2019 Onyx Woman Leadership Award Honoree, Janai Williams Smith, is Building a Family Legacy

I am supported by a team of capable women, all from different professional and cultural backgrounds. As a minority-owned and soon to be woman-owned firm, it is important to me to promote the same diversity in my workplace and empower women into leadership roles. I have also had several mentors in my life who have given me the tools to succeed from simple word of encouragement to being my advocate and champion when I am not in the room and I don’t have a seat at the table. These women have invested in me in ways that I can only repay by paying it forward. 

Name: Janai Williams Smith 

Name: Janai Williams Smith 

Title: Managing Director 

Company: E. Holdings, Inc. 

Industry: Consulting Firm 

Years in this Industry:15 

1. Why did you choose this profession? 

I have always had a passion and drive to help others, which seems simple. Early on, I was confronted with figuring out how I can make a meaningful impact and do something I enjoy. I am eager to develop solutions to solve complicated problems and to solicit consensus and input from others to inclusively achieve this goal. So, I’d say my profession chose me. My father and I aligned our goals hundreds of miles apart — he began building buildings and I enrolled in graduate school for City Planning & Real Estate Development. Thereafter, I moved to Pittsburgh and jumped into a real estate and urban planning consulting firm head first and I haven’t looked back! 

I enjoy the work that I do with my clients because I am helping them realize and implement their strategic goals to benefit the region. From modernizing our existing infrastructure and improving public health, to having a meaningful impact on the public at large, I’ve discovered my way to passionately give back. 

2. What role has the support of other women played in your success? 

I am supported by a team of capable women, all from different professional and cultural backgrounds. As a minority-owned and soon to be woman-owned firm, it is important to me to promote the same diversity in my workplace and empower women into leadership roles. I have also had several mentors in my life who have given me the tools to succeed from simple word of encouragement to being my advocate and champion when I am not in the room and I don’t have a seat at the table. These women have invested in me in ways that I can only repay by paying it forward. 

3. What does receiving this award mean to you? 

Receiving this award means that I have a platform to help empower women by serving as an example to them. It also means a time of transition in our firm from my father to me. It’s the closing of an era of his leadership and an exciting time for me to further pursue the projects that I am passionate about. His support has been exceptional, and I am very excited to be blazing a new trail and continuing to create opportunities that have a positive influence on women in my community. 

4. What advice would you give to other women who want to go into your field? 

Be passionate about what you do and who you are.
Understand and own your worth. Be honest and confident about the value you add to a process and a program. Be resourceful and never afraid to ask for help. 

5. What would you tell other women about overcoming obstacles? 

As women, we tend to think of others before ourselves. When you’re striving to overcome an obstacle, be that a promotion, obtaining a job, or redirecting your career path, you need to make sure to build a team of professional peers, family, and friends that help put you first. Perseverance is essential. The road to success may not always be pleasant or look how you thought it would, but if you pursue your goals unrelentingly, you will succeed. 

6.What was the bravest thing that you have ever done that got you where you are today? 

Taking the majority ownership role in my firm has been the bravest thing I have done. It’s important to our family-owned firm to have a legacy, while also being a part of creating a new legacy in the Pittsburgh region of sustainability, modernization, exclusivity, and community development. It took a lot of hard work to develop into the role of Managing Director and show my father that I am ready to lead the firm, and I am excited to have achieved this and to be in the role I am in today. 

7. How have you evolved over the years?
I have evolved professionally from working for my father to now owning the majority of the firm. And the firm has evolved with me. We now work on multi-million-dollar, multi-year contracts in several states and the Pittsburgh region, and we continue to grow! 

Most importantly, I have become a mother. As a mother, it is important to set an example of hard work by showing my work ethic to my children, especially to my daughter. I want her to grow up in a world where she knows glass ceilings can be shattered. My kids are the reason I go to work so that they can one day continue on the firm that our family has built. 

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