Some of us know all too well the challenges women can face working in what was once an all-male profession. Though the building industry has made strides to create a more inclusive environment, we recognize it still has a long way to go. This year, for Women in Construction Week, we sat down with Kristi Dowd, Jennifer Sutherby, and Julia Tolman to ask them about their experiences working in the building industry and how they’re changing the narrative on what it means to be a woman in construction.
What led you to project management in construction?
Kristi Dowd: My interest in construction started when I was younger, listening to stories about my great grandfather’s home building business. In my early college days, a family friend offered me a position as a project coordinator at their real estate and project management firm, assisting senior managers. I found it all fascinating – going from an idea to a built structure and occupied space – and thought that being able to contribute to this process was an awesome opportunity. I quickly pivoted my college courses to building construction and engineering and never looked back.
Julia Tolman: I sat in on construction meetings during a Real Estate Development internship in college and I was intrigued by the problem-solving it took to overcome obstacles. I realized there was so much more to construction than I had initially thought, and I loved the team approach and strategizing required to build a successful project.
Jennifer Sutherby: I became a project manager in construction because I wanted to see and understand all facets of a project and because I am obsessed with problem-solving. I get to collaborate with experts in the field, and sometimes across industries, to find the best solutions to project-specific problems.
What is a unique aspect of being a woman in construction?
KD: Today compared to over 20 years ago when I started in this industry, there is more opportunity than ever for a woman to pursue many career avenues in construction.
JT: As a woman in construction, you are a minority within a male-dominated industry. Not only is there a sense of camaraderie with other women off the bat but being the only woman in a room also offers the opportunity to bring a unique perspective and a different way of thinking to the table.
How do you think construction can attract more female candidates?
JT: Having women who are on project sites represent their companies at career fairs and conferences is critical in reminding young women that this is an industry for everyone. If a woman is encouraged by another to be out there in the field, she can also be inspired to join the industry in any other capacity.
JS: So long as women keep executing meaningful work in the industry, more women will look up and keep coming.
What is a change you’d like to see in the construction industry?
KD: Less siloed work and more cross-collaboration as the norm, not the exception. And more women-owned construction companies!
JT: I’d like to see more women join the industry. I also think there needs to be better work-life balance and industry leaders need to be more mindful of personal time in general. I saw many parents struggle to coordinate pick up and drop off times for their children’s schools, as most of the time we were required to be on-site before school started and worked well after it was out. I’ve started to see a shift in this culture and am encouraged that the industry will continue to improve on this.
What advice would you give to someone, especially a young woman, entering the industry?
KD: Be confident, be yourself, work hard, and sometimes stretch yourself. Join professional network organizations like Professional Women in Construction which can be incredible resources for mentoring and relationship building that will prove invaluable over time as your career grows.
JT: I would encourage a young woman entering the industry to foster relationships with other women within the industry. It is easy to become secluded to your project team and if there are no other women on a project, it can feel isolating. I’m encouraged by the young women joining the industry and hope that the days of being the only woman on a team are limited.
JS: If you want to pursue a career in the construction industry, don’t focus on the things that you think might stand in your way. Show up, work hard at what inspires you, and advocate for yourself and others. The rest falls into place.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
KD: No matter how many years of experience you have, you’re guaranteed to learn something and someone new on each and every single project.
JT: I like to problem-solve and strategize, it’s what initially led me to construction, and I love the ability to see the fruits of my labor. I can point to a building amidst the skyline and say, “This challenged me and made me a stronger individual both personally and professionally.” That’s exceptional.