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How Women Are Building the
Future of Construction

03/10/2021

1 Hour Watch Time

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Catie Williams, an InEight Product Director sits down with Megan Siefker, Director of Customer Success at InEight, Anayeli Martinez Real, a Kiewit Project Manager, Ellie Barko, a Product Manager at InEight and Shannon Barlow, a Project Manager at CCC Group to discuss the power and value that women are bringing to changing landscape of construction. Each panel member explores the advice and knowledge they have gained throughout their career and how they can continue to encourage and engage women to enter, grow and lead within the construction industry. 

TRANSCRIPT


Catie Williams:

My name’s Catie Williams, and I am so excited to be here today to host InEight’s Women in Construction webinar. As most of you are aware, it’s Women in Construction Week, and so today, we have several ladies here to talk about their experiences and share their insights. We’re just really looking forward to having an open dialogue and have lots of discussion that we share with you. As I said, my name’s Catie, I’ve been in the industry for 13 years, all of that has been in IT, but for the construction and engineering industry. I feel a lot of passion around encouraging girls and women to be interested in STEM fields, and so that’s why I have a lot of passion to be here today. A couple housekeeping things, and then we will have all the ladies introduce themselves on our panel. You are muted, so you can’t interrupt us at any time, but you can ask us questions. Please ask us questions. We got several before we got started today, which I will incorporate, but please feel free to ask questions at any time and also give us feedback.

Catie Williams:

We’d love to know how we did, and if there’s anything else you’d like to see us address or talk about at a later time. With that, I think we will kick it off for introductions. Anayeli, do you want to go first? And then we’ll just go in alphabetical order, maybe tell everyone about yourselves or yourself and what interested you in this field and maybe why you’re here today too.

Anayeli Martinez Real:

Yeah, of course. Thank you, Catie. My name is Anayeli Martinez Real, and I am a project manager for Kiewit, specifically Kiewit Building Group, so we do vertical construction. I joined construction and engineering, I got a construction engineering degree, and I specifically joined it because I really loved the math and science classes when I was in high school. Well, in all K through 12, and later on, somebody talked to me about engineering and I did a job shadowing, and I fell in love with the industry. That’s the why. Thank you, Catie. Turn it back to you.

Catie Williams:

Ellie, you want to go next?

Ellie Barko:

Sure. Hi everyone. I’m Ellie Barko. I am currently a product manager for a Contract and Change for InEight. Previous to going to InEight about two years ago, I worked in the construction industry as a project manager on multiple projects over my 13-year career, and switched it up and doing some technology for the interim to hopefully make an impact for all the other project managers out there. But I got started actually influenced to do it by a high school paper I had to write on gender equity and math and science, which was super weird, but that’s what intrigued me along with family in construction, so grew up around it. And to say what Anayeli said is, I love the challenge, I love that it’s always problems to solve, and fixing those problems or solutionizing, I mean, that’s to me, the best part of the job.

Catie Williams:

That’s great. Thank you, Ellie. Megan, do you want to go?

Megan Siefker:

Yeah. Absolutely. Hello, everyone. I’m Megan Siefker, I have been in the industry about eight years, a little over eight years now. Started my career working for a division of Kiewit, the industrial company. So started as a field engineer out on a lot of different, large power projects, moved my way up to superintendent and then project engineer, spent a little time also in startup and commissioning. Absolutely loved being out in the field but started working on a lot of the project controls technology. And so, since I have moved over to InEight and now work with all different customers who are implementing technology to optimize process flows, and so I still get to work in the construction space, working with construction companies from commercial to residential, to industrial, heavy civil, so get to get that feel of the industry, and then help companies introduce technology to better their processes.

