Mischa Haramia wants to set an example. At Henderson Engineers since 2004, Haramia relocated to Southern California from Kansas City in 2016 to lead the company’s West Coast sports practice, heavily involved with SoFi Stadium and with the company looking to become further entrenched in the sports and entertainment venue sector.

She’s been involved with high-profile projects including SoFi Stadium, Golden 1 Center, MetLife Stadium and the Intuit Dome, currently under construction.

Haramia came out as transgender shortly after the pandemic shutdown, and in 2021 was named venue sector entertainment practice director for the firm.
Her story demonstrates how an empowering and supportive company can help a high-level executive thrive and support others like her.

VenuesNow: How and when did you come out? How was the response?
Mischa Haramia
: In 2020, I did not get COVID, but I found myself in the hospital for other health reasons that could have been fatal. It caused me to just examine my life and what does it mean to be yourself? What does it mean to be authentic?

I worked with a therapist and decided that I was going to do this. Through the winter of 2020 into 2021, I came out to a number of people and finally it was time to come out at work and everything. I sat down with my immediate supervisor Kevin Lewis, who at that time was not yet named CEO of the company, and Ryan Starkovich (currently venue sector executive), and just explained what was going on. They were very supportive of me and we worked together to message, both internally to the rest of the employees of the company as well as our clients and contacts within the architectural, engineering and construction industry. I received a lot of positive feedback from that. And I did not receive, at least to that initial message, negative feedback. Or, if they felt negatively about it, they thankfully chose just to keep their mouths shut (laughs).

I was a bit naïve when I started this. ‘I come out at work, I’m done.’ But in reality, you’re always coming out to somebody. It’s a balancing act for me to not try to hide it or to sweep it under the rug, but at the same time, it’s a part of who I am. It is not who I am. I am a spouse, I’m a parent. I’m a runner like I was before, and I’m our entertainment practice director at Henderson Engineers. Having that struggle has given me an appreciation and empathy for others and more of a purposeful passion for not just young transgender folks, but other LGBTQ, women, people of color. It’s not limited to the workplace, but it was eye opening to me. I see so much more now.

In such a specialized field that may not have a lot of openly gay and transgendered people, do you feel obligated to speak on the subject of LGBTQ issues?

I do feel obligated, but I put that on myself. For me personally, it is a bit of a struggle. Looking around before I came out, I didn’t know anybody in this industry and frankly, a lot of industries, like myself.

There are plenty of transgender people who are visible with their focus on diversity, equity and inclusion as a career and I believe wholeheartedly that that is important. I made a promise to myself, that if I was given this opportunity and was able to stay within this profession, that I would not shy away from this to hopefully make the path easier for others. Yes, in fact, we are out there like everybody else. We’re trying to do our jobs, live our life the best way that we can.

The other part of that is, when you’re struggling with something like your gender, at least for me, you tend to wall things off. I was so consumed with playing, I’ll call it a role, that I now don’t have to expend that energy on. I can now concentrate on more positive and meaningful things, whether that is in my job or within our DEI groups within Henderson or with the LGBTQ community as a whole.

How can companies support LGBTQ employees from within?

I was lucky enough that we had a policy in place at the company. There is some benefit with having training for folks, not only in HR but management, or any of the people who manage people within that company. Having gender-inclusive healthcare is important as well.

The other thing is the term I like to call active allyship. It’s not enough to throw a pride logo on your company letterhead or logo one month out of the year but to back that up, to speak out or to have that employee’s back. Because it’s a very vulnerable position to be in and it could be a very frightening position to be in.

What do you hope to bring from being public and visible in your journey coming out in the AEC industry?
When people see somebody like them within the business, that there is that visibility and they feel like they have a path forward. It’s setting an example. It’s also, how do we build that pipeline of under-represented groups?

It’s actively recruiting, in the case of Black people, from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and then, for LGBTQ folks and trans folks, there are a few career fairs out there. It’s actively recruiting to help build that pipeline.