The Art of Paying it Forward Perfected
All Diana Rodriguez-Zaba's photos from Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
By Valerie King
It is no secret that the restoration industry is male-dominated, as is the construction industry overall. While women make up 47% of the entire U.S. labor force, they comprise just 10.3% of the construction workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It is our hope that by shining a spotlight on outstanding women in restoration, we help encourage and empower more women to join this great industry and advance within it.
After all, attracting talent is the top challenge for the restoration industry according to R&R’s 2021 State of the Industry Report. The construction industry will need to attract nearly 650,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2022 to meet the demand for labor, Associated Builders and Contractors finds.
In addition, more gender diverse companies — executive teams in particular — are more likely to have above-average profitability, according to research by McKinsey & Company. What’s more, women-led businesses are 12% more likely to meet or exceed expectations for growth.
For these reasons and more, R&R is honored to formally celebrate women making strides within their organizations and restoration overall for the seventh consecutive year through our Women in Restoration Award. The award honors leading women in the industry based on journey and experience, job growth and future reach, industry and community involvement, and awards and certifications.
This year, 46 impressive women were nominated and one remarkable individual rose to the top.
Watch Diana’s Ask the Expert interview with R&R’s Editor Valerie King for her full story.
Diana Rodriguez-Zaba is president of ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, a minority and family-owned disaster restoration and cleaning company with locations in Chicago and Skokie, Ill., serving Chicago and the surrounding suburbs since 2008.
Her key accomplishments include:
Rodriguez-Zaba’s business specializes in fire and water damage restoration, construction, mold remediation, hoarding and trauma cleaning, as well as carpet and upholstery cleaning. Today, she spends a lot of her time on office operations, from marketing to accounting to finance to human resources.
Her favorite aspect of restoration work is construction and completion, interacting with customers on design components. “At the end of the day, that’s the last thing they see on the job,” she says. “They go through the mitigation process, the construction and then it’s what they walk into every day. So I enjoy that most.”
Her favorite aspect of business ownership and leadership overall is working with staff. Seeing people evolve is her passion.
“I feel like I need to lead my team, but I have to develop my team so they can be leaders,” she says. “That’s what I do. I build leaders so they can continue to lead. Then I show them, ‘You’re amazing. You’re great. You need to take this other person and show them how to be like you.’ And that builds their confidence. …I would say I’m a transformational leader.”
Rodriguez-Zaba’s knack for helping others evolve is rooted in her own entrepreneurial journey of impressive growth, fueled by resilience in the face of adversity. In fact, her business has experienced some of its most substantial growth milestones during historically challenging times.
Her story in entrepreneurship starts at the age of 18, when she began buying, restoring and renting out properties. As she remodeled homes and saw her work well received, restoring spaces became a passion. Simultaneously, she was setting up franchises for a chain restaurant.
“I had franchising experience under my belt and I kind of saw what that meant. And then from there I was always like, ‘I have to own my own company.’ What that was going to be, I didn’t know. And then when the opportunity presented itself to purchase a franchise, that’s what my husband and I did.”
When she and her husband Neil Zaba, director of operations, started an independent company in 2008, during the Great Recession, they both had full-time jobs and expected layoffs. Combining their skills and kicking off a home service company proved challenging at a time when so many were losing their residences, but they persevered.
“We, door to door, handed off flyers and just did whatever we could,” Rodriguez-Zaba says. “Then I said, ‘You know what. We’ve got to franchise. If we want to step it up during this time, that’s what we need to do.”
They met with a representative of ServiceMaster and were able to find a seller in Chicago. With that, they purchased four licenses and became restoration franchise owners. Simultaneously, for five years, Rodriguez-Zaba juggled her full-time job and the business (she did not end up being laid off during the economic downturn). Then, after deciding to leave her day job and focus solely on the franchise, she and her husband purchased an additional license and opened their second facility.
“It all took off from there,” she says.
More recently, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she led her business to meaningful growth once again, embracing uncertainty with agility. She quickly shifted gears, leveraging the specialty cleaning and biohazard remediation skillsets and certifications of her team to provide services to businesses taking preventative measures against the virus.
“The employees felt really good about themselves during that time because they were helping people,” she says. “It was actually one of the best years.”
Around the same time, in summer of 2020, Rodriguez-Zaba swiftly expanded the franchise’s construction offerings, providing board-up services, glass cleanup and graffiti removal to Chicago businesses following vandalism that took place during protests. They helped clients navigate the insurance claims process, and implement protocols to protect staff and customers.
Her devotion to serving her community has served her business, with both financial gains and a sense of fulfillment.
Beyond growing her business itself, Rodriguez-Zaba’s number-one passion of working with employees comes to life through her dedication to development. Most of her team has been with her at least five years and she works hard to keep them happy. She believes in the power of one-on-one interactions, including review of employee-specific checklists covering where they are, what they have accomplished, goals for the future and plans for reaching the next level.
“A lot of them get stuck in the everyday thing and they need people to show them they can do better, or how they’re important in the company, and that we need them and they need us,” she says.
Another example of her commitment to elevating others is the use of a training room in her newly acquired Chicago-based facility to host classes for restoration industry stakeholders including insurance agents, adjusters and technicians who need certifications. She is eager to make training more accessible via a location within the city that is easily reachable with public transportation. Rodriguez-Zaba is also in the process of talking to community colleges and high schools about bringing students to the facility and offering a curriculum to showcase the restoration industry.
Outside the four walls of her own business, she also invests deeply in the advancement of the next generation of women. As a mentor with the Step Up program, she helps girls transition from high school to college by pushing them out of their comfort zones and providing real-world work experience.