Megan Siefker:

That’s a lot of fun. I got my start similar to Ellie, had family in construction, got to see my dad worked, still does in construction and just always how fast paced his job seemed, always problem solving, that was something I was really attracted to. I feel pretty lucky that I was exposed very early on to construction, and it drove me to go into that. I went to University of Florida into their construction program, and always knew what I wanted to do. I’m excited to talk to all the people out there today who might be considering entering construction. And every girl I meet, I just throw out the idea out there, “Hey, look, there’s tons of opportunities to share.” If they don’t have someone in construction, oftentimes it doesn’t make its way to them that this is a very viable career path with a lot of different opportunities.

Catie Williams:

That’s great, Megan, and I’m looking forward to talking more about how we get a young ladies and women and girls interested in this industry. Shannon, sorry that your last, but do you want to go ahead and introduce yourself also?

Shannon Barlow:

Sure. I’m Shannon Barlow, I work for a CCC Group. We are an industrial construction company. I didn’t decide to get into construction ever. I was young and had no idea what I wanted to do. I’d never been exposed to construction, didn’t know anything about it, went and needed a job, and started sweeping the floor at a construction site. I was really way too hyperactive for them, they said they kept trying to keep me busy with teaching me more and more and more stuff. I became a pipe fitters helper, learned to be a pipe fitter, traveled for years doing that. That was my trade. People noticed that I had a little bit of a brain, started giving me more and more stuff to do. I was a pipe designer for a while. I’ve done project engineering, I’ve done project management and estimating. I’m now in project controls, teaching other people to do what I know how to do.

Shannon Barlow:

But I just fell into it over time, I guess. The reason I’m here today really is because I’ve got four daughters of my own, and I really think that they can do absolutely anything they want to, and I just want other girls to know that too.

Catie Williams:

Whoops, hit the wrong button instead of the mute. Thank you. When we were preparing for the webinar, I think I realized that we can talk about a lot of things and go well past the hour. I will try to time check, but I think as much … if any of you ever want to jump in on a question, I’m going to try to direct them. Shannon, I’m going to start with you since we ended with you, but maybe you could talk about some of the challenges you faced. And like I said, feel free, anybody else that wants to comment. But maybe you could talk about some of the challenges you’ve faced in the industry as a woman, and how you overcome those challenges or things that you still see as being a challenge that need to be overcome. Let’s maybe start there.

Shannon Barlow:

Okay. Well, I’ve been in construction for 28 years, a lot longer than you guys. When I started, I was the only girl. I was young, and so the guys on the job site had this joke and I’m sure it was a joke for many years before I was there. It was that it was easy to have women and children doing it. I decided that that was going to be my thing, and so anytime somebody was thinking something’s difficult, I would look at him and say, “If it was easy, they’d have women and children doing it because I was both, and I’ll go and do it.” That’s how I got around anyone who didn’t really accept me for being there, which was kind of take a little humor and turn it around on them. Now, I see so many more women in the field, and I’m glad that they have it a lot easier, thankfully, because I did.

Catie Williams:

Yeah. I mean, have any of you other ladies experienced the same thing? I mean, Megan, you made some comments about being asked to get coffee and being assumed to be the secretary. How do you get past that? How do you build rapport and build that respect from your peers that you deserve to be there, and you’re not any different just because you’re a woman?

Megan Siefker:

Yeah. I think I had some similar experiences. When I started out, I was very young, I still looked pretty young, and everyone assumed that I was a secretary role. I would walk into a meeting with my laptop, ready to present on something, and they would ask me to get coffee or things like that. I would just brush them off because if you have confidence in yourself and you know that as soon as that meeting starts, they’re going to change their perception of me. And every encounter that I have like that, it’s changing another person’s perception of how they are viewing females in the room. I never wanted to make a big deal about it like, “Oh, absolutely not, I’m not going to get you coffee”, just brush it off and say, “Okay, he’ll figure out soon enough that I’m a boss around here, and I add value to the job site in everything that I do.”

