What was your first job in construction – what is a favorite memory from that experience?
My first project was a Wind Turbine project in the mountains of West Virginia. I made amazing friends on that project that still feel a bit like family to this day.
I remember early on in the project my Superintendent taking me out and asking me to look at a connection on an air compressor hose. He asked if I knew what I was looking at and I said no. He explained Chicago couplers to me and the need to always have a cotter pin, how whip checks worked and that it was important they sit above and below (not on) the fitting.
There were grumblings that he didn’t like having women on his sites and those got back to me, but I didn’t let it bother me. A few years later we were on another project together and he asked me to go for a ride in his truck.
He came clean on the grumblings and admitted he didn’t really know what to do with me when I showed up on his last site. I asked him if he remembered the first thing, he ever taught me and he said “no”. I said, “I do” and I recounted for him exactly what he had taught me about Chicago couplers. I told him he didn’t have to do anything different with me because I was a girl, I just needed him to teach me and treat me like he treated everyone else because I wanted to learn.
What educational background / professional training did you have at that point?
I had a master’s degree in environmental health and safety, but I didn’t know a thing about construction. I was asking questions like crazy and spending every minute I could onsite learning everything I could about construction from the crews in the field!
Tell us about other positions in Construction you have had since – what has been most rewarding?
SE, SEII, Sr. SE, Safety Manager, OGSD, Director and now Senior Director of Health and Safety. I really enjoyed my time as a Senior Safety Engineer. I was working in Seattle with a great team of salaried and craft team members. I spent all of my time either onsite or doing craft training at the time.
I really enjoyed the relationships I built there. As OGSD for our Federal Contracting Group we worked with a lot of smaller trade partners across the country, it was rewarding to help educate those trade partners and I believe by sharing our programs we helped make a positive and lasting impact to their business and the safety of their workers.
What were challenges you overcame?
Working in certain parts of the country, as a younger female safety director, I sometimes felt as if I wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt by owners or trade partners. My group and project leaders always made sure to open the door for me in meetings or other engagements. I knew once I had the floor, if I knew my stuff, they’d listen. It motivated me to always be on top of my game and earn my CSP credentials.
Do you have any advice for young women pursuing careers in construction?
Don’t hesitate, go for it. Regardless of age, race, gender, political belief…construction is not for the faint of heart. But if you’re up for hard, fast-paced work, and you are willing to put in long hours with some of the most genuine and caring people you’ve ever met…you’ll find it extremely rewarding.
Construction is as much about building relationships as it is about building buildings, but most people don’t realize that until you are in the industry. Each site is like a tight knit family. You joke around over coffee before work starts, have lunch together, go for happy hour after work…everyone looks out for each other…it becomes a second family.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?
I wish that as I was learning the work in the field, I would have taken time to learn the “business” side of our industry. I waited until I was an OGSD to give that much attention and I likely missed the opportunity to learn more from some great project managers and engineers in the field.
What is the most iconic or favorite project you’ve worked on and why?
I’ve been a part of some cool projects but when I think of my favorite projects I think of the people. We worked really long hours in hard conditions on my first wind project, but as I mentioned earlier, I made life-long friends on that job.
I love going back to Seattle and (preCOVID) giving/getting big hugs from the craft workers that were on my projects when I lived out there, catching up on their wives, kids, grand kids, retirement plans…and I haven’t lived there in 12 years. Over the years I realized it is way less about what we are building, for me, it is about who I am building it with.
Do you have a favorite mentor or someone who is always there for you or you count on to have your back?
I still have the pleasure of working with Fravel Combs who hired me out of grad school and has been an outstanding resource throughout my career. I have moved around a lot in the organization and have always been fortunate to have great leaders, teammates, and talented craft that were willing to answer my questions and help me learn.
What are a few of the biggest differences in the industry from when you began your career in construction?
The bathroom lines at the women’s room are getting longer : ) We still have a few rough edges, but I think we are more conscious and considerate of each other’s feelings than we maybe were when I started. We have a greater technology focus in the field to help us work smarter, not just harder.
When you started your career did you have to share the portable toilets with the men, or did you have your own -:) I think I had my own, but I feel like there was usually only one and it was rarely convenient, so I usually bucked up and shared.