To celebrate Women’s History Month, we at Areté thought it would be the perfect time to shine a spotlight on the powerful women that lead our company. We interviewed Marina Matijasevic, Steliana Mladenova, Gina Young, and Ivana Stojanovska about how they found their way into the remodeling industry, the advice they’d give women thinking about entering the industry, and much more! Check out the blog below to learn more about the women that keep Areté going.
Marina: “I studied Economics back home. I have a master’s degree, and I used to work as an assistant at a facility for a few years – I was teaching students economics at that time. I also worked as a supervisor in that field. I never thought I would end up in construction! I found it very interesting and different at the beginning, as all of my friends at that time worked in the trucking business. After 9 years, I still have difficulty explaining to people what I actually do when they ask.
Once they hear it, all of them say “Oh my God! That’s so interesting!” Yes, I think it is also, but it can be stressful as well. I remember not sleeping during the first few years, dreaming about installing baseboards and thinking about issues that arose that day and how I would resolve them the next day. Although it was tough in the beginning, I really like my job after all these years. Every day remains very different, but still very exciting. You deal with new problems every day. I always say we are not project managers, we are problem solvers. I like being out in the field as opposed to being in an office!”
Stelliana: “I actually didn’t have any real intentions of pursuing a career in the remodeling industry. Almost 8 years ago, I went to an interview at Areté Renovators by recommendation of my friend Ivana (a leader at Areté the Art of Design). I started here and I was immediately thrust into a very interesting and complicated remodeling world. It was an unforgettable experience where I was learning a lot every day. I was in the field and I was seeing all of the various remodeling processes with my own eyes.
Of course, that learning process included asking many questions (usually directly to the contractors) and personal research of all the new construction language, which led to some funny situations and memories. I started as a project coordinator and worked in that position for 3 years. In the beginning, I was involved in all processes around the project – from ordering materials, scheduling deliveries, scheduling contractors, explaining the scope of work, making design decisions when needed, constantly communicating with clients and contractors, and many more.
That was an experience that gave me so much and I slowly started to gain the confidence and knowledge that I didn’t have at the very beginning. From the end of 2017 until the present, I have been working in the property management division of our company, and since last year, I have been the leader of that department. Within my current position, I still constantly use my initial remodeling knowledge, as we are involved in a lot of remodeling at all of the properties that we manage. I can honestly say that I do like what I do as every day is different, and this even includes the different challenges and issues that have to be solved.”
Gina: “I never pursued a career in remodeling. I fell into the industry by accident. My grandfather owned a company in Chicago that specialized in underground utilities. He always used to take me with him on his job site visits to check on the crews. That was my first introduction to the construction industry. Beyond that, I worked for 7 years as a property manager overseeing condominium and homeowners associations.
As a property manager, I was always involved in some sort of large-scale commercial construction project from exterior painting, new construction single-family homes in communities that were still under developer control, roof replacement, pool construction, insurance claims, etc. When I came to Chicago, I met an Areté designer through a friend of a friend while at a bar one night, and the rest is history. She invited me to interview because Areté was looking for a social media manager and I jumped at the opportunity.
What attracts me to construction and remodeling is that no two days are ever the same. I enjoy talking to clients and building relationships, project management (although in my role from a business and marketing side), and design (a hobby of mine outside of work is interior design so I am always interested in seeing selections our clients make).”
Ivana: “I have to confess that I entered this field blindsided. Guided at that time by my curiosity, I found myself challenged to start in a completely new direction. I have a background in Pharmacy and Political Studies. This field was one that I had never tackled prior. My Dad was the one with a building degree, and I remember being proud of him when he first planned our house and built it from the bottom up. I was 7 at the time, and for me, it was an unforgettable journey.
Being an immigrant to the USA, I have always felt that a sense of home has been missing, and it left a deep hole in my heart. I believe that working on other people’s homes for a living has been completing the puzzle, and it’s definitely my main reason for getting into this business originally.”
