is so much going on in this industry right now in terms of conferences, learning opportunities, and team collaboration gatherings.”

1. What do you love about your job? What makes you excited to go into work every morning?  

Working at the cutting edge of technology and on something purposeful. In the movie Forrest Gump, he always happened to be in the place where the most significant thing of the era was happening. That’s how I feel about my career in tech. And now, landing in the building automation industry, with all the technology converging here — the IoT, voice and video machine learning, the semantic web — all converging here, I feel like Forrest again.

2. Building automation is of course still quite a male-dominated industry. Is there an advantage to being one of a few a women in the industry?

The people that work, learn, shop, eat, heal, etc. in the spaces that are served by smart building systems are of both sexes. It just makes sense that you want some gender diversity in the people making decisions about how those systems function. It feels good to be adding to that diversity and I feel listened to when I offer my perspective. But, for the most part, when I’m doing the work required of my job, I don’t think that it matters much whether I’m a man or a woman. And compared to Silicon Valley, my work teams inside Tridium and Honeywell include a good percentage of women in decision-making positions. Getting to know and appreciating the great talents of these female colleagues certainly feels like a fantastic advantage.

3. What is a disadvantage to being one of a few women in the industry?

A huge percentage of women drop out of the corporate workforce when they have children because the demands of both get very intense, especially in hyper-competitive places like Silicon Valley. Once you are out, it can be very hard to get back in because tools, skills and people networks morph and grow obsolete so fast. Few women make it into the power roles that are conducive to becoming guides and mentors to other women, so this creates more exclusion. I’d like to break this cycle.

5. What advice would you have for people trying to get more women in the controls industry?

Offer flexibility in the heavy child-care and elder-care years — like flexible hours and work-from-home. With today’s cloud tools and teleconferencing, there is no reason not to. Also, encourage women in power roles to be mentors. Incentivize this activity.

6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?  

I have a Siberian Husky, so I do a lot of dog-walking. I also hike with my good friends in the wonderful open spaces we have here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Stefani Szczechowski, Distech Controls

Stefani Szczechowski of Distech ControlsStefani Szczechowski is the Distech Controls Regional Sales Manager for Southern California, and has been with Distech for almost five years. You might recognize Stefani’s name, as she was honoured as this year’s ControlTrends’ Woman of the Year.

Stefani started on her journey into building automation just over 11 years ago, when she was finishing her last semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She heard about a sales development training program with a large, well-known building automation systems company. The program piqued her interest: it seemed to her like a great opportunity to get technical training and learn about sales, public speaking, and even business etiquette. She shares that “Initially, it was exhausting with so much to learn when coming from zero prior industry knowledge. It’s been a very exciting journey and hard to believe I’ve been in this business over a decade now.”

If Stefani could have any superpower, it would be teleportation. She loves travelling, but doesn’t love long flights and the jetlag. Teleporting would solve all these issues.

1. What do you love about your job? What makes you excited to go into work every morning?

Well, I once heard in order to be successful in work, especially in a customer-facing sales capacity, you need to believe in three things: 1. You need to believe in your company. 2. You need to believe in your product. 3. You need to believe in yourself. I love working for my forward-thinking company Distech Controls; I have the best colleagues and minds in the industry. Secondly, I truly believe we have the best product in the BAS space, which makes it very easy to wake up and do my job every day. And lastly, I definitely believe in myself, although it helps having such a strong support team that is always more than willing to go the extra mile.         

In addition, I really enjoy that my role is a mix of technical skills and people skills. Almost every day is different. The industry is so dynamic and continuously adopting new technologies. Because there is always so much new technology to absorb, my learning never plateaus. For example, right now I am trying to expand my knowledge into IT and networking, as IP-based controls are growing more and more common. By the way, Optigo Networks and Distech Controls have been putting on some excellent webinars recently on IT and Networking!

2. Building automation is of course still quite a male-dominated industry. Is there an advantage to being one of a few a woman in the industry? What is a disadvantage to being one of a few a woman in the industry?

Advantages: Because there’s much fewer women I think it makes me more memorable when people meet me. In addition, because my last name is so long, I think I’ve just become “Stefani” where it’s kind of like “Madonna” or “Pele” or “Ronaldo” with no last name. Disadvantages: I think it takes a little extra effort to prove yourself when meeting new contacts.

3. Why would you encourage other women to pursue a career in building automation?

Most definitely! Building automation is overall a pretty obscure, not well-known field. We need to spread the word about this awesome industry.

4. What advice would you have for people trying to get more women in the controls industry?

Give them an opportunity and set them up for success with the right tools and mentorship.

5. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?  

I enjoy traveling and exploring new places, road trips, hiking, road biking, sunrise and sunset walks, watching sports (especially Wisconsin Badger Football or Basketball), petting other people’s puppies, and playing flag football and soccer.

