As Executive Vice President and Market Vice President of Gresham Smith’s Land Planning market, Jessica Lucyshyn leads a team of over 50 civil engineers, landscape architects, planners and surveyors in developing creative solutions that help grow livable communities. Named one of Nashville Business Journal’s Women of Influence in 2020, Jessica is known for her passion for her community and for advocating for women in the profession. We recently sat down with Jessica to discuss her own influences, her leadership journey, and her thoughts on the state of women in corporate leadership in 2022.
Why are you so passionate about your community involvement?
Jessica Lucyshyn: I think it’s incredibly important to be engaged in your local community because it allows you to participate in discussions and decision-making that will shape that community. One of the reasons I became a member of the Williamson County Planning Commission is so I could be actively involved in decisions that will impact my family, my neighbors and my local community as a whole.
Jessica (second from left) and Mickey Sullivan (to Jessica’s left) stop for a quick photo op in Germantown, Tenn., with Gresham Smith’s running club, circa 2015.
Who has been the biggest influence in your professional life?
Jessica: There have been a couple of people. One of them is my former business partner, Bill Burkett, whom I worked with for 15 years. I learned so much about leadership techniques and how to be good people leader from him. Another huge influence in my career is Mickey Sullivan, who is a Senior Vice President at Gresham Smith. One of the definitions of “sponsor” is someone who assumes responsibility for another person or thing. And Mickey truly embodies what it means to be a sponsor.
When I started at Gresham Smith as a Project Manager in our Land Planning market, I had just moved to Nashville from out of state. From Day One, Mickey mentored me and equipped me with what I needed to know about the firm and the market in Middle Tennessee. And that’s how he is across the board with all our employees. He’s such a great cheerleader and adviser—and he does it in such an unobtrusive way.
What is your personal mentorship style?
Jessica: I take the same approach as Mickey in terms of being a conduit of information as well as a sounding board. For example, I’m currently mentoring one of our project managers, and I’m always keeping her in mind for programs she may like to get involved in or information I feel she needs to be aware of. It’s been really fun to build that relationship.
“I have always been of the mindset that if you give your very best in support of leaders who recognize your talent and work ethic, then you will have opportunities to move up the ladder.”
Have you had to overcome any roadblocks as they relate to being a woman in leadership?
Jessica: Thankfully, I have never thought that anyone was intentionally holding me back in my career, yet I know there are some firms where that occurs. During my 25-plus years in the industry, I have always been of the mindset that if you give your very best in support of leaders who recognize your talent and work ethic, then you will have opportunities to move up the ladder. I personally never want to feel like I’ve been selected for anything because I’m a woman. That whole idea of tokenism really frustrates me.
As a female leader, do you manage members of your team differently from a gender perspective?
Jessica: I have struggled with that because I always strive to be impartial when it comes to my employees, regardless of gender. But at the same time, women make up such a small percentage of civil engineers employed in the United States—somewhere between 15% to 20%. My job is to make sure that I’m an advocate for the women on my team and that they can see a path for success so they don’t end up leaving the firm or the industry.
According to the 2021 “Women in the Workplace” report from McKinsey & Company and Leanin.org, one in five women report they are often the only woman, or one of the only women, in the room at work. What is your experience of being an “only?”
Jessica: I guess I’ve always been one to ignore the fact that I’m the only female in the room, and perhaps I’m just used to it at this point in my career. But obviously that needs to change. I recently listened in on a CEO roundtable discussion at an industry conference I was attending. I was sitting at the back of the room with another woman who was also just there to listen.
Out of the 65 to 70 people who were seated at the table, only one was a woman—and she was there to take notes. Not a single CEO from these very large firms was a woman. I was really struck by that and my immediate thought was: This needs to change. As I looked around the room, I hoped that others were having that same thought, too.
What do you think is your key to success in leadership?
Jessica: It is important to me to really care for other people at work—particularly my co-workers and my clients—to show they are a priority and to make sure I’m managing my time in a way that sets all of us up for success. Also, I’m one of those people who has always said: I want to do it all.
When I went through goal-setting at Leadership Orlando back in 2001, one of my main goals was that even when I had kids, I’d still work full time and continue with my community engagement activities. When I found out I was pregnant right at the end of class, I thought to myself: OK, I’m getting closer to doing that! I’m just not big into downtime and I like to stay busy all the time. So, I think that’s part of what makes it work for me.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with other women who are striving for leadership positions in both the A/E industry and in the corporate world as a whole?
Jessica: One of the key things I’ve learned in my roles as a wife, mother, and a woman in leadership is that you can have success in all those different categories and not let people down. It just takes a lot of organization. And I’ve never been one to hesitate when it comes to turning to other people for support—especially my very supportive husband!
There are going to be times when you need to rely on somebody else to help with the kids or the chores or letting out the dog—whether it be a spouse, your teenagers, a friend or your next-door neighbor. If you’re going to do more, then you’re going to need more in terms of a support system to be successful in your career. And I’ve learned that it’s OK to reach out for that help. Sometimes it takes a village!