“A lot of them still don’t know what they want to do and I talk to them a lot about what we do and how women are very important in what we do and the roles that we play. From there stemmed the opportunity for us to work on implementing an internship type of program for the summer, so that’s something that I’m working on. …I like just giving them that confidence to do better,” she says.
A believer in closing the gender gap within all male-dominated industries, Rodriguez-Zaba is also a founder and board member of the DePaul University Women in Entrepreneurship Institute, which provides resources to women navigating the startup of a business.
She tells those she mentors that, as a woman, opportunities were not handed to her and that being a Latina made it even harder. She considers mentorship key in her ability to break the glass ceiling. Her parents pushed her early in life, she benefited from two mentors during her college years who were also minorities, and has learned a lot from her husband during her time in the industry.
In her nomination form, a colleague of Rodriguez-Zaba wrote:
“Diana always tells us, ‘You can do anything, and you can do it better than anyone else. There's always a solution and don’t be afraid to make mistakes and take risks.’
“She also tells us to never go to bed worried about problems because we'll be too tired the next day to resolve them. ... She also says, ‘Worrying makes you look old.’"
Outside of work, Rodriguez-Zaba enjoys being with her family, date nights with her husband, Friday girls nights with her friends, puzzles and catching up on Netflix. “I enjoy having good people around me.”
Senior Vice President, Training & Launch
Paul Davis Restoration
“In the early 2000’s, I worked with a small restoration company that focused on janitorial and residential losses. I went on to own a portion of a full-service restoration company, did consulting to help other companies and joined Paul Davis in 2011.
“I became interested in learning all I could about our industry and began working toward becoming a triple master with the IICRC. Once I had achieved Triple Master status, I pursued my next goal of becoming an IICRC instructor. I pursued this goal with dogged determination and ultimately became an IICRC instructor for WRT, ASD, FSRT and TCST. Recently, I was elected to the IICRC board of directors. I consider it a true privilege to have the opportunity to serve and to be a part of a strong team that drives high performance and produces results.
“As the Paul Davis senior vice president of training for North America, I am passionate about my work each day. I am inspired and motivated by seeing the results of our teams’ efforts and serving others in their time of need.
“When I look reflectively in the mirror, I see the girl who got dirty cleaning offices, lifted heavy dehumidifiers upstairs late at night, trudged through the muck on water losses and donned PPE to help homeowners who had suffered catastrophic losses. All of the hard work in the past led me to the place I am today. It reminds me to constantly practice continuous improvement, work hard, get involved, and help others achieve their goals.”
Steamatic of Albuquerque and Santa Fe
“My journey in the restoration industry starts as a stay-at-home mom jumping into a family business. My parents purchased Steamatic in 1995, and I became part of the team around 2013, right before my father’s retirement goal.
“I had to learn every aspect of the business quickly, from finance to industry-specific knowledge, and in 2017, I became general manager. I worked on finding the best people, and increasing our training and expertise. Revenue and capacity have followed, and we have doubled in size in a few short years. It was a challenge, but I enjoyed the reward and where it has brought my team and family today!
“It is empowering to know my tenure started as a legacy, and each year I continue that legacy with the Steamatic family, growing what was once a mom-and-pop shop to a corporation that still has tight-knit family values but the capabilities of a larger restoration company.
"Finding the right people to be part of our team, people who share our values and purpose, is such a priority for me. We are succeeding because of our amazing team and their commitment to our purpose.”
Annissa Coy has been in the restoration industry for more than 22 years. She owned and operated a full-service restoration company with her husband, Kevin, before jumping full-time into education. Coy and her husband teach, coach and speak in the restoration industry on many platforms through their company Firehouse Education. She is passionate about two things: Spending time with her six grandchildren and helping families who have been through a fire loss put their lives back together. In 2008, Coy was awarded Entrepreneur of The Year for outstanding entrepreneurial achievements in business. In 2016, she was the recipient of R&R’s inaugural Women in Restoration Award. Coy writes articles for the industry and contributes to R&R’s weekly Ask Annissa video column. She is the co-creator of Firehouse Education and innovator of Mobile Clean Systems.
Nancy Macdonald held the position of education director for Aramsco through the end of 2021. While remaining a part of the Aramsco family, she took on the new role of regional sales manager for Eastern Canada with Safety Express in January 2022. In her tenure as education director, Macdonald built an education program that not only included technical certifications, but also business management and profit-builder courses to help clients develop professionally. Her new role will provide many opportunities to continue to learn, improve and innovate, while ensuring that her team and customers achieve great success. In her spare time, Macdonald enjoys hiking with her husband, twin daughters and their Aussiedoodle, Finnegan. She also enjoys reading everything from fiction to travel to business, most recently completing “The Power of a Positive Team” by Jon Gordon.
Mili Washington has been the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) standards director since 2011. Her focus has been to grow IICRC standards while streamlining the standards development process and strategy, work toward American National Standards Institute (ANSI) approval for new and revised ANSI/IICRC standards, and work toward international adoption of IICRC standards. For the past 15 years, Washington has focused her work in the area of standards development and management. In her previous role as manager of standards and guidelines for the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), she oversaw the development of several ANSI standards for the occupational health and safety profession. Washington is a member of the Society for Standards Professionals (SES) and currently serves on the SES board of directors as past president. She is certified by SES as a Certified Standards Professional (CStd). She graduated with a master’s degree from George Washington University in environmental and resource policy after completing a bachelor’s degree in economics from Delhi University in New Delhi.