Gina: “I think there are still forms of bias and double standards for women in any construction position. Our view of gender roles still dominantly shows that it’s traditionally a man’s role to do any heavy lifting and construction work. The key advice that I would give to any women who want to break into a male-dominated industry is to be strong, steadfast, and bold, trust and believe in her qualifications and strengths, and never stop learning. Challenge yourself to soak up knowledge everywhere you go. Join industry groups and surround yourself with people more knowledgeable than you that you can learn from.”
Ivana: “When I originally joined this business 7 years ago, yes! Especially as a woman with little-to-no experience, I was absolutely taken for granted. It was a difficult journey. The daily challenges will break you to pieces. My advice to any women in any industry is that they need to believe in themselves! Be curious and eager to learn, ask many questions, speak loud and open, make mistakes, be consistent, and always fight for what they believe is the right direction, business field, position, etc. There should not be a double standard after this many years and revolutions! We have proven, both in this field and in others, that women are trustworthy without a doubt. What really makes me happy is that I am part of a team with a lot of diversity, and with many successful and strong women.”
Steliana: “I do think that there are fewer biases now than 5 years ago because there are more women in the remodeling sphere now than before. When I started in 2015, there was a lot of disbelief from some male colleagues and contractors that a woman could understand and work in the field. I did hear a lot of comments like ‘What does she know? She is a woman…’ but I think you can gain respect through knowledge and experience.
That’s how it happened in my case. The first time in the construction field, colleagues and contractors were sometimes like ‘Hmmm…what is this girl doing here?’ After I showed that I knew what I was talking about, I immediately gained their trust and respect. We, women, manage well, multitask, organize and look after details, create great designs, and of course, have that ability to make anything we work on personal and add our special touch. I absolutely think that this field is a great symbiosis of men and women both working very hard.’ To all young women who are attempting to start in this industry, I can say – do not be afraid to ask and learn. Gain the experience and own it!”
Marina: “When I started, it was hard, to be honest with you. I felt that I was young for this job and didn’t know much, and I could tell that everyone was skeptical when they saw young women in the field. On the other side – some workers were happy to see a woman. They said it was refreshing, and that they were happy to help with any questions that I had. I became lifelong friends with some of them as well. I had huge support from Igor and Davor and all the guys in the field, and that’s what I needed to become stronger every day and gain more knowledge and be more comfortable in front of the clients. My advice would be: Just believe in yourself and go with the flow. You will achieve success!”
Ivana: “I admire women who own their own businesses. These are the women that continue to inspire me the most every day.”
Gina: “One woman in the industry that I am inspired by is Kristen Forgione from The Lifestyled Co. She worked in event management for several years and always had a passion for design. She started her design company by writing a blog about her home renovation with no credentials, no design education or licensing, and over the last 11 years has expanded her business into a design studio, working in new construction, and retail stores. I’m inspired to see a woman business owner balance a family, business, and personal life. From a career/professional perspective I am inspired by her transparency on social media, the way she leads and supports her team, and how she doesn’t hide the good, bad, and ugly in both her business and personal life.”
Marina: “I feel that this is important in order to break prejudices about women in construction! The other day, a client told us that he is happy to be working with women and that he trusts us more than men. I feel like we have more patience in communication with clients, a better understanding of details, and we know how to address some of the client’s issues better than our counterparts.”
Steliana: “As I mentioned above, women in particular have a great eye for detail, which is really important in the remodeling industry. This is especially when we know that the quality of the final product is the most important thing in a remodeling project. That same eye for detail is very important in design and management as well.”
Steliana: I do look forward to creating a bigger team in my division of Property Management and managing bigger and bigger projects in order to increase profits. Personally, I do value a stress-free environment, and taking care of my mental and physical health.
Marina: “I feel that I already achieved part of my business goals. The other part would be to have a team under me. Maybe have an assistant who could cover fieldwork and help with that part so I could work remotely and spend more time traveling. That’s my dream, to be honest with you, and everyone in the company knows that! Hopefully, I will achieve it one day. A personal goal of mine would be to have a family. Having a kid, with this field of work, will be challenging, especially without any family members being here to help.”
Areté is proud to be celebrating the incredible women that hold leadership roles within our company! Make sure you continue to uplift and honor the women in your life not only this month but year-round. Schedule an estimate today or call us at 773-610-4551 and let this team of experts create the space of your dreams.