BreakTheBias Series: Anne Slick & Jacqueline Bruntjen

Spotlight Series:

Chatting with Anne Slick & Jacqueline Bruntjen


Anne and Jacqueline talk to us how they came to the food & beverage engineering industry, what inspired them to start the Women@DG Employee Resource Group, and what their first goals will be.

1. Thank you both for speaking with us today! Let's kick off with a little about what brought you into your respective fields.

Jacqueline Bruntjen: My love affair with buildings started about ten years ago when I was working for an environmental firm. Part of that job was sampling the building materials, working with hazardous materials, so it had elements of scientific theory and analysis which I enjoyed, but I found I was really drawn to the buildings and the design of their systems. And then when I was job searching, I had a conversation with Tom [Dennis] who said, why not come here?

Anne Slick: I didn't start in architecture right away. I was a filmmaker, working on documentaries. But I had always been fascinated with the building process and was the handyman in my family. One of my dad's favorite stories is how we were late to dinner one time because I was fixing the patio. I ended up going to graduate school for architecture and worked in a few different sectors before I joined Dennis Group.

"It's not sexy architecture, but it's fun and important and cool, especially when you see products on grocery stores shelves and go "hey, we built that facility."

2. What was it like coming to food & beverage work?

AS: It's a different sort of architecture, where you're building a similar type of shell each time, but the details can be very different. It's putting the pieces of the puzzle together and working with types of engineers I hadn't even known existed. I find it so fun. It's not sexy architecture, but it's fun and important and cool, especially when you see products on grocery stores shelves and go "hey, we built that facility."

JB: It's very fast-paced. We design the building around the process, so things like the process and utilities and wash downs affect the design. It's not so simple as "this is just a different product," there are so many different considerations and challenges, especially from an environmental or sustainability standpoint.

For example, in one project, there's a huge roaster in the middle that puts off a lot of heat and create a thermal dynamic that affects the energy loads and environment of the building around it. And then we can look at how to make it more efficient and use less gas and electricity. I had to learn about mechanical and electrical engineering pretty quickly!

3. What are some current hot topics in the worlds of sustainability and architecture?

JB: In December 2019, all my conversations took a sharp turn into global warming potential, carbon emissions, and carbon reductions. The Sustainability field is exploding with new technologies, materials, and measuring systems, in which carbon is the big focus. The whole industry is scrambling to figure it out because it’s so urgent. Often, there’s a divergence between the people who make lofty carbon reduction goals in the C-suites and those on the ground in the facilities scrambling to figure out how to meet them with little shared language between them.

The punch line is that renewables need to be brought into the master planning for these facilities very early to achieve carbon reduction goals economically. RECs are a commodity that will only get more scarce. So part of sustainability is bridging the gap between upper management and the boots on the ground by designing mechanical & electrical processes that reduce energy usage, documenting it, and teaching them to talk in a common language, carbon.

AS: We're often using the same kind of materials and building the same kind of building in this industry, but like Jacqueline mentioned, I find it so interesting because if I were working in residential, I'd be designing for the client's needs and here we're designing around the process. I find that fascinating. COVID affected design trends and the supply chain, so we're reaching outside of the box to try and fit the timeline, to fit the budget. I'm sure it's the same for you, Jacqueline, to try and make sure a building is sustainable.

4. The two of you recently started the Women@DG ERG. How did that idea come about?

JB: It started as a conversation at the holiday party, as we were looking around and Anne was saying "wouldn't it be great if we had this?"

AS: To me, it shouldn't be something special or unusual, you know, it's just something that should be there. We need a space to talk to each other and listen. Sometimes I find I'm the only woman on the team or in the room, and that doesn't necessarily bother me - I'm perfectly capable of standing up for myself or my profession - but it's nice to be able to talk with people like you and to have that support. 

"To me, [an ERG] shouldn't be something special or unusual... it's just something that should be there. We need a space to talk to each other and listen."

5. Speaking of mentors, do you have any role models you look up to?

JB: I directly report to Mary Frances [Stotler] and she's been a major influence for me. She created the departments that I work with, and I appreciate her management style a lot. She's great at working with everyone and setting expectations around timing and deliverables. She's worked so hard and she's not afraid to speak up for herself, but she also brings this grace to her management style. You know in the construction world, it can often get pretty aggressive and confrontational, but she recognizes that it isn't always necessary. You can be calm and diplomatic and still get things done and done well.

I've definitely tried to emulate her style and set a good tone with everyone in the office. I think she's a great leader and now that she's a Senior Partner, it's opened many more doors for other women to follow into management here.

AS: My previous firm was woman-owned and my boss was a great role model for me. She was just powerful, and I found that fascinating. But even if you're not the most important person at the office, I think you need to stand up for yourself where you are.

