In the new class of 61 appointees to the Order of Canada announced Dec. 30, it’s safe to say only construction engineer Gina Cody used to climb and inspect tower cranes for a living.
Cody, former CEO and owner of CCI Group, is a woman of many firsts.
The Iranian immigrant was the first woman to earn a PhD in building engineering from Concordia University. She was the first woman in Canada to have an engineering school named after her. And yes, while in her early days at CCI, she is thought to be the first female construction crane inspector.
Cody, of North York, Ont., admitted she still tends to pause and take a look as she passes a construction site with a crane.
“Cranes are an essential part of the operation,” she said. “When the crane shuts down, everybody has to go home.”
Scaling the apparatus, in fact, is an apt metaphor for her successful career in the sector and the numerous awards she has won.
Her Order of Canada citation as a new member stated it was for her “long-standing career as an engineer and business leader, and for being a trailblazer for women in the field.”
“It couldn’t get any better I would say. This is the highest ranking,” she said of her recognition. “I’m quite honoured. I was delighted to get it obviously.
“A lot of this is luck, a lot is hard work and a lot is the society that gave me the chance and the people around me, creating the platform for me to be able to succeed.”
Cody came to Canada in 1979 with an undergrad degree in the wake of the Iranian revolution and promptly received a scholarship to do postgrad work in engineering at Concordia in Montreal. She achieved her masters in engineering in 1981 and the PhD in building engineering from Concordia in 1989.
Cody said she spent her career at CCI supporting her team, aiming for continued growth and handling challenges such as recessions. She volunteered with and received honours from such organizations as the Canadian Standards Association and Professional Engineers Ontario while running CCI from 1990 to 2016, when she sold it and retired.
For Cody, though, retirement meant leaving day to day engineering and launching into what she calls the third chapter of her life. The first was childhood and preparing for a career; the second was working, progressing and raising a family; and now it’s time to give back. In 2018, Cody donated $15 million to Concordia and was rewarded with a rebrand in her honour, the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science.
Her contributions support gender equity, diversity and inclusion through scholarships in the faculty as well as the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Smart and Resilient Cities and Communities.
Cody is an active participant in shepherding the programs.
“I have been involved at the university, encouraging young women and girls to get them talking and speaking about diversity and inclusion. I started my discussions on that a few years back. I was always doing that, but I never had the time because I was working so hard,” Cody explained.
“I felt an obligation to my society and to my country, and to all the people who paved the road for me as a woman and as an immigrant.”
Cody speaks extensively at Concordia and elsewhere, encouraging women to enter the STEM fields.
“In North America, when it comes to women in STEM, science, technology, mathematics, we’re still behind the other countries in the world. And that is something that we need to change, because we are in the fourth industrial revolution that relies on technology and connectivity.”
She is a strong believer in mentorships to enable networking, create connections and offer a shoulder to cry on, she says.
“I always say, obstacles can become a platform, it can become a ladder for you. So the challenges, even though they are an obstacle, it can be a challenge that makes you stronger and makes you stand up more. I think being a woman, and an immigrant, I had to prove myself, that I’m as good as others.
“I worked hard at it, but you do your work, and you show your knowledge, and you get respect in our society. People do remember you.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.