Megan Siefker:

But I also think when I had the opportunity to be on job sites, going out and meeting all the crafts and not being afraid to get your hands dirty and showing that you have that mutual respect, I mean, I respected the craft so much and everything that they were doing and just wanted to learn from them. So I think approaching it as I want to learn from you, teach me everything that you can, then that builds their respect for you as well, because there were things that I could teach them on the technology side and the project controls side, so you start to get that mutual respect. When I was a superintendent, I didn’t have a single foreman on any of my crews, so me going out there and saying, “Hey, I’m not just going to be telling you what to do, I want to learn from you as well and let’s work together”, I think that builds that rapport that you’re talking about.

Catie Williams:

Ellie or Anayeli, do you want to throw anything in there before I go to the next question?

Anayeli Martinez Real:

Yeah. I definitely can add a few commentary there. I would say I echo a lot of the things that Megan was saying. When folks in construction, I mean, a lot of the people that are there are very passionate about building things, and so when they see the passion, that you have a similar passion in building, then it no longer becomes a gender thing. It’s like, oh man, we’re all super excited about building a new bridge, or building a new road or getting this building off the ground. So when people see that, I feel like that helps overcome, because then they know that you’re there to learn, they know that you’re willing to put in the work to get the project moving forward and you’re an asset as they are as well, and you’re all part of a team. And so, I think that’s, for me anyways, when I was starting off, that’s what I felt like, is just showing that I was part of the team and I wanted to be there and I loved what I was doing. I think that’s what really helped me at the beginning

Ellie Barko:

I echo everything, there are challenges similar to what Shannon said of commentary. And they’ve become less, but you also have to be you and be resilient and figure out, like Megan said, how to brush it off or how to approach it professionally so that you can show what you’re worth. You do have those instances where you want to learn. I mean, we want to teach. The men are no different, they want to teach us too. So, the more we ask questions like Megan says, then the better relationship you build and the better respect that you build, but you still will have those challenges, and it’s how you react to them that are going to define who you become.

Catie Williams:

That’s great. Megan, I think it was you that said the word confidence, and something Ellie and I were talking about is when you’re early in your career, your confidence is a lot lower. I mean, I remember someone making a comment to me about my hair and it having this huge impact, like a male said something about my hair and it not being professional, and I mean, it really impacted me. I think if that had happened today, my response would be very different than my response was then. And so, you’re all several years into your career, what advice or suggestions do you have to young women that are just starting their career and they’re facing these things? Because I think Ellie, you gave me some really good examples of things that had happened to you early in your career, and how different is your perspective now, and what suggestions do you have for someone first coming in to accelerate that feeling of confidence in what you do and what you bring to the table? It was long winded, I know, hopefully-

Ellie Barko:

I can answer that. I mean, to what Shannon said, when she started, there wasn’t as many women, today, you can see there’s four women on this call today and there’s way more, but you still are self-conscious when you’re coming back. If I look back at what I was 13 years ago, you are a little nervous. I mean, I think that’s anybody, but you also have to learn … I mean, it can stem into finding a mentor, somebody to help you learn how to manage those situations. And they can be men, they can be women, they don’t even have to be in the same industry. I think you run into those issues regardless of if you’re in construction or not. I have friends that are in different professions, they can help me manage those situations. But yes, there are some other ones like your hair or something like that that can come up, and we don’t need to go into some of the details that we’ve gotten over the years, but it’s come a long way, and I think finding somebody to talk to about those things is the best thing.

Ellie Barko:

It can be hard when you start and you’re on a job because Catie and Megan and Shannon you know and when you start a job, that’s your family, is that job. That’s probably the biggest challenge, I think from a construction perspective, is you don’t get to see the entire company and meet the 150 people that are in the office. You work with the 50 people that are on the job. And so trying to broaden yourself outside of those 50 people, so you have someone else to help you grow is a challenge at the beginning, but something that would significantly help.

Megan Siefker:

Yeah. I think I would add, some of those comments about your looks, and those still do exist today, I think knowing your worth is way more than what you look like. And so trying to focus on, okay, what is