Nicole Conklin, Cochrane Supply

Nicole Conklin of Cochrane SupplyNicole Conklin is the Product Manager with Cochrane Supply & Engineering, a multi-award-winning Industrial IoT Supplier. Within that role, she’s responsible for the growth and success of their large portfolio of product lines. To support this widespread effort, she and her team assist with supporting and managing vendor relationships, marketing planning, sales coordination, and much more to ensure the company’s sales teams have the best resources at hand. Nicole says that “There is something new to learn about products in this industry every day. It’s a constant effort to stay at the forefront of what’s available and how it can help our customers, but that’s exactly what I aim to do in this role.”

Nicole has grown with the company for nearly 20 years, starting off as a receptionist and developing her knowledge and passion for the industry over time. She’s always found herself pushing to take on more and more, even from when she first started at Cochrane. That paved the way for her to take on a variety of positions in the company, learning more about internal operations. One day, she was introduced to Building Automation using Tridium’s Niagara r2 Software Platform. She was responsible for purchasing the hardware and software, and helping customers understand how the product is purchased. Since then, Nicole’s continued to grow with Building Automation implementations and supporting the community.

If she could choose one superpower, Nicole would have to say teleporting. That way she could see and support more partners and colleagues, and attend more industry events without having to deal with the travel times.

1. What do you love about your job? What makes you excited to go into work every morning?

I love sharing my knowledge and curiosities with my colleagues. Whether I’m collaborating with someone at our office or am with a customer talking about new products and different ways of using them, I find joy in the discussions and the challenge of always taking what’s possible another step further. Once you get me on a topic I’m passionate about, it’s difficult to reel me in and get me to refrain from sharing.

I continue to find excitement in each day, and am equally excited to embrace what new things I’m going to learn in the process. I’ve been in the industry for almost 20 years now and I still learn something new every day.

2. Building automation is of course still quite a male-dominated industry. Is there an advantage to being one of a few a woman in the industry? What is a disadvantage to being one of a few a woman in the industry?

One advantage of being a woman in this industry is that I’m easy to remember. The role I’ve played has been more of a technical one, and as I get into conversations with colleagues, I tend to surprise them with the depth of knowledge that I have when it comes to technologies in buildings.

The disadvantage, however, is that in some situations I have had to work harder to prove my abilities and earn the trust and respect of our male-dominated industry. That just made me work harder and continue to push my capabilities, so the disadvantage has actually helped get me to where I am today.

3. Why would you encourage other women to pursue a career in building automation?

This industry is every-changing and the new technologies that are here and on the horizon bring so many possibilities. When you enter this industry, especially now, you’re in the middle of cutting-edge technologies that are changing lives and experiences as we type.  

If you’re a woman who enjoys collaborating with others to make new technology work harder to create a new wave of occupant experience, this is the industry to be in. End users are always going to want to know more about their building’s equipment, how to get them to work more efficiently, how to improve experiences, and we are the ones who help make that happen and support people along the way.

4. What advice would you have for people trying to get more women in the controls industry?

I think they need to look toward the younger generation of women — the ones surrounded by technology as a daily part of the lives. So many are living and breathing technology and do so in such a seamless way. The building automation and building controls side can be learned, the passion and natural take to cutting-edge capabilities needs to be appealed to first I think. Really focus on that side of the industry and really stress the difference they can make, how they can change emotion in the buildings around us.

5. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Well, if we’re being honest, one of my favorite things to do is sleep. Unfortunately, we all know there is no time for that. So when I’m not working, I enjoy being outdoors, doing things like camping, kayaking, taking our dogs swimming, or even just watching the sunset.

Nancy Myers, Yorkland Controls

Nancy Myers of Yorkland ControlsNancy Myers is the Business Development Manager of Building Automation and Smart Building Technology for Yorkland Controls. Nancy has worked all over the industry over the course of her career: she was a power engineer — one of the first in Canada — at a co-generation bio-mass plant, a Direct Digital Controls (DDC) technician, and a technical services/energy manager for a health authority. Nancy went on to become one of the first BC Hydro-funded energy managers, designing optimized DDC systems, consulting on large capital projects, and creating detailed specifications that worked in the healthcare system. She also worked with the Provincial Government on calculating the first Carbon Footprint for a health authority.

Nancy already had an industrial controls background in power engineering, so HVAC and controls were a natural fit for her. As she continued to work in controls, she became more and more interested in optimizing building controls’ system performance. She shares that “I used to call it tweaking systems. I had no idea what the energy savings were, I just liked to optimize and create systems that worked for the end user.” Today, she uses all her experience to work with end users, engineers, and building operators to help them achieve optimized systems and teach them what new technology can help them in their buildings today.

If Nancy could have any superpower, it would be to have every person look at others for who they are, not their gender, color, or beliefs.

1. What do you love about your job? What makes you excited to go into work every morning?

I love sharing my knowledge and working with clients on designing practical solutions for their buildings and using all of my hands-on experience to make sure they are getting what works for them. I still love getting in front of a DDC system and teaching users what is wrong with their systems and why.

2. Building automation is of course still quite a male-dominated industry. Is there an advantage to being one of a few a woman in the industry? What is a disadvantage to being one of a few a woman in the industry?

