Women's Journal

Breaking Through the Glass Wall and Ceiling

Breaking Through the Glass Wall and Ceiling
Photo Credit To: Adrian Ong

What does that mean for one woman in construction?

She remembers a time, 18+ years ago, when she was always the youngest in the room, the only woman in attendance and the only minority at the table. Almost 20 years later, that uneasy feeling still feels so palpable. She admits things have improved dramatically, and the construction industry is trending the right way. 

Still, as she continues to pave the way for the next generation, she is frequently reminded of how long the road is ahead for many women, especially those who look just like her. Dianne Lee arrived in America from Malaysia at the age of 17, never imagining in her wildest dreams that she would end up in the City of Angels, a city filled with excitement, 10+ million people and a mecca for all things Hollywood is known for, and where for some, dreams really do come true, and it certainly has for her. 

But her rags-to-riches story as an Asian immigrant to Los Angeles, California, is just a small piece of her unscripted success. In her book, Leveraging Stereotypes to Your Advantage, she shares intimate details about her challenges, from being undermined and snubbed from unprofessional experiences with colleagues and unwarranted advancements from clients to being stereotyped for her accent and ethnicity.

However, her cultural upbringing and ability to see the good and the bad in what she calls the “yin and the yang” have allowed her to flow steadily through corporate America while making a name for herself in a highly competitive and dynamic environment, the construction industry. 

Today, she is focused on building the next generation of women in construction, and she does this quietly, passionately, intentionally, and most of all fiercely. In an industry where men dominate and continue to get promoted more frequently than women, she is using her voice and platform to help others discover their own path and find the courage to speak up for themselves. 

In doing so, she first starts by learning and leaning into their story. Because she knows getting to know their history and journey and what has led them to the present day is critical in charting a successful path forward. Dianne has chosen to dedicate her time to this cause, responding to a variety of requests from current and future mentees, some borne from mentorship programs, others more directly, through LinkedIn requests and mutual connections. 

She is so committed to elevating and promoting the next generation of women in construction that she makes it a point to never turn down a mentee’s requests for a meeting. In fact, she feels it is just as important as having a meeting with a client, and she gladly juggles both, finding the time despite a demanding work schedule. 

Her approach is designed around a combination of strategies and applications. She offers to listen, guide and recommends learning opportunities as the first steps in building trust and credibility. She is an advocate for forging connections with other industry leaders who can provide invaluable insights and, in many cases, guidance to take careers to the next level. 

As a mentor, she is also focused on maintaining accountability and receiving progress updates related to each mentee’s journey. She knows this strategy works because she has seen so many under her counsel gain confidence and clarity while shining in their own light. 

She believes in channeling four keywords that comprise most of her daily vocabulary. To inspire, ignite, empower, and unite all women in their journey and in any phase of their career paths. 

Everyone is welcome in this conversation, even the men in the business. 

She starts with the word inspire. The word inspire is not limited to being the one that inspires others. But really to seek inspiration in conversations with and from others. She encourages opportunities to have meaningful relationships so you can appreciate and respect the other person’s struggles and sacrifices. She recommends keeping an open mind and view on ways to find inspiration that surrounds us on a day-to-day basis. 

We all have things we care about, and some things tend to resonate more than others. Often, these things are known as our passions. But if unattended to, due to distractions and other obligations, our passions could sit idly by, and that idleness will lead to stagnation. This is where igniting our passions is vital to keeping our purpose alive. She recommends revisiting and igniting the flame as often as you can so that there is constant motivation to live passionately. 

In Chapter 7 of her book, Create Your Passion Plan, one that makes you get up and dance, she shares gruesome details about the tragic death of her brother and how that serves as an evocative to living a life filled with gratitude and passion for giving back. She metaphorically suggests dusting off our dancing shoes and heading to the dancefloor. 

The word empower gets thrown around a lot; for her, it extends beyond empowering individuals. It also means finding your voice and bringing value so you can feel empowered to be in the room, be included in important discussions, and help drive the company’s vision forward. In Chapter 12, she breaks down the meaning of being self-motivated and how that motivation translates to empowerment. 

Feeling empowered supports how you handle workplace conflict-sensitive and critical conversations and allows us to overcome barriers to success by utilizing innovative solutions and approaches. Did you know that companies with more women in leadership positions are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors? (McKinsey & Company). Feeling empowered doesn’t mean being arrogant, for her empowerment means having the ability to engage with influential decision-makers and industry experts while gaining invaluable insights through thought-provoking conversations in a collaborative manner. 

And perhaps the most significant word in her repertoire is the word UNITY. For her, it is so much more than just coming together. She suggests finding like-minded individuals who are striving for the same goals in life. Additionally, unifying creates momentum; the greater the community, the bigger the impact. And it is in uniting on a common goal that change happens, and she is on a mission to bring about substantial changes. To break down and eventually even shatter the glass wall and ceiling so all women can feel a sense of belonging with equal opportunities in positions, promotion and pay. 

She embraces these four keywords as her mantra and as a roadmap for a successful professional and personal life. She is sharing what life has taught her as a blueprint for others to achieve the best of what the yin and the yang give us. She invites all women to join her in this movement and, in the spirit of inclusivity, also invites all men to actively ensure women are seen and heard at every meeting. She hopes to leave this legacy behind and for what she wants to be best known. 

Dianne Lee is a first-generation immigrant from Malaysia. With 18+ years of construction industry experience, she is the Executive Director of Business Development and Strategy for Kitchell. She is also the author of Leveraging Stereotypes to Your Advantage. A self-documented journey of Dianne’s path to America as an Asian immigrant and how she is actively representing the construction industry, written with the purpose of inspiring – igniting – empowering and uniting all women to achieve greater equality in the workplace. 

She is an enthusiastic industry advocate and has been credited with multiple billion-dollar contract awards both nationally and internationally. She is a transformational leader specializing in business development and the implementation of strategies to advance objectives and is a proven executive with a robust portfolio of clients, having represented regional and global multinational companies. 

As an industry influencer, she highlights the contributions of women and minorities in a highly male-dominated industry. She herself has successfully conquered social and gender stereotypes and has consistently set an example for the next generation of minority women by creating a path for them. She knows that seeing is believing and walks the talk. 

She utilizes her Board positions and engagement with professional organizations at both a national and local level as platforms to advance women’s roles and contributions. Dianne is a Certified Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leader (CDEIL) and Certified Business Management Expert (CBME). 

To learn more about Dianne Lee:



Leveraging Stereotypes to Your Advantage is available on Amazon

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