Last year, amid the turmoil caused by the mounting pandemic, the Commercial Observer recognized a number of the industry’s up and coming professionals in the AEC industry, as well as commercial leasing, sales, debt and equity verticals. Among the names on the list was Filomena Nigro, Project Manager and Sustainability Manager at CNY Group. As the assistant project manager on CNY’s Crossing at Jamaica Station development, Nigro was named one of 2020’s “Top 20 Architecture, Engineering and Construction Pros Under 35.”
A member of the construction management team handling procurement and construction phases of a high-rise mixed-use project in Queens, New York, Nigro also has been working with several non-profits to promote sustainable development in the AEC industry.
We sat down with Nigro to get her thoughts on today’s construction market.
What are you seeing out there today?
Like every other field, the construction market has been shaken by the ongoing pandemic. The multiple lockdowns and shift toward remote working have drastically changed what we need from buildings. Now that we are spending so much time indoors, CNY believes the need to balance healthy living with aesthetic elements of interior design has accelerated. Residential projects will focus more on natural light requirements, materials transparency, air quality, etc.
I also believe the pandemic has forever changed the way office projects will look. As businesses operate more virtually, I expect to see physical office spaces as hyper-flexible hubs shared among different firms.
I believe that young professionals will greatly enjoy the opportunity of a mentoring relationship with women in senior positions—women who were pioneers at a time when it was unusual to see them step onto a construction site.
How did you get started in the industry?
I came to the US from my home country of Italy as soon as I graduated from architecture school. I immediately realized how competitive the New York job market was, especially for someone like me, who at the time did not have any connections or a lot of work experience under my belt. I was mainly interested in design and architecture firms. Still, during my job search, I was given the opportunity to work for CNY as a construction project manager, and I took it in a leap of faith. I never looked back. What I thought was a temporary phase of my career became my true calling.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the past few years?
There are two predominant changes. First, sustainability is a topic that has become relevant in the building industry. As such, CNY has quickly pivoted to make sustainability an essential component of each project they consider. We currently are refining Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policies that—in part—influence how our company is perceived by clients and valued by our colleagues. Second, women are becoming more present in the construction field. I take pride that we have female project managers involved in almost all our projects. When I walk into the office every morning, I feel like I fit right in.
Name some of the opportunities available for women today.
I think that now more than ever, women have the chance to rise to high-level leadership roles. Also, I believe that young professionals will greatly enjoy the opportunity of a mentoring relationship with women in senior positions—women who were pioneers at a time when it was unusual to see them step onto a construction site. Every time I speak to women who have been in our field for a long time, I am astonished by their strength. I was able to find a great mentor at CNY, and the guidance and advice that I have received has been invaluable.
What challenges remain?
Change, like everything, takes time. The challenge is for women not to let their guard down and keep leading the fight toward gender equality. Sometimes we can be tempted to be complacent about certain behaviors because we trust things will eventually get there, but we should never miss the opportunity to influence our industry and push for greater diversity, equity and inclusion.
What’s the biggest lesson the past year has taught you?
The importance of being adaptable. The pandemic taught me how to find alternative ways to achieve my objectives and get the work done, even when the world shut down. We are lucky to be living in a society where many tools and platforms are readily available to us, and we need to take advantage of them. We just need to be creative about it, and sometimes overturn the rules of the game.
What’s the biggest item on your to-do list?
It is working on my to-do list. At the end of every day, I prepare a list of a few essential things I need to prioritize the day after. As a project manager, it is easy to get carried away by the stream of calls and challenges from job sites, but the things on that list always take me back to what is important.
The first thing you’re going to do when things get back to normal?
I am looking forward to traveling. I miss exploring other countries and discovering new cultures. I won’t ever take that for granted again.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Always treat people with kindness and understanding, because you never know when you will need their help in the future. This concept was instilled in me by my coworkers and supervisors at CNY. They taught me that relationships with contractors were never just transactional. Being personable and diplomatic have now become as important to my job as other more technical skills.
What’s the advice you would share with women just coming up in the industry?
As women, we often suffer “imposter syndrome,” which makes us doubt our own competences. In construction, that only adds to the general assumption that women don’t belong to this field. I would encourage young women who want to enter the industry to take the time to do their research, understand every aspect of the project, and always be prepared. When you are the most prepared person in the room and you can speak with knowledge, you will feel it and you audience will feel it, too.