I started in a totally male-dominated field over 27 years ago, and it wasn’t welcomed and it wasn’t easy. I could tell stories that would shock most, but my father taught me from the very beginning of my career that it wasn’t going to be easy. He said you have to think about why they don’t want you there. Is it fear of you taking their job because you’re a woman? Is it sexual harassment concerns? Is it you’re not able to do the job and now they have to do your work too? He taught me to put myself in their shoes and show them that I was just there to do a job. And if they were still giving me a hard time to say “How would they like it if their daughter, sister, niece wanted to follow in their footsteps and they were treated like I was being treated? I just want to work and learn.” I used that everywhere I went, and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I knew I was being treated like I was because I was a woman, but I wouldn’t allow that to define who I was. There was no advantage to being a woman, but I can tell you it made me determined. I worked hard, I continued to learn, and I earned the respect of my colleagues. I still get some of those attitudes, but now I just laugh and carry on.

3. Why would you encourage other women to pursue a career in building automation?

I love what I do, and it’s not for everyone but it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman it’s fun, rewarding, and it’s always changing, and you’re never bored because there is a new building to work on with new systems to learn. If this is something you want to do then just do it. Don’t let anything stand in your way.

4. What advice would you have for people trying to get more women in the controls industry?

I’ve never played the woman card, nor do I encourage any woman to do that. If this career is really what you want to do then work hard, continue to learn, and never give anyone any excuse to doubt you. Ask questions and just do your job to the best of your ability and enjoy it. Don’t expect any favoritism. The one thing I wish I had learned sooner was to trust in my ability and stand up more for myself. I absolutely love what I do and I’m passionate about it and I don’t know if my career would have developed into what it is today if I didn’t have those people that made it hard for me and made me work twice as hard. But like they say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It just made me work twice as hard and learn to ignore the ignorance and get on with it.

5. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I enjoy many things like traveling, spending time with family and friends, I mentor, football, and do outdoor activities. Now I also enjoy teaching at BCIT, Building Controls Commissioning and Optimization and Building Controls Maintenance — I really am a geek.

Jessica Wilson, CopperTree Analytics

Jessica Wilson of CopperTree AnalyticsJessica Wilson is the Technical Services Manager at CopperTree Analytics. She started at CopperTree nearly four years ago, as part of the customer solutions team. Like many of the other women on this list, Jessica didn’t plan on a career in the field of building automation. She was taking electrical and computer engineering at the BC Institute of Technology, and initially intended to take the power option for her second year. But a presentation by the automation and instrumentation program caught her attention.

Jessica shares that “I liked the idea of controlling large pieces of equipment with my computer — seeing physical results from something I programmed would be satisfying!” She didn’t really think about building automation specifically, until a family member mentioned that she should consider the HVAC industry. Almost every building has an HVAC system that needs to be operated and maintained, and he convinced her that she’d be highly employable no matter where she decided to live. (This was during the economic crash of 2008–09, and job stability was a concern.) She’s also always had an appreciation for building design, so being involved in the construction process seemed like a good match for her interests.

1. What do you love about your job? What makes you excited to go into work every morning?

It’s definitely the people I work with that makes my job so enjoyable. I also enjoy the creative aspect that comes with working with software in a cutting-edge industry like building analytics. At the end of the day, I’m proud to help organizations run their buildings in the most efficient way possible and ultimately reduce our energy footprint.

2. Building automation is of course still quite a male-dominated industry. Is there an advantage to being one of a few a woman in the industry? What is a disadvantage to being one of a few a woman in the industry?

I used to do quite a bit of site work for my previous company, and I suppose I stuck out like a sore thumb. Guys on site would approach me out of curiosity and ask how and why I got there. These conversations were always supportive, and I got a lot of encouragement.

3. Why would you encourage other women to pursue a career in building automation?

There’s so many facets to the industry, and plenty of opportunity to try out new roles. No two buildings are alike; each one has its own set of challenges, so it’s never boring! You’re constantly learning, and finding creative solutions to new problems.

4. What advice would you have for people trying to get more women in the controls industry?

I think exposure to engineering needs to happen at a young age, so that by the time girls are in high school they know that it is an option for them. I encourage parents to sign their kids up for engineering camps and workshops, or get the kids involved in home projects. I learned a lot while holding a flashlight!

5. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I enjoy live music, hiking with my girlfriends, and playing softball.

What next?

As the building automation industry seeks to diversify, where do we go from here? What comes next? There’s much to be done, and these interviews highlight a few key ways that we can encourage women to enter the BAS industry. First and foremost, encouraging women to enter the industry really works. Think about presenting at universities; organizing training programs in technology and business; looking at the colleagues around us — whether writers and receptionists — and growing their strengths.

Amazing women like Jessica Wilson, Nancy Myers, Nicole Conklin, Stefani Szczechowski, and Therese Sullivan will certainly be at the forefront of leading and inspiring the next generation of women in the workforce.


A massive thank-you to all the incredible women who contributed to this article and shared their stories! We are so honoured to share your experiences.

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