As part of a nationwide movement, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and the greater construction community annually devotes the first week of March to highlighting the growing role of women in the industry. Every year, the community showcases, empowers, and celebrates women who devote their careers to this field. HBC joins the celebration by sitting down with one of our very own women in construction, Sarah Webb, to talk about her experiences and insights. Sarah is a Project Manager at HBC, and over the span of a successful 35-year career, has managed projects for LoanDepot, Belkin, The Bouqs Co., and UST Global, among others.
Having been in this industry for 35 years, which trends or shifts have been most impactful to you as you have navigated your career path?
Gosh, that’s such a long time. I think the use of cell phones and email. One would think it would make one’s life easier but I’m not sure it really does. It does make everything quicker! You know, I never turn my phone off—it’s on all day, all night. Which is good because you can keep in touch with your clients and your people in the field. I respond and often have some clients say, “Why are you still up?”
What do you think would help create more job openings and career advancement opportunities for women in the industry?
You know, that’s a tough one. I certainly think in the base building side of construction there are a lot more women moving up and getting involved. However, I feel there’s not as many women in the tenant improvement market, so creating more job opportunities and advancement opportunities would help. I think getting women interested at an earlier age is key. There’s a lot of women who go to college to become architects, so I think there needs to be more emphasis from universities promoting construction, construction management, and engineering courses and degrees to women. I mean, I fell into construction purely by chance. It was not my career choice or path. It was just what was made available to me and it’s been good.
Some studies show that less than 10% of the construction workforce is made up of women. Do you foresee this number changing in the future?
And I bet 90+% of that “workforce” is made up of office positions in lieu of field positions. But yeah, I think it is changing and that’s a good thing. For example, here at HBC, we have a number of young women moving up in the ranks, so I think that 10% will be increasing dramatically. And frankly, the industry needs more women as women tend to have empathy in dealing with all of the different situations that come along and we’re organized with attention to detail. Particularly in the tenant improvement group, the project turnover is so quick that you’ve got to be organized. You’ve got to keep things straight and pay attention to details; otherwise, you just can’t keep up.
So, you’ve kind of touched on this already, but are there any other traits that a person needs to be successful in the construction industry?
You have to be committed. You’ve got to have almost an A.D.D.-type personality because it is so fast-paced. You can’t complete tasks so quickly that you’re making errors, but time management is very important, along with attention to detail, prioritization, and organization. You also need to communicate effectively and be available to your teammates, especially the guys in the field. A lot of them work nights or start at 4 in the morning and so you just really have to want to do it, otherwise it’ll take you down or burn you out.
What would be your advice to a young person who is starting out on the path to becoming a construction project manager?
Run [laughs]. No, that’s not true. You certainly
meet some amazing people along the way! I think the best advice I can give is
to realize and accept that you don’t know everything and utilize those around
you. I think a lot of the people starting out won’t admit that and subsequently
suffer. We are surrounded by amazing resources — architects, engineers, subcontractors,
vendors — who are more than happy to help if only asked. And, of course, the
best resources are within your own company. You’re not alone and you’re
not supposed to know it all. Reach out to them and, for the most part, they’re
only too thrilled to show you, teach you, or explain to you. I mean, here at
HBC, we have such tremendous resources. There isn’t anything that you couldn’t
find out from someone here. Also, it is definitely a man’s world, so you’ve got
to feel comfortable in yourself to not let that intimidate you and not be
afraid to stand up for what you think. The industry does have its challenges
but also tremendous rewards. I’ve met my best friends and my husband through this
industry, so it has great people!