The women of Benchmark Land Development are moving and shaking the very foundations of Austin.
By Allie Justis, Photos by Nick Blok
Logan Blok, Myra Goepp and Sherry Spence are three women who have been playing a vital role behind the scenes in developing the Austin area at Benchmark Land Development.
This dream team has been moving and shaking up the Austin real estate and development industries as pioneering women in a mostly male-dominated field. But Goepp, who has been in the business for the longest, is just happy to see how times have changed.
“Construction by far has always been male-dominated,” says Goepp. “When I went to engineering school there were five girls in the class. But just four years later the population of females in civil engineering jumped significantly.”
The Benchmark Team
But not everyone has been in this field for as long as Goepp. Logan Blok, the team’s main design expert, has only been on the Benchmark Land Development Team for 50 days at the time of this interview. But Goepp brags that she is really taking to it.
“Logan really creates the foundation for the design that provides the guidance for the engineer to build on and ensure it’s marketable,” says Goepp. “That foundation is so important, and it’s not just understanding what the layout of that is, but asking things like, ‘Does code allow that?’ ‘How is it serving all the people that are interacting in it?’ Logan historically was designing with us as a subconsultant. Since she’s joined us on the development side, she helps curate and guide the vision everyday.”
Finally, rounding out the team is the woman behind all of the finances, Sherry Spence.
“This business doesn’t operate without Sherry,” says Goepp. “She’s the controller, which means that she’s handling all our finances. She recognizes and knows the structure of all our companies and how they relate to each other.”
Navigating Male-Dominated Spaces
For all three of these women, their experiences of traversing a male-dominated field was never a huge obstacle. They explained in great detail that for them and women like them, it’s all about perspective, respect and a person’s attitude about the given situation.
“At the start, I never recognized that the world that I was working in was very male-dominated,” says Goepp. “I didn’t let my gender be the defining thing. I mean, yeah, it causes a little bit of a hassle here and there. But it’s not like I ever felt like I wasn’t supposed to be here. The guys that I work with are good guys that are open-minded and progressive. And, quite frankly, I think they know that women just get more stuff done.”
Blok explains that for her, community development is some of the most engaging and fulfilling work that she’s ever done. And though it takes patience, the reward is a strong community that can take on any crisis thrown its way.
Working Behind the Scenes
“I think it is really interesting. We do all this behind-the-scenes work,” says Blok. “We’ve been working on these projects for six, seven and eight years. By the time we get approved land use agreements with the city, we’ve drawn and engineered the project multiple ways to find the best solutions.
“Then when we start to sell these pieces off,” Blok continues. “It’s the realtors that are more of a forward-facing role, or the multifamily builder representative out there promoting and trying to get people into their spaces. So a lot of people don’t know that there’s a whole orchestration that got you to that point.”
What Blok emphasizes the most is that there are so many hard-working women behind the scenes in this industry just like them.
“There’s the women behind the scenes here that are shaking and moving things to actually allow that to be a possibility. I think that’s one of the reasons why I came into this,” says Blok. “I love puzzles, I love solving complex problems. This is definitely a field that’s full of them constantly. Trying to understand different ways to solve a problem, hearing different input and then trying to assemble it all.”
Fearlessness & Confidence
For these women, fearlessness and stepping out with confidence can be the most important part of the equation when going into a male-dominated field.
“I think it takes a lot of fearlessness, and I think that’s something that all three of us have in common,” says Blok. “We’re in a room full of men, but it’s almost like we don’t even acknowledge it. I think that fearlessness is really important in order to not let it be intimidating.”
“To me, it doesn’t matter who you are,” says Goepp. “There’s always people that are going to have doubt, whatever your disposition might be. In my opinion, you just have to trust in people, and trust that they are capable of doing whatever they can put their mind to and that there are no limitations.”
Setting communities up for success is why they do what they do. For these women, creating that legacy has always been the goal and will always be the goal.
“For us it’s about setting up the district, setting up schools, setting up all of these elements that come together,” says Blok. “It’s all so that even when we are gone, those parks will still be enjoyed and maintained, there will be good schools, and people who live here can live their lives in a really whole way. Those things are gonna last for years and years beyond our time there. I like to be a part of something that is going to make a lasting impact, and that’s incredibly rewarding to me.”