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Deryl McKissack comes from a long line of construction professionals, dating back to her great-great grandfather Moses who was a skilled brick maker. Following in her family’s footsteps, McKissack is now the president and CEO of McKissack & McKissack, a construction management and design firm responsible for iconic buildings such as the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture. Her father exposed her and her twin sister Cheryl to the construction industry from a young age, making it a central part of their family life.

Motivated by a desire to see more Black women CEOs in the construction industry, McKissack started her own company in 1990 with just $1,000 from her savings account. Despite initial challenges with attracting clients and securing financing, she persevered and grew her company to bring in $25-30 million per year, managing $15 billion in projects across multiple offices. She left a lucrative engineering job to pursue her passion, and spent years building her company from the ground up, prioritizing paying her employees over herself along the way.

Despite being a successful and established CEO, McKissack believes she hasn’t truly “made it” until more Black and women executives have succeeded in the industry. She founded AEC Unites, a nonprofit dedicated to providing opportunities for Black talent in the architecture, engineering, and construction sector. McKissack collaborates with her twin sister Cheryl, who also runs a construction company under the same name, and they support each other through the unique challenges they face as women of color in the industry.

The construction industry is projected to be worth trillions of dollars in the coming years, yet women make up only a small fraction of construction CEOs globally. McKissack hopes that her daughter, a bioengineering student at New York University, will continue the family legacy and become the sixth generation of McKissacks in the industry. She emphasizes the importance of representation and paving the way for others who look like her to succeed, acknowledging the lack of support systems for Black and women construction professionals.

McKissack’s journey to success involved starting her company with minimal resources, working tirelessly to establish a portfolio of work, and overcoming obstacles such as difficulty securing financing. Through networking and persistence, she landed key projects and gradually built a successful business. Her dedication to the industry and commitment to supporting other marginalized professionals have driven her to create opportunities for future generations of Black and women construction executives.

McKissack’s story serves as a testament to the power of determination, passion, and perseverance in achieving success. Despite facing numerous challenges along the way, she has built a thriving business that has made a significant impact on the construction industry. By actively working to increase diversity and representation in the field, McKissack is paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future for all aspiring professionals.

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