Ricarda Dietsch traces her passion for the U.S. homebuilding industry to her experience growing up in communist East Germany.
“I grew up in an environment where literally all you see is Eastern Bloc housing and pre-World War II housing—where people chose not to build homes because you don’t know if you’ll have nails or concrete or lumber,” says Dietsch, the Denver-based mountain area president for Taylor Morrison, a national homebuilder and developer.
In 1993, Dietsch encountered a strikingly different housing culture when, at age 18, she moved to Phoenix to work as an au pair.
“When I came to the U.S. and tried to understand what it’s like living in a free-market environment where people have choices, I was fascinated by the real estate industry,” she recalls. Homes are “such a big part of the American way of life.”
Career Path in Real Estate
Dietsch earned an accounting degree at Arizona State University in 1998, then worked for Ernst & Young on the accounts of real estate investors and developers. “That’s where my passion for the industry really developed,” she says. “It was the first time I was exposed to true free-market operations.”
After five years at EY, Dietsch worked for 12 years in finance at PulteGroup, the nation’s third biggest homebuilder. In 2015, she joined Taylor Morrison, working first as regional CFO in Austin and two years later as division president in Denver. She took on her current role as Taylor Morrison's mountain area president last year, just as Taylor Morrison acquired William Lyon Homes and became the nation’s fifth largest homebuilder.
As area president, Dietsch oversees Taylor Morrison’s mountain region—Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada—and its three division presidents. “More than anything, my current role is about making sure we have the right leaders in the right roles,” she says.
Throughout a career spanning almost 25 years, Dietsch’s employers have seen her as a go-to fixer. “Over and over, I found myself in situations where people came to me when they needed a problem solved,” she says.
Typically, the problem has involved an underperforming part of the business. “I always joke I’ve worked on fixer-uppers throughout my career,” she says. To do that, Dietsch works to understand her team members and remove the walls they erect to shield themselves from blame. “I bring people together so they see we can be successful together,” she says. “That’s been the most fun for me.”
East German Childhood Provides Different View on Women in the Workplace
Yet there’s one professional challenge that, until recently, Dietsch says she did not think about: being a woman in construction, which is a male-dominated industry in many ways.
“Early on, it just was never a point of discussion,” she says. “For the first 15 to 20 years, I truly never even thought of myself as a woman in construction surrounded by mostly male peers.”
To explain why being a woman in construction never stood out to her, Dietsch points to her upbringing in East Germany. “Growing up in communism, I have a different lens,” she says. “Picture 100 percent employment, both men and women worked, and childcare was provided.” That background gave her a different perspective on work and gender. “I never really had the glass ceiling in mind, nor did I observe it. I just showed up to work every day, doing my job.”
Dietsch also credits the “amazing organizations” that have employed her. “I had a very positive experience, where I know several other women probably have not,” she says.
But her experience of gender changed as her career advanced. “When I looked around and found myself as one of very few women in executive leadership roles, that’s when it really dawned on me I’m one of very few,” she says.
As an executive, she detected different treatment in some situations. “I noticed that, from time to time, I would say something and someone would gloss over it. And then a man would say it and be taken much more seriously.”
New Opportunity for Women in Construction?
But she does see things changing. Dietsch believes that the Great Recession, ironically, had a positive impact. Following the downturn, the industry became more diverse, collaborative, and professional—and more open to women.
“After layoff after layoff, maybe the best of the best remained,” she surmises. “And maybe there was a level of humbling that happened.”
The industry will need even more forward thinking to meet the growing demand for innovation. Dietsch believes disruptive trends such as energy-efficient and healthier homes will continue. “I think that’s going to be the future,” she says.
As builders pursue these innovations, they’ll need plenty more problem-solvers like Dietsch--and more women in construction--at their side.
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