What's It Like Being a Woman in the Construction Industry?
In this Q&A with project manager Stephenie Tellez, we learn more about the experience, opportunities and challenges facing women who chose a career in construction.
Why did you choose a career in the construction industry? Was the trade community something you were aware of and interested in learning about?
I don’t think that I chose a career in the construction industry but rather the career chose me. I became part of the construction industry by default. I was raised in a family that ran one of the largest road construction companies in the Mountain West. I have been fascinated with large machinery, tools and the transformation of space since I was a young girl.
Did you face any initial adversity, as a female in the industry?
When I first started in the construction industry, I was constantly being told I was too soft and needed to learn to be more aggressive with my sub-contractors. As a woman I was taught to be nurturing and supportive so it was challenging to hear “Don’t let these guys walk all over you!” every day. There’s always that need to find balance as a woman directing crews that are 98% men. Nearly ten years later, I feel I have found that balance. I have learned to be tough but fair and have excellent work relationships with my sub-contractors and clients.
What barriers do you feel women in the construction industry face that their male counterparts often do not experience?
I think that women face barriers in the construction industry before they’re even old enough to choose it as a career. Most young girls are not encouraged by their parents, educational institutions or communities to consider careers in this industry. When thinking of construction and the trades, most see men filling such positions and not women. Construction is looked upon as maybe being a little rough and some think women can’t handle the rough and tumble nature of the business.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part is keeping everyone on schedule. This has been exacerbated over the last couple years with supply chain delays and lack of laborers. There has been a slight improvement recently, but not much. Where there is improvement though, is with the clients because they seem to have a better understanding of the reasons behind the delays that everyone in the industry is experiencing.
As for finding reliable laborers, that’s still up for debate. I’m very fortunate, in that the sub-contractors that I work with make magic happen in the final hours. The worrying and frustrations come with the industry, but it is well worth it when the project wraps up!
What's the most rewarding part of the job?
The most rewarding part is seeing the finished product. I absolutely love the process of a project from start to finish because it gives me an outlet for my creative side. And the final product is always rewarding and beautiful, no matter the size or complexity.
What has been your most memorable, professional experience in the industry?
My whole construction career has been memorable. Every new experience and project has taught me something. Seeing women in the field is always exciting too. As a little girl I loved visiting my father’s job sites where I would ride around with one of the heavy equipment operators, Diane. She was the first woman I knew that had a role in the construction industry that wasn’t administrative.
Since then I have seen so many women in the field which is so rewarding. My oldest son works in construction and I spent some time with him on a project last summer - the expansion of a major airport runway. I met a woman named Celeste on the team that was the lead engineering inspector for the airport. Her role was to test the asphalt calculations throughout the day to make sure that the material stayed to spec. Also, my lead commercial electrician and his wife, Patti, work side by side in the field. She assists with pulling wire, materials, and coordination of the projects.
At the end of the day, while there are many memorable experiences, nothing beats getting to know so many talented individuals in different types of roles including my in-house team, sub-contractors, building engineers, building managers, architects, inspectors, township personnel, and tenants.
What advice do you have for women considering a career in construction (or any trade, for that matter?)
Go for it! Research opportunities and talk to individuals currently in the industry. For young women looking into career possibilities, attend trade fairs. There are so many opportunities in the industry, that finding something you’re passionate about won’t be hard to find. It’s a very rewarding industry and one that’s looking for women like you.