HomeResourcesLearning CenterCelebrating Women in Construction – March 2024

Celebrating Women in Construction – March 2024

International Women's Day in Construction

As we celebrate International Women’s Day this Friday, we’re shining a spotlight on several remarkable women driving innovation in the construction industry. In an era of unprecedented advancement, we’re excited to see female leaders spearheading many of these critical initiatives.

In our conversations with these women, we’ve noticed several compelling themes. We’ve discovered diversity ignites accelerated innovation. We’ve seen that embracing technology can empower us to pursue our most meaningful work, and lastly, sometimes unexpected challenges pave the way for pivotal opportunities—particularly for women ascending in historically male-dominated fields.

As we adopt an all-hands-on-deck approach to the challenges we face in the built environment, we want to thank these leaders and all women for their contributions, not only this month but every month.

May their stories inspire you, as they have inspired us!

Q&A with Women in Construction Management

Can you share a pivotal moment in your career within the construction industry that significantly influenced your professional trajectory?

In a prior role, I was asked to establish an innovation program and work with a global team of people for a large property development company. At the time I didn’t see it as a great opportunity – rather another initiative in an already initiative-fatigued business.  

I remember asking (maybe to my detriment) why me?  I believe I lacked the qualifications for the role and I considered politely declining the opportunity. But what my CEO said to me changed my perspective.  

He knew he needed someone who knew the business – how we make and lose money, how to motivate and collaborate with various disciplines throughout the business, and someone with an external network to understand industry trends. But what struck me most was his comment: “You don’t walk into a room and act like you know everything.” Instead, he encouraged me to “ask good questions and consider options. By doing so, people will feel heard and valued.” 

That decision changed my career path trajectory forever. It’s a hard job and can be lonely, frustrating, and thankless at times, as there is a high level of failure in innovation. After all, if we know the outcome – it’s not an experiment, right? Our industry is fragmented and low margin and so we tend to look at risk differently which could impact how and if we take calculated risks to innovate. Despite the challenges, what keeps me going are the people I get to engage with – academia, venture capital, emerging technology start-ups, clients, and even our competitors. And working with our teams and seeing how they respond to innovations that will make their lives easier. 

How do you foster a culture of innovation and promote diversity in your role?

Diversity is the foundation for better innovative outcomes. It’s a scientific fact. We get better ideas that are more inclusive when we have a diverse team of people. To foster a culture of innovation – there is of course the strategy part to include process, change management, stakeholder engagement, investment/funding appetite, identifying all the interdependencies, and a flexible agile road map for execution aligned with objectives and key results – all things that most companies do. But I think you need to set realistic goals and start with quick wins. This business is a “show me” business and so I’ve tried to show how we got the quick wins, put people’s names up in lights (recognition), and celebrate the wins. That for me started the momentum from which to build on. 

When we are looking to launch a new pilot or conduct an innovation hack, team composition becomes a critical consideration alongside the problem we aim to address. It’s integral to our approach. Recently, we had approved a pilot with a new Gen AI start-up company and when looking to find the project sites for us to run the pilots, I selected two women business leaders in two different markets as our core sponsor of these efforts. The outcome? A dynamic collaboration between two women leaders working with a female founder of the start-up and me as the innovation leader. 

One of the big industry challenges is what we call shadow IT solutions. Solutions that were purchased with the best of intentions but failed in adoption or just automated more complexity. Root causes when you look at what happened is generally not having a diverse team involved in making the decision, and most importantly, including the people that do the work.

What are the most exciting developments on the horizon for construction technology?

I look at innovation as more than technology – we define it as delivering shared value. It could be a process improvement/non-technology solution. To stay on topic with technology – I think the most exciting development is Generative AI because of the trajectory and the benefits to society. The irony is that many may look at this technology as replacing humans, but the reality is that we are looking at technology that will allow people to work on more purposeful work – eliminating redundant or low value work so that they can focus on high value, more meaningful work. We will still need humans involved with the technology – and they might just be happier people. I think we are all struggling to imagine the benefits of this technology as there has been a lot of information published about its risks. We are running some pilots now and our initial assessments and ROI analysis is showing promising efficiencies and ROI. It also feels like there is more collaboration and sharing within the industry on emerging technology and innovation which will make our industry better in the long run. 

Can you share the reason you entered the construction industry?

