All Questions Answered with Jenny Niemann
Recently I had the opportunity to sit with a group of fellow women architects and designers and ask questions of Jenny Niemann, the President of CEO of Forward Space. Forward Space is an independent Steelcase dealership in Chicago. Jenny spoke to the group at AIA Chicago about her career path and how she transitioned from roles in IT, general management, operations management, to top-tier company leadership.
Her immediately apparent positive attitude helps to explain how this woman has become the powerhouse that she is. When asked questions about how she faced challenges in her past jobs or dealt with poor management, she speaks of optimism, an eagerness to learn and challenge ideas, and a willingness to be put in out-of-her-comfort zone situations. She was in control of her destiny from the beginning, assertive and not letting her career simply happen to her. Once she was too comfortable in a role, she changed focus to improve another aspect of herself or learn a new skill. Jenny is an excellent example of how we aren’t bound to the traditional architectural roles, and can weave throughout the industry, trying out different roles, until we find our optimal fit.
Jenny posed a few questions to the group to get us thinking about our lives, careers, and happiness. There was one question that seemed to truly resonate with the group.
Are you running toward your next opportunity or away from your current one?
In the architecture industry, it is pretty common for us to change jobs every few years, whether it be for a new challenge, increase in pay, or an intangible benefit, such as work day flexibility. When considering a new position, it’s important to deeply think about the question Jenny posed. Is one option better than the other? Are both paths part of a successful career? Can both exist at the same time?
As a young architect, it was great to hear from Jenny and how she has made an impressive career for herself, enjoyed her family life, and is willing to give back to her communities. Another question posed by Jenny revolved around these concepts.
What groups or clubs or organizations help you be a better professional, person, and family member?
As the President of CWA, I quickly expressed my fondness of our organization and how it has benefited my life so far. Belonging to organizations such as ours, or one of the other amazing organizations in the AEC industry, volunteering groups, or charitable groups, has many benefits, outside just aiding in our professional life. These groups lead to friendships, mentorships, and a feeling of purpose and belonging. Jenny is a member of the Chicago Network, the cohost of this event, and a trustee on the board of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. She carefully evaluates whether she can give her time to an organization and if it will be a good fit. The fact that she sees great value in assembling a group of young, female architects to share her knowledge speaks about her values.
As Jenny has two children, the topic of work/life balance and having it all was bound to come up. She spoke of the late nights and travel that comes with being in management positions. As she is always a woman eager to learn and advance her skills, she loves working and derives great fulfillment from it. As a caring mother, she also values quality time spent with her family. Jenny spoke of devoting time to her children and truly being present when she is with them; quality over quantity. When she is spending time on an activity with her children, she is focused on them, with the phone or laptop stowed away. If she needs to work late, then the work must be done after her children are tucked away in bed. She also has a supportive husband who helps share in all the parenting responsibilities to make sure one parent is always available.
Having Jenny take the time to speak to a small group and offer advice was truly amazing. She cares about helping the next generation of empowered females, and refuses to be a manager who yanks the ladder up after her. She is a kind of role model that many young women should look up to. To be invited to join an elite networking group of female leaders is a high honor, and she is more than deserving. I can’t wait to see what she has in store next.