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Woman of the Week: Marni Dicker, VP Infrastructure Ontario

Marni Dicker truly believes women can have it all, even if they work in a male-dominated industry like infrastructure.

The bulk of Dicker’s career has been in “a man’s world, with a hard hat on and steel toe boots.” A self-described “energizer-bunny”, she works full-time for Infrastructure Ontario (IO), chairs Women Build with Habitat for Humanity, is a distinguished visiting scholar at Ryerson University, is a mentor for the Women’s Executive Network, an executive sponsor of Women IO, and chair of IO Gives Back. All the while, she makes time to go to every single one of her sons’ football games.

“You don’t have to be ashamed to be a mother,” she says. “I almost over do it because I’m trying to lead by example. I have a young team with little kids. I want them to know it’s okay to go to your kid’s play at 11 a.m., because you don’t get those days back, and I get a better productivity from my team. Nothing is suffering. Work is getting done and family appreciates it.”

As Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary at Infrastructure Ontario, Dicker has a wide portfolio. She oversees six different departments — legal, procurement, strategy, communications, record management, and insurance — all the while being responsible for corporate governance. Essentially, there isn’t a file Dicker isn’t involved in.

Infrastructure Ontario is responsible for all major construction projects in the province, including the Eglinton Crosstown, which is part of a 12-plus billion dollar transit plan for the region. “That was my deal and transaction, putting the deal into market, procuring a partner who would be ultimately delivering the project.” she said.

The other big project she was involved in was the venues for the Pan Am Games, including the athletes village, which is currently being converted into a multiuse community.  For Dicker, the most exciting part of her work with the Pan Am Games was that they weren’t just creating a venue for a singular event; they were actually making a difference in people’s lives. “We aren’t only building infrastructure, we are building communities.”

Before joining the ranks at Infrastructure Ontario, Dicker spent 16 years with the SNC-Lavalin. She was recommended by a friend, and despite the fact that she didn’t know anything about engineering, construction, or real estate at the time, SNC-Lavalin recognized her capabilities and hired her anyway. They said they wanted someone smart and eager to learn — and that was Dicker in a nutshell.

She thrived in that environment, embracing every challenge. Twenty years later, she is one of the leading experts in infrastructure development and corporate counsel, something she would have been unable to claim if she hadn’t taken the extreme risk to leave her job in litigation for something completely out of her comfort zone.

Dicker’s heart and passion for the industry is revealed when she speaks of this difficult transition. She went from being a litigation lawyer to a businesswoman, but every new step has given her skills that make her incredibly successful in her field. As she says, she uses her legal training to provide excellent business leadership.

This dedication to the field  is noticeable when she speaks. She talks a mile-a-minute, exuding excitement over seemingly-small details of a project. You can tell she thrives under pressure and doesn’t back down from a challenge.

Dicker is very aware of how male-dominated her industry is, but acknowledges it’s changing, albeit slowly. “What I think we need is more examples of women who have been successful in those fields and we women need to actively mentor young women and take them under our wings to show them the ropes, because if we don’t they will be left behind.”

And that’s what Dicker is trying to do with Women IO and the Women’s Executive Network. She wants to be a mentor for other women seeking senior leadership and guidance. Some of the big topics during networking sessions include work-life balance and how to grow your career.

“We need to go out and show them [women] that working in the infrastructure world is no different than the female-dominated industry of nursing. If they see more women in the industry, it will incite them to joint the ranks of architecture or project finance.”

Dicker’s biggest strength is her ability to do it all, something she says is only possible “because I’m crazy.” She is one of those people who goes to the gym at 5:30 a.m., works hard throughout the day, and then still finds time to give back to the community. “I’m not happy sitting down, because I feel like I have so much to do and I have so much to offer, whether it’s personal to my family, professionally in the workplace, or in a volunteer capacity. It’s really gratifying to me.”

Dicker admits that this industry has made her a stronger person, but counters that it doesn’t mean you have to give up your femininity. And that’s something she hopes all women can begin to understand.

Last year, Dicker was recognized as one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women.

Preparing for climate change: how to make a resilient city

Nature is resilient, evolving and changing over time to survive surroundings. It is time for people to take a lesson from nature’s finest and learn how to be resilient.

Climate change is imminent and preparation is the key to saving cities that are otherwise under threat from rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and water shortages. AECOM, a company that designs, builds, finances and operates infrastructures assets for governments, businesses, and organizations in over 150 countries, is helping countries create a strategy to prepare for the future and survive the inevitable effects of climate change.

