On March 8 every year, International Women’s Day is celebrated across the globe to bring greater attention to the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality.
At DFM Development Services, we are committed to building a workplace and industry where women thrive. In honor of International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of women around the world, starting with those on our team.
Melissa Diaz, Director of Permitting Services
To kick off our celebration, we’ve asked Melissa Diaz, Director of Permitting Services, a few questions on her experience achieving success in the real estate development industry and what advice she has for future generations of women entering the workforce.
How did you get involved with permitting services/real estate development?
During college, I worked for a small MEP Engineering firm as an administrative assistant. It was totally by chance – they were the company hiring when I walked into the Temp Agency – but I loved it. I spent my days answering phones, transcribing engineering opinions, and editing specifications. I appreciated contributing to the larger projects the firm was working on.
Someone else might have been bored, but my grandfather was a drafter at an engineering company, and something about it was in my blood. From there, I tried my hand at marketing – at a large construction company and for a real estate agency – but administrative work is my passion, and I went back to Office Management, this time for Muller, Inc. and DFM Development Services, LLC.
As an Office Manager of a small business, you get to touch so many aspects of the operations, from human resources and estimating contracts, billing, and marketing. Again, I was excited about my contribution to the overall picture.
When I graduated from Business School, I got the opportunity to head up DFM’s permitting services. I didn’t realize just how much of my skills would be used at the time. Permit expediting is all about managing multiple streams of information, organizing data, and translating it for the team. I also regularly connect with many of the people involved in the development process – developers, building code officials, general contractors, architects, and engineers – and they are all important people in my daily work. And nothing beats the thrill of seeing a building completed and thinking about the people involved, including us.
What piece of advice do you have for the next generations of women interested in a career in permitting services and real estate development?
My first piece of advice is that they follow their interest to the limit! At my first company, there were only two women engineers. Now I know dozens of women all over the industry working as developers, construction managers, designers, and engineers. So many people in our industry are willing to reach back to help you climb the ladder. You just need to ask.
Second, the next generations should insist on being paid what they deserve. Historically, work stereotypically performed by women, particularly women of color, has been undervalued in the marketplace. One of the ways we can combat that is with our own voices.
Finally, look around and reach out to possible mentors and contacts, and work hard to make them glad you did. I’ve met so many people in the industry who have given me a chance, referred me, and introduced me to their colleagues after a successful project. Consistency is key.
What is one thing you would tell your younger self about being a woman in the workforce?
At business school, we had that one class where we found out that women bosses are statistically lower-rated than men across the board. It turns out that sometimes when women do the same things as men, we’re perceived negatively for reasons that we can’t control. I have seen examples of this in my professional career – women in leadership roles that were not entirely respected. On the flip side, I’ve learned that you can create pockets of leadership and teams that can work against toxic culture and succeed without tearing people down. I wasn’t sure if those negative instances I had seen were inevitable for all of us. In the end, I chose to try the latter and help build our division to be both financially successful and professionally supportive.
What do you hope future generations of women will experience as they enter the industry?
The setbacks women experienced during the pandemic are disheartening, but it’s also changed our perception of what work-life looks like. Women are important actors in the industry, and we can’t afford to lose their essential contributions due to a lack of childcare or eldercare. I hope future generations experience the career they want with the flexibility and respect that will keep them in the positions they have worked hard to achieve.
What are you still trying to learn as you continue in your career path?
Ha! All of it. I learn every day how to be a better worker, manager, and teammate. I make mistakes daily and try to learn from them.
What’s your favorite part of your job here at DFM?It’s cheesy, but it’s definitely the people first and the clients second. Everyone here works hard and has a great attitude while they do it. I’ve been fortunate!
About DFM Development Services, LLC.
DFM Development Services, LLC provides development support services to real estate developers, contractors, home builders, property managers, and owners in the Washington, D.C. metro region. With strong connections to jurisdictional authorities throughout DC, Virginia, and Maryland, our experienced team can help you cut through the red tape of real estate development. Our core services include Bond Management, Permit Expediting, Environmental Compliance, Dry Utility Coordination, and Traffic Control Services.