I am in construction “involuntarily” to an extent. I grew up in a small town in Austria in a fairly poor environment. My dad was a carpenter, so he took me to construction sites to help him. I began working at age 12 as an apprentice carpenter, ultimately working in skilled trades for several years. The skilled trades taught me the value of hard work and allowed me to fund my dreams of education and entrepreneurship. In just a few years, I worked my way up to foreman, superintendent, and site manager of increasingly large and complex construction projects.

Can you share a pivotal moment in your career within the construction industry that significantly influenced your professional trajectory?

A defining moment in my career occurred during my tenure as a site manager overseeing a team of several hundred people. There was a tragic accident where a worker lost their life on the job. Around the same time, I was getting my PhD in data science and civil engineering, essentially construction technology. I understood that software can be used to decrease job site accidents and make construction sites safer – which is why I developed a health-and-safety app. This gave me my first taste of entrepreneurship and made me realize that the positive impact I can have with software in construction is way greater than as a construction executive.

Could you highlight one achievement that you are particularly proud of?

I am incredibly proud of what we are building at Trunk Tools. Trunk Tools’ mission is to enable the deskless workforce. While many construction tech solutions focus on office staff, our approach enables field workers at the heart of the industry. We are dedicated to enhancing their productivity, safety, and predictability through intuitive, mobile-friendly tools designed to be used in their existing daily routines. Currently, we are leading worldwide when it comes to applied generative AI in the field, and I am incredibly proud of our team that has pulled this off. 

Can you share the key milestones and experiences that led you to become a project manager in the construction industry?

I wish it was a bit more intentional – my mother, a huge proponent of education, encouraged me to pursue either business or engineering. Business sounded boring and I was good at math, so I chose engineering (spoiler: I chose both in the end). Since I liked architecture, cities, and the tangible world, civil engineering seemed like the right fit. After completing my B.S. at Maryland in Civil Engineering and a few internships at GCs, I went straight to study Sustainable Design & Construction at Stanford – a unique program that focused on construction management.

My goal was to become some sort of structural engineer-architect who could optimize function and aesthetics. In theory, amazing, but after my first structural engineering job, I realized this is really quite challenging in practice. I stumbled upon SpaceX and immediately did everything I could to get in the door – after nearly harassing HR to find a use for my skill set, I learned they had a construction department and they were hiring interns. Some people travel to Europe when they graduate, I chose my version of space camp.

SpaceX was the perfect combination of everything I was looking for – construction, aerospace, and a high-speed culture, so the rest was history. I spent roughly 7 years working up from intern to, in the end, managing the construction department.

I have temporarily hung up my hard hat to work on the next milestone to become a better leader in construction to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School, but I can’t wait to get back to the field.

Could you highlight one or two projects that you are particularly proud of and share the impact they had on your career?

The most challenging construction project was definitely building a single-span pedestrian bridge across several lanes of traffic. The schedule was fast-tracked and the budget was slim. In hindsight, I think I was given the project because no one wanted to touch it. It was high profile and didn’t have a high chance of success given the prescribed metrics for success: time, money, and quality (these are hard to achieve all at once). Not only did completing this project with [minimal] fire drills propel my career at SpaceX, it taught me the necessity to dive into the details, the need to leverage and learn from my elders, and the immense complexity of construction plans especially when multiple designers are involved.

Similarly challenging, I bought a distressed triplex a few years ago and spent six months renovating and turning over units to new tenants. There was a reason the property was discounted – perhaps similar to the project above, no one wanted this one. Through a rupture of the main water line, sewer leak, tenant dispute, contractor dispute, structural issues, and flea-pocolypse, I learned a lot by doing. I took a leap and when there is no other option than to figure it out, you really rise to the occasion.

In summary, sometimes the projects no one will touch are the best opportunities to prove yourself. For better or worse, oftentimes women need to strive harder to establish a reputation in a field like this, so when opportunity knocks, answer the door.

Looking towards the future, what excites you most about construction and real estate?

Thinking toward the future, I am most excited about the use of robotics in construction to maximize productivity and quality, while minimizing errors and safety incidents. In the same vein, I am excited to see how many technologies emerging from the aerospace industry can inform and advance construction technologies. With mundane, repetitive, and unsafe tasks handled, I hope it empowers our labor force to focus on the most value-add activities.

Finally, I am excited for a future where we are building on not only Earth, but the Moon, Mars, and beyond. I’ve loved space since I was a little girl, so I dream of the day extraterrestrial construction becomes within our capabilities as humans. Soon!



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