Robbie Oldenburg is a Project Development Manager at Mortenson, a committee member on Women In Design Milwaukee, and a board member for the DBIA Great Lakes Region among many other commitments. Throughout her career, Robbie has been passionate in pursuing her goal to build strong communities wherever she went. From low income housing, high-end condominiums in the Third Ward to the Aurora Medical Center - Summit.
“I've been in the industry for about 20 years now, but I wasn't intending to be in construction at all. I was actually thinking of becoming an architect.”
Robbie grew up in a small town in a family that took pride in working hard. Many of her family members were contractors and owned farms. Respect was earned based on your work ethic and chores were not assigned based on gender norms. Everyone had equal responsibilities and an equal say. Her mother was a strong woman who set an early example for Robbie on how to advocate for herself and to know her self-worth.
At first, Robbie wanted to become an artist but also had a passion to help others. However, eventually she realized that this was not the most financially stable path. She decided to take an alternate path that she hoped would fulfill both her creative side and desire to help people while giving her a steady income. She enrolled in the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee – School of Architecture and Urban Planning, to major in Architecture.
As graduation quickly approached, Robbie realized that she had only learned the architectural side of the overall process, but had no idea how to bring them to life. So, she decided to immerse herself into the world of construction.
Robbie volunteered building homes for Habitat for Humanity during school. These projects gave her a sense of accomplishment for physically constructing something and understanding of how projects went together. She began her career working for several non-profits that built homes in the inner city, which also had a job training component. Soon enough she was a construction manager working to ensure teams had the correct tools, equipment, and resources to ensure all aspects of the project from design to construction ran smoothly.
“I always wanted to do community development, but never knew what that would entail or what projects would look like. As you grow in your career, you gain experiences and then can make a difference.”
Building Up & Empowering Others
Outside of her professional career, Robbie finds meaning in inspiring young girls and women that a career in male-dominated spaces is possible. She keeps it real, explaining that it is hard work, that the hours are long, and gender bias still exist. However, she encourages them to follow their passion if they feel drawn to it and explains it IS a welcoming, empowering, and rewarding career.
“It's important to visit middle school and high school girls to show them, ‘okay, you can be in a trade, you can be a craft worker, you can be an integrated construction coordinator, you can be a project manager, you can be a superintendent’, all are really cool and equally important. You can run the project sites. You can be an engineer or architect if you vision and want to design. It’s all about exposing youth to the vast careers in the industry and sharing a path to get there.”
It is important to not only show the young girls the possibilities of being in the AEC industry but for the young boys to see that girls can be in construction too.
Robbie believes it’s just as important to have the men in the room so they can gain a new perspective and understanding. This isn’t simply about getting more women in the room. Her goal is to eliminate gender bias in the workplace and to ensure all voices have equal weight.
“It's important for me to get more women into the AEC [Architecture, Engineering, Construction] industry. Since I started in the industry over 20 years, I have generally been the only woman sitting at the table. I want that to change. I want to make sure that we are represented.”
Robbie also helps to facilitate giving UWM students an opportunity to shadow professionals in the industry through an externship program at UWM. It’s important for them to understand the full spectrum of the industry along with all the different opportunities their degree opens up to them. Recently, she’s partnered with others to help plan the Women Developing Wisconsin conference, which empowers women in male-dominated industries like technology, real estate, construction, and business entrepreneurs.
“Work doesn’t always hit your passions and you sometimes need to fill the gaps. Joining organizations and networking is one of the single most important things you can do for yourself and for your organization. Your network will support and help pick you up.”
Managing a Dynamic Career
As Roberta’s grown in her career she has continued to evolve. Her vast experience has led her to a role as a Project Development Manger spending less and less time in the field building construction projects. She now focuses her efforts on building relationships. While this new role isn’t exactly what she envisioned when she first started her career, she welcomed it with excitement. What shapes Robbie’s success is her ability to take on new challenges, to never say no when an opportunity is presented, and to take something away from every experience. She empowers all women to do the same.
“When I was younger, I did not want to be off the job site. Today, I enjoy that I am able to help set up the project for success, that I'm able to help bring in the right work for our team. Every opportunity you get is a good one because it's going to lead you to something and you're going to learn from it. No matter what you do, take the opportunity to learn and do nothing in halves.”
You can find and connect with Robbie Oldenburg on LinkedIn.