Standing at just 5’2”, Marsha Gentile towers in the realm of sustainable development.
As the director of sustainability at Ledcor Construction Ltd., she is recognized as one of the leading figures in green building construction in the Lower Mainland.
With numerous achievements under her belt, her award for Outstanding Woman in Construction at the 2023 Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) Gold Awards adds to her record.
Her association with the VRCA isn’t new though. In 2011, she was honoured as the Educator of the Year,’ a testament to her dedication and impactful work in her domain.
However, her feelings about the Woman in Construction award were a mix of pride and introspection.
“To be quite honest, I didn’t quite know how to feel about it at first. ‘Outstanding woman?’ I’ve just always tried to be the best at whatever I do. Why do we still need an award for women? There is no outstanding man.”
But as the details of her career were being read out, any reservations she had were overshadowed.
“I got choked up on stage,” she confesses. “And I’m not a crier or anything like that. It meant a lot because they were talking about my body of work, which I am very proud of.”
From dental assistant to green building pioneer
When Gentile looks back to her Ledcor beginnings in the mid-‘90s, she was often one of just two women on construction sites.
“There were more women in the office when I started at Ledcor, but certainly not many onsite,” she reflects. “I’ve always had to earn my place and I think that sort of made me stronger.”
These challenges weren’t internal, she clarifies.
It was usually subcontractors and other external stakeholders who gave her flak. But with Ledcor, she always felt empowered and supported, which she feels has played a major role in her success.
“It’s really about Ledcor and Ledcor leadership giving me a safe space to grow,” she says. “I’ve said it before, and it sounds cheesy, but my role really did grow organically within Ledcor.”
Ironically, construction was not Marsha’s first choice. She began her career as a certified dental assistant. While holding down her dental job, she began working at Ledcor one day a week with a friend.
“I started out just in the office and then one day I went to a jobsite,” she recalls, “and I just knew, I’m in the wrong profession. It was so clear to me. When I left the dental office, they were like, ‘You’re crazy.’ I had a young family. It was a total demotion. But I knew I’d be happier here.”
She was right. Gentile spent nine years onsite as project co-ordinator, loving construction life. But everything shifted with Ledcor’s first LEED project at the UBC Life Sciences Centre in 2002. The Gold certified building was recognized internationally for its innovative green features.
For Gentile, it was another pivotal moment on her professional journey.
“I get this, I want to do this,” she thought.
By the time the project concluded, Ledcor had already secured two more LEED projects, further solidifying Gentile’s place as a green building pioneer.
“I never thought I would work in the office,” she says. “But it made sense to make the transition in order to make a bigger impact – to mentor others and make the process trainable and repeatable.”
Shaping a more sustainable future worldwide
Gentile’s commitment to sustainable construction isn’t just a professional obligation, it’s a passion.
From Vancouver to the international stage, she’s been at the forefront of shaping green building standards.
Currently, she serves as one of only two Canadians on the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED version 5 Design and Construction Consensus Committee. It’s a position that allows her to influence the next version of LEED.
But it’s not all about professional accolades.
It’s about the influence she can exert in predominantly male-dominated spaces like the VRCA, where she recently gave her acceptance speech to approximately 600 attendees, 90 per cent of whom were men.
During her time at the podium, Gentile recalled attending Greenbuild in Washington, D.C. She fondly remembered the closing keynote by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who emphasized the importance of collective effort over individual glory in the fight against climate change.
Drawing inspiration from Dr. Johnson, Gentile echoed a sentiment that encapsulates her mission and drive: “It’s not about the glory, it’s about the ripples. And I really like making ripples. I want to continue to make ripples.”