ULI Colorado Blog

Women Leader’s Initiative Member and Sponsor Spotlight: Becky Zimmerman, Design Workshop

ULI Colorado is thrilled to highlight the incredible people and sponsors who are paving the way for the advancement of women in the industry and within ULI. In this feature of Design Workshop, we’ve asked Becky Zimmerman to share with us why she is passionate about the mission of ULI Colorado and our Women’s Leadership Initiative.

Becky Zimmerman
Design Workshop

About Design Workshop

Design Workshop, Inc. is an international firm providing urban design, land planning, landscape architecture and strategic services. Design Workshop, founded in 1969, with seven offices and 120 employees, have been involved with significant projects around the world.

Becky’s role at Design Workshop

I have two primary roles with Design Workshop.  As President of Design Workshop, I am responsible for leading the creation and implementation of strategies and objectives in accordance with Board directives and current market conditions; coordinating functions and operations between management areas (i.e., Finance, HR, IT, Operations, Content); and for performance of our seven offices.

I also serve as Principal on projects, leading our Strategic Services group using a multi-faceted process to advise clients on what to build and where to build it – or whether to build it at all. We provide analysis, strategy and implementation plans for master planning, entitlements, development economics and marketing.

Design Workshop is an ideologically-based firm that originated in academia. We have evolved as a learning organization, seeking out complex and challenging projects wherever intellectual interests lead. Wiith this as our foundation, for 50 years Design Workshop has created a culture and implemented numerous leadership development programs. A few examples include:

  • DW Emerging Leaders Program – Annually, five individuals across the firm are selected to participating in the 11-month program. This group meets monthly to discover issues and opportunities relating to office health, projects, chosen readings and ideas, events and projects on the horizon. Each participant selects a project that could benefit the future of the firm and leads a team to analyze and recommend solutions to the Board of Directors. In 2019, four of the participants are women.
  • Operations Manager Program – In each office, one person from the design studio is selected as the Operations Manager (OM) for a 1-3 year term. The OM has overall responsibility for the operations of the office including hiring, personnel issues, employee reviews, project resource scheduling, financial reporting, and representing the office in firmwide forums. The OM is expected to lead ways to improve the quality, efficiency and profitability of the practice. This is an important experience to be eligible to be promoted to Principal.
  • Knowledge Sharing – We are proactive in working with our staff to prepare and submit thought-provoking topics for speaking opportunities at professional conferences such as the American Society of Landscape Architects, American Planning Association, Congress for New Urbanism and ULI.
  • Graduate School Assistance – A graduate degree is necessary for advancement to the highest leadership levels in the firm. This requirement is based on the strongly held belief that the pursuit of a graduate degree is a transforming experience that results in increased confidence, intellectual and personal maturity, and professional capacity. Financial support may be offered.
  • DW Women’s Roundtable – I founded and lead a monthly discussion with all of the women in the firm via web meeting. The 56 women discuss topics such as Women & Confidence, Women & Swimming with the Sharks, and Women & Travel.
  • ULI Partnership Forum (Mentorship Program) – Each year, we support 1-3 employees across the firm to participate in the ULI Mentorship Program. This experience has contributed to leadership development for Jenna Harris and Cali Pfaff in our Denver office.

Why WLI?

Having spent my career navigating the “man’s world” of real estate, where often in a meeting with 20 people, I am the only female in the room, I believe that sharing my experiences can make it easier for young women today. Of course, having women in leadership roles in the real estate industry is important. We think, react, manage and lead differently than men. A women’s perspective is critical to a successful outcome. [I used to have a presentation called “Why Resorts Should Not be Designed by Men.”]

I wholeheartedly support WLI’s objectives:

  • To promote advancement of women in the real estate industry – Colleagues like Chris Frampton and others ask that I have coffee with a young woman they know who are interested in the real estate industry. I am happy to this and have these coffee meetings a couple of times a month. I even hired one of the women with whom I met.
  • To increase the number of women in ULI leadership positions – See my note in “backstory” below.
  • To increase the visibility of women in ULI and real estate – I make sure that when I am selecting a panel of speakers that at least one presenter is female.
  • To increase the number of women as ULI full members – This is where we lead by example. Design Workshop pays for 17 ULI memberships, of which 9 are women. Of the 7 full members, 4 are women. I am dedicated to facilitating personal and professional growth for women in our firm and to give them the tools and skills to be leaders in the industry. I dedicate time to coach women in our office on how to best navigate ULI.

Backstory:  I became a full member of ULI when I was 30 years old and was able to join a product council. I felt like the little sister in a fraternity of old white guys. I vowed to do what I could to change that. I worked my way up to multiple leadership roles at ULI national and served as chair of the RDC council for 4.5 years and on RDC leadership for 12 years. I worked hard to get more women appointed to the council and continue to do so as membership chair for the Travel Experience and Trends Council.

Involvement with ULI Colorado:

I decided decades ago that ULI would be THE organization to which I dedicate a lot of my time. I dialed back on other professional organizations such as the American Planning Association (APA) to accommodate this commitment. I did this because I believe that regardless of where you are in your career, ULI is an organization from which you can continue to learn. ULI facilitates lifelong learning.

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