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Weston Consulting employees raising funds for clean water access in Indigenous communities during its Run, Ride or Walk event.Provided

Brazilian-born Vivian Gomes was already intrigued by Weston Consulting Inc. when she went through the planning and design firm’s interview process. She liked the creative ideas of the design director and the progressive approach of the firm. But what capped it off was when, at the end, president Mark Emery said “thank you” in Portuguese (“obrigado”).

“It was really nice,” says Gomes, now senior urban designer at the Vaughan, Ont.-based firm. “I felt appreciated. Because it’s always me making the effort in another person’s language. And another senior person said, ‘what kind of leader do you want to be? What is your voice?’ Because as immigrants, we try be more like everybody else instead of like my authentic self – a Latina, a louder Brazilian who is a little bit warm and passionate. Many times, our voices are not heard, and I appreciate being heard. At Weston, they embrace me fully, my whole identity.”

Gomes also embraced her design team, deciding she wanted to be “a leader who cares, who takes care of her team,” which Weston supported. “I appreciate the space they made for me to grow as a leader my own way and that they created opportunities for me to expand my skills and add to my expertise.”

Arriving in Canada in 2014 with degrees in architecture and urban planning, Gomes added a master’s in environmental studies from the University of Waterloo. She joined Weston in 2021 and has taken a strong role in the design of areas “between the buildings and the streets” – from plazas to front porches – and in public consultations.

Leaders like Emery, she says, regularly discuss with staff decisions that will affect them. “They are constantly improving their culture to incorporate the needs of the people who work with them. They hold themselves accountable, and this is something I value a lot.” She also appreciates being able to work from Brazil a few weeks each year in order to visit family.

Emery, for his part, calls Gomes “the kind of employee we would love more of.” The firm, where he has been employed since 1989 and president since 2007, does most of its business in Ontario. Its urban planners help clients navigate projects through the municipal labyrinth and its planners and designers are involved in the creation of new projects, generally in the private sector. Weston also works closely with architectural and engineering firms.

“We give our teams a fair bit of latitude to run with projects,” Emery says. “And what we offer that a lot of firms don’t is a massive variety of project types – everything from residential high-rise to industrial buildings to places of worship to community plans to low-rise and townhouses to rural and agricultural planning.”

Currently the firm is branching into affordable housing projects and is putting a toe in the water to bid on international ventures. From 70 staff in early 2024, says Emery, Weston plans to grow to 100 by the end of the year, with most of the expansion likely to be on the design side.

He says the firm, which also has a smaller office in downtown Toronto, likes to hire people straight out of university, primarily Waterloo and Toronto Metropolitan (formerly Ryerson), and give them a wide variety of experience. “People with three to five years at our firm have the equivalent of 10 or 15 years in another more defined or segmented role.”

Add in the compensation and benefits that compete with larger organizations, he says, plus the flexibility of a small firm – “I have an open-door policy” – and there’s much to say “obrigado” for.

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