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9 Women Construction Leaders Share Their Best Career Advice

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In 2005, the number of women in construction numbered 1,079,000. Today, that number has dropped to a little less than a million. What gives? Industry experts point to a number of reasons, from a lack of recruitment directed to women to company cultures that are not inclusive. It’s time to take a serious look at how more construction companies can best foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce. In fact, studies have shown that a diverse workforce is great for the bottomline. McKinsey’s “Delivering through Diversity,” report found that firms with diverse executive teams are up to 33 percent more likely to outperform their competitors.

Jobsite spoke to nine construction leaders who are paving the way for future generations of women in the building industry. The women, who range from a project manager to CEO, offer sage advice for women of all ages who are interested in a career in construction. Here’s what they had to say:

Alexa Morales, Superintendent, Shawmut

“My advice is to learn the job better than anyone else (and trust yourself). As a young woman in construction you are battling the bias of both age and gender. Knowing the project better than anyone else gives you an edge and immediately demonstrates your intelligence and abilities. Do not hesitate to trust your knowledge and challenge ideas if you do not think they are correct. Once you prove you know the project and can get things accomplished you will gain respect from your colleagues regardless of age or gender.”

Alexis McGuffin, Vice President and BIM Director, Lendlease (US)  

“This is such an exciting moment right now regarding gender equality. Real change is happening and even in my relatively short stint in the ACE industry (12 years), I feel the impact of that change. That being said, it’s no surprise that traditionally, construction can be a challenging industry for women, and change takes time.

“Find a mentor with whom you can discuss your career trajectory, work politics, and communication.”

Even if you work for a great company, gender-based prejudice, discrimination, and unconscious bias still exist, and can happen in interactions with clients, subcontractors, and vendors. Just one off-color comment can throw off even the most professional and prepared women leaders. Instead of developing resentment or defensiveness about it, go on the offense. Find a mentor with whom you can discuss your career trajectory, work politics, and communication. There really is no substitute for finding a like-minded tribe of successful women with whom you can have these types of discussions. And don’t forget to pass it on, be a mentor to those up and coming women around you!

Amy Marks, CEO of XSite Modular

“Don’t just network with other women and resources.  Ask for the things you need and offer the things you can do for others.  Remember knowledge, connections, and information in business is currency.  Don’t be afraid to earn and spend it!”

Maple Quizon, Site Superintendent, D.F. Pray  

“I believe that women that want to enter the industry will enter the industry and will be just fine as they tend to have the right attitude. Many women I’ve spoken have had a journey where they just happened into it, and that’s because of their attitude. So, my advice would be for anyone entering the industry and that would be to work hard, but more importantly have an open and curious mind and don’t be afraid to ask questions. To answer the second question to young women that haven’t considered a career in construction, I would say that they shouldn’t be afraid or swayed by the stereotypes. The industry is full of people who want to see you succeed and that understand we have a lot to offer.”

“My advice would be for anyone entering the industry and that would be to work hard, but more importantly have an open and curious mind and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Amanda Finnerty, Director of Internal Operations, Commodore Builders

“When I started, I knew nothing about construction, but I didn’t let that stop me. To add to the challenge, the person I was replacing had left the company, so I had to figure everything out on my own.  That required a lot of digging in, doing research and asking questions, and I am grateful for that experience. I still use those tools today, and they accelerated my career.  My advice is always to be honest with yourself and with others. Understand your strengths, but also be aware of your weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s perfectly fine to say, ‘I don’t know…but I’ll find out.’ I think a lot of people are afraid that shows weakness, but I think it shows strength and it builds trust.

“Understand your strengths, but also be aware of your weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Relationship building is important and doing things outside of the office like playing golf, grabbing lunch or dinner are great ways to develop relationships, but that can be challenging for some people to do, so find other ways to establish those relationships.  I have found one of the best ways to develop a relationship is to ask someone for their advice or help.

As women in a male-dominated industry, it’s also important to mentor and advocate for each other.  Women tend to take on big challenges but don’t often talk about what they did, or the effort involved. When the opportunity presents itself, share those accomplishments with others in your organization. Be a role model. And of course, let others know how much you appreciate their efforts. And remember to speak up for yourself. Don’t wait for others to do the honor. If you want something, say something!”

Caylie Wallace, Project Manager, Rudolph and Sletten

“Be confident and ambitious. Ask the tradesmen questions in the field.  You may not know the building process to every scope, so ask the professionals. This will show your eagerness to learn, not a weakness. Soak up all of the knowledge you can.”

Danielle Dy Buncio, President, VIATechnik

“Dream big and stand out! I find that too many people early on in their careers will censor their dreams.  Dream as if you are still 5 years old and no one is in your ear telling you what you can or cannot do.

“When I realized that standing out was in a way a super power, that’s when my career trajectory changed. No one great ever fit in with the crowd.”

This is especially important for women, since the industry image is still so male dominated.  If you want to be the CEO of a $2B construction company, if you want to build the next Chicago skyscraper, or if you want to be the superintendent on the next NFL stadium, then dream it, say it, and do it! Dream big, and don’t be the one holding yourself back from your dream.

And while you are on your way towards achieving that dream, do not be afraid to stand out.  Embrace it.  It’s a fact that as women in an industry where we only make up 9%, we are going to stand out.  But stand out proudly and be remembered for what you want to be remembered for. When I realized that standing out was in a way a super power, that’s when my career trajectory changed. No one great ever fit in with the crowd.”

Morgan Traynor, Director of Project Controls at Ryan Companies

“Rise up to be the leader you wish you had, and confidently fill the gap for all the future females entering your organization. Show others, regardless of experience or title or education, that being a leader in a responsibility we have to strengthen others around us.”

Linda Liporto, Principal, Corderman & Company

“Use your skills and experience to create a platform for making yourself the most successful you can be, being your absolute best at all times, and remember that humility, compassion, and excitement makes for the best way to complete any task in business and in life.”

If you liked this article, here are a few eBookswebinars, and case studies you may enjoy:

The Most Effective Way to Fight the Labor Shortage Today

Building Bridges: Working in Construction and Technology as a Woman

Turner Construction Co. – Portland Study

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