In a recent report report called “What’s Next in Making Cities Resilient?”, AECOM outlines a set of criteria that could change the way infrastructure is built in large urban centres, focusing on sustainable planning choices. By starting at the end, planners can predict the outcomes of potential natural disasters that could occur in the future and make decisions through strategy instead of just designing only for immediate city needs. The company also emphasizes the importance of maintaining and updating transit infrastructure to make sure that people and business can move around the city quickly. This also reduces the environmental impact of other types of transportation. Finally, city planning must begin using sustainable and resilient planning tools right now instead of in the future. Climate change has been determined to be true, and every city must be responsible and made aware of that fact.

Climate change will impact vulnerable areas around the world, and the coast is at the top of the list. Coastal areas are popular for human habitation, with 40 per cent of the population living in these regions. This creates key challenges for urban planners because of rising sea levels and the risk of flood. AECOM is working with these cities to provide insights on how to prepare for flooding and adapt infrastructure goals to this natural threat.In Australia, 85 per cent of the population lives along the island’s coastline. AECOM released reports that presented the future impacts and hazards of climate change to the federal government. In response, Australia has adopted a new set of standards called “Considering Climate Risks when Managing, Owning and Funding Coastal Assets”, which forces developers to properly assess how to build infrastructure that can withstand the impacts of flooding and extreme coastal weather.

To respond to a variety of planning challenges across the world, AECOM has come up with a Sustainable Systems Integration (SSIM) tool that measures the costs and benefits of any plan by making urban planning more environmentally focused. SSIM measures environmental, social and economic sustainability by analyzing energy and water usage, transportation options, green building, ecology and carbon footprints. For example, the city of Tianjin in China used the SSIM land-planning tool to decide on the most environmentally effective way to build the most sustainable city possible for Samsung, just south of Tianjin. The smart city includes electric car charging outlets and is built entirely on an LED light grid to save energy.

An approved criteria of SSIM includes using natural systems as a way to protect cities. Natural systems include flood plains, bioremediation tools, and using plants that absorb pollution. By creating green space near open water for example, this green infrastructure filters pollutants and helps prevent flooding by creating a natural floodplain between the city and the open water.  A city that is using natural systems is Jeddah, acity in Saudi Arabia, which has implemented green infrastructure in the form of green space at the waterfront to prevent from extreme flooding. This is an issue that plagues the city as climate change progresses.

AECOM is leading the way with resilient infrastructure around the world. Every city should begin to look at their urban planning agenda with the future of climate change in mind. Extreme weather conditions, whether it be fire or water, which will become more common and if we don’t prepare, our cities will be ruined. In the age of internet and mass communication, we have one final shot at saving ourselves from a planet that has been devastated by human consumption. What will you do to save our home, the great planet earth.

Building community

The Women’s Post office is a hub of activity, but unlike most media companies our work revolves around the stories we write and the charity work that our publisher, Sarah Thomson, is focused on at Civic Alliance and the Transit Alliance. Readers will notice that while we carry the usual fashion and passion stories we also write about city building – creating strong healthy communities. We believe that the future is shaped by the passion and commitment we put into building community and that each one of us has a duty to give back to the community. And we hope that you the reader can share in our passion.

This year the Transit Alliance is working on a series of seminars focused on educating our public servants at the municipal level with the goal in to update the entrenched procedures and processes that are no longer competitive or productive. The focus will be to share new ideas, and new ways to structure our large infrastructure projects in order to ensure efficiencies.

To that end our first seminar on Feb. 16, 2016 will involve a lot of terrific infrastructure leaders donating their times to moving our region forward. With the help of terrific leaders like Bert Clark, CEO of Infrastructure Ontario and Bruce McCuaig, CEO of Metrolinx who are both committed to building our communities. Tickets are available here.

The Transit Alliance will once again host the Toronto Region Vision Summit in April our goal is to develop a 50 year vision for the entire region. If you would like to take part early-bird tickets are now on sale here.

The Transit Alliance is also working on a series of education campaigns. Each campaign is focused on a key issue essential to unlocking gridlock and creating stronger and safer communities. The campaigns cover the need to fund infrastructure with user fees like tolls; the importance of the smart relief subway line; and updating our safety standards for road hardware and making our roads safer.  If you would like to help the Transit Alliance, or take part in our initiatives, please become a member here.

This year Civic Alliance will be focused on educating the public on the environment and the importance of lowering our carbon footprint in housing, as well as the use of electric vehicles.

We hope you enjoy the work we are doing and will join us in our effort to build a safer, stronger Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.