If Not Me, Then Who?
If they get the signal, Tammy Yang knows it’s t-minus five minutes until the launch of a Tomahawk missile. As part of Operation Noble Anvil—a NATO counteroffensive to Yugoslavian genocide—Tammy has been stationed for months on a U.S. Navy destroyer. As the ship’s primary navigator, two-hundred and forty-nine souls depend upon Tammy’s precision. And she, in turn, on theirs.
The year is 1999. Tammy, a commissioned officer in the Navy, has already achieved what few women of that era even dreamt possible. Like many trailblazers, Tammy sought opportunities to shatter the glass ceiling at an early age. Tammy began her military career as an enlisted sailor during Operation Desert Storm, working for then Joint Chief of Staff Colin Powell maintaining satellite gear at the Pentagon. But the New York native wasn’t content to sit behind a desk. Tammy wanted to serve aboard a combat vessel, and at the time, one of the few ways to circumvent gender barriers was to achieve officer rank. So that’s precisely what Tammy did, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in physics—forging a path for future midshipwomen in the process.
“You have this awareness that you’re doing something bigger than yourself,” says Tammy, whose Naval career spanned 13 years. “You’re serving a higher purpose. Not many people get that opportunity.”
Tammy would go on to enter yet another profession in which women have been historically under-represented: construction. But Tammy was more than prepared to navigate a road less traveled. She’d logged thousands of miles before the sun rose from its slumber, her fatigues heavy with sweat and feet screaming with blisters. She’d faced the threat of enemy submarines in hostile waters. She’d been surrounded by male colleagues who championed her success and those who unapologetically voiced opposition to it. Physically and mentally, Tammy had been tried and tested, each time rising triumphant.
Starting out as a field engineer, Tammy quickly rose through the operations ranks with two different national general contractors. Always seeking to expand her expertise, Tammy also served in estimating and quality control roles. Parallels between the armed forces and construction became immediately apparent, especially as it related to the formation of teams united by a critical mission.
It just so happened that the topic of teams had always intrigued Tammy. While in the Navy, she obtained a master’s degree in human resources management with a focus on training and development. It was with this incredibly unique background that Tammy joined Balfour Beatty in 2014 as a national director of learning and development. Having grown by way of acquisitions and mergers with local contractors across the U.S., Balfour Beatty needed the right leader to help streamline company processes. The business found that in Tammy—and so much more.
With the support of a strong team, Tammy has played an instrumental role in Balfour Beatty’s process improvement and change management. Her passion for helping others develop their talents has furthered the company’s mission of building a true learning organization. According to Mark Konchar, senior vice president and chief of innovation for Balfour Beatty, Tammy is an “eager servant-leader and steward for learning who works tirelessly to help people grow.” And in a nod to her ex-military status, Mark adds, “Tammy excels under pressure.”
Tammy’s true value can’t be captured in a list of accolades, because in many ways, she’s still serving a higher, nobler purpose. Despite maintaining a hectic schedule (that includes a lot of miles in the air and traditional mom duties), Tammy has proactively sought opportunities to advance Balfour Beatty’s inclusion efforts. More specifically, ensuring women are recognized as vital to the future of an industry Tammy sees as slowly shedding its longstanding “command and control” mentality. “Today, teams need to come together more quickly than ever, and that requires leaders who can facilitate trust through effective communication and collaboration,” says Tammy. “These are skills many women naturally bring to the table. There is a strong business case for diversity.”
In 2017, Tammy worked with our teammates in California to spearhead a grassroots, internal campaign known as “Connecting Women.” The goal is as straightforward as the title suggests—connecting Balfour Beatty women to facilitate advocacy, networking and mentorship. “I’m a glass half full person,” says Tammy. “I look at my daughter, who is 14, and wonder what she’ll do when she grows up. I need to keep moving the needle forward for her, so she can carry the baton.”
It’s a question you’ve probably heard in a variety of contexts: “If not me, then who?” If there is a singular call to action that defines Tammy—her spirit, character and strength—that is surely it.
Who will be the next woman to pick up Tammy’s torch?