Female Urban Planner Sets Eyes on 2010 Olympics

By Shauna Lewis

The next time you walk through a newly erected building, drive down an expanded highway, or cross a bridge, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that First Nations women are at the reins of urban planning.

In a high-rise office located on Vancouver’s north shore, one woman has achieved noteworthy success in the engineering and project planning business. Jane Atkinson, president of GTM Project Management Company, is proving that women – First Nations women in particular – can not only enter into the corporate world but also can become successful entrepreneurs by working from the ground up.

women”Anything is possible,” said Atkinson, a Thompson First Nations women who grew up in the Fraser Canyon area of BC. “If you see someone out there doing something, know that you can do it yourself. And you don’t have to stop at working for someone, you can actually go out and start a company on your own, there are people out there that will help you.”

Although being the president of a company that witnesses the growth of developing projects from conception to completion is a lot of work, Atkinson is not alone in her successes. With a collaboration of 25 other GTM employees, including a handful of civil engineers, applied science technologists, engineers in training and an administration staff; Atkinson heads a skillful and impressive cohort.

Lynn Figgess, CEO of GTM is undeniably Atkinson’s ‘right-hand woman.’ Established in 1998 from a ‘bare bones’ company that began with just Atkinson and Figgess, GTM has grown into an impressive business worth more than $2 billion. Figgess said that the company has not received any monetary assistance to date that is First Nations specific.

With the 2010 Olympics only five years away, Atkinson and Figgess are excited about the projects that GTM will oversee. Opportunities to work on developments like the Sea to Sky Highway portfolio and other structures that will undoubtedly pop up all over Vancouver will not only add notoriety to Atkinson’s corporation, but will also prove that a First Nations businesswoman will be contributing to the 2010 legacy.

“One of the larger projects that we are pursuing is the Ravline,” stated Figgess. While it is unofficial that GTM will get the opportunity to work on the forthcoming transit deal, Figgess is confident that they will play a part in the process, since GTM had a major role in the planning and execution of Vancouver’s millennium skytrain line. Future endeavors also involve expansion, as GTM consulting has plans of branching out to United States and international markets.

Possessing drive, dedication, an entrepreneurial spirit and skill for project development, Atkinson and Figgess are consequently helping to break down stereotypes and gender-based stigmas. “We have found it challenging to enter into the ‘old boy’s club,” Figgess confessed. “When it comes to First Nations, there are assumptions that the quality of work is lesser than other organizations.”

While Atkinson’s instruction is based solely on entrepreneurial experience, she is a firm advocate of post secondary education. Atkinson has made it a mission to participate in motivational lectures, encouraging First Nations youth to get involved in the business and engineering field.

“It is very important that GTM as a company gives back to First Nations.”

Atkinson knows there are wonderful opportunities for First Nations people in the entrepreneurial sector, and through enlightening youth on such benefits, she hopes that more Aboriginal students will become the next generation of corporate pioneers.