On a job site I definitely get more curious looks than my male counterparts, but I try to be positive about it, and when I see a woman who's a site worker or PM I want to give them a silent high-five and be like "yeah, we're here!"

6. Have you faced any challenges as a woman in the workplace?

AS: I started at DG three years ago and at the time, my husband and I were trying to get pregnant. And I remember thinking: 'oh no, if I get pregnant, these men will think I'm tricking them." Even knowing that wasn't the case, it was still in my head. I felt like the professional thing to do was to put my life on hold and not get pregnant.

Since then I've gone on maternity leave twice and was fully supported by my PMs and my colleagues, and now I'm a mom of two strong young women. But it's like my work stresses and personal life stresses have compounded, because as much as I talk equality in the workplace, I'm still in charge of probably 95% of everything at home: nannies, daycare, food, supplies, travel arrangements, all those things. I mean, it's hard. I'm still a woman running a family.

Personally, I haven't experienced a lot of bias in the workplace, so it's like: why am I doing it to myself at home? Maybe I should start an ERG for my family.

JB: My biggest challenge is that I'm naturally a pretty happy, bubbly personality type. At my previous firm, I worked hard to hide that, to be more serious, and wound up coming off as very strict and rigid. I did that because I wanted to get into leadership and to be taken seriously. But at the end of my time there, my team said "Jacqueline, we're not robots like you," and that was a real shock to me. I felt very conflicted because I was hiding a huge part of my personality.

So when I came to DG, I made a conscious decision to not do that anymore, to be whoever I want to be right when I want to be. I'm going to say all the silly jokes and laugh and just be myself. There were a few comments about how people might not take me seriously, but to those I kept saying "no, this is my choice, and you need to respect that this is who I am."

7. How would you say things are at Dennis Group?

JB: There's so much to learn here and I love learning! One thing that's great about my colleagues here is that they're always happy to answer my questions and engage with me. People here are so affirming and I feel really supported.

AS: On my very first day, I happened to be home in Atlanta and got picked up to go to a job site in Rome. I hadn't met anyone, I hadn't been to the office, it was me and this six people in a minivan going "here's your laptop, do you have a hardhat?" I didn't even have an email yet. But the trust and the respect as a professional I was given in that situation was great. There's a lot of openness here, no micromanaging. You just need to ask a lot of questions and find your way, which I think is great.

"It's about listening, learning how to communicate with each other, learning the language to discuss these issues and respect people."

8. What are some initial plans for the Women@DG ERG?

AS: Our first project, a nice quick easy one, is to make sure every office has a mother's room. Currently, all the offices in buildings we own, aside from Atlanta, have one.

We also plan to update the sexual harassment training. You know, we keep our safety standards up to date, so we should do the same with harassment training, especially considering gender diversity, not just women and men but the range of pronouns, and just trying to be more sensitive to different populations.

And then we hope to start a mentorship program. But we're very interested in hearing from the people joining the ERG. What initiatives are they interested in? What do they want to see? What are their needs? It's about listening, learning how to communicate with each other, learning the language to discuss these issues and respect people.

JB: We're putting together a proposal to the senior partners, and then we'll develop a budget for our initiatives, like the mentorship program and maybe an outing somewhere for a get together outside of the office. We want to create a supportive community.

AS: We also want women's sizes for Dennis Group gear! We don't all need men's long sleeve shirts.

9. The theme for International Women's Day this year was #BreakTheBias. What does that mean to you?

JB: For me it's about breaking my own internal biases and re-examining my expectations of myself, because I've realized other people don't think the same way about me as I see myself. I have this image of what I'm supposed to be in my mind, and so for me it's about breaking through the limitations I've placed on myself.

AS: I think it's about respect, support, openness. Whatever #breakthebias means to each person, to get there we need to utilize the tools we have to communicate and listen.

"... A woman shouldn't have to feel like she can't be herself to be a professional. Be yourself."

10. Thank you both so much for this great chat! One last question: What advice would you give to young women coming into the industry?

JB: Don’t overthink it. You might feel anxious and like people are watching your every move, but the truth is no one is paying as much attention as you might think. I spent a lot of my early twenties overanalyzing situations and being extremely harsh & critical of myself when the truth is no one else had thought twice about the situation. Don’t be mean to yourself. There is no urgency to rush through college into a career. Get to know yourself and your strengths. Enjoy the journey, life is long, and you will likely end up in multiple jobs before finding your calling.

AS: Just be yourself. You know, you get a tattoo, you're serious or not so serious, who cares? It has nothing to do with who you are professionally, and a woman shouldn't have to feel like she can't be herself to be a professional. Be yourself.

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