October is Careers in Construction Month, and we are proud to highlight a few of the women at Mead & Hunt in the construction industry:
- Ashley Przybysz, Project Engineer, Transportation
- Jori Lemmon, Structural Practice Leader, Building Engineering
- Olivia Pina, Aviation Engineering Supervisor, Aviation
Jori, Olivia, and Ashley recently participated in a panel discussion hosted by Mead & Hunt’s Women’s Interest Group to talk about their experiences in the construction industry. Below are highlights from their discussion.
Why do you feel it’s important for women to be represented in construction?
Olivia Pina: When I started off, there were certain elements of the construction industry that were designed to accommodate men but not necessarily women. I wanted to make the field and the industry a little bit better than when I started, encourage other people to think about our needs and what we want, and what really inspires us to get out in the field. I really want to make the construction industry more welcoming and accommodating for women.
How do you handle differential treatment in a high stress construction environment?
Ashley Przybysz: When you’re not indoors or in an office setting, there can be some colorful characters and personalities out there. When something goes wrong or there’s something stressful, sometimes people on the site are just not having it, and one of the biggest things I’ve learned is to not take it personally. Sometimes when you get that negative feedback, one of the best things I’ve done is just stay calm, or even just step away for a few minutes.
I used to be a lot more aggressive, and then I realized that that’s not the best approach. Over time I’ve asked for help and advice on how to handle different personalities and situations, and that’s been helpful because it’s allowed me to still be me 100%.
Any advice for how to handle unwelcomed attention?
Olivia Pina: Cut it short. When you notice it, don’t let it go on, don’t let it fester. I’ve had to raise the issue to my manager, and they talked with the client within an hour. It made me realize I should not have held onto that as long as I did.
What are some things that carried you through any tough times in the field?
Ashley Przybysz: One of the things I realized while in the field was that my attitude is in my control. I don’t have to be the super aggressive person going on site screaming at everyone. That’s just not me. My favorite thing to do is walk the job in the morning to see what’s going on and say good morning to everyone. Honestly, it just gets everyone else in a better mood and creates a really good relationship.
When was a time you experienced inequality in construction, and how did you overcome it?
Jori Lemmon: One of my favorite things to do is, when we’ve got new engineers, I have them job shadow one of my male colleagues onto a jobsite. Then I have them job shadow me and see if they notice the difference in how we’re treated. Inevitably, they notice that I am asked a lot more questions. I have to know more than my male colleagues, and I have to defend my work more than they do. That hasn’t really gone away. It’s improved a lot, but it’s still there. I think it’s going to take a while for that to fully dissipate from this industry.
What are some notable improvements you’ve seen since the beginning of your career to now?
Jori Lemmon: When I first started on construction sites, it was crude, rude, and you just had to take it. There wasn’t a lot of pushback of, “Hey, this kind of behavior is not acceptable.” If you couldn’t put up with it, then you weren’t tough enough to be on the construction site. I love how much more inclusive it is, and how I don’t have to tolerate anything anymore.
Olivia Pina: I went from being the one female inspector on site in a group of 8-10 people to, last year, having my first female intern on site. It was great because I was able to ask her the questions that I wish were asked of me. I’m hopeful that everyone can learn to ask those questions and check in with the women on site. Representation really matters, because now we have more women on site, and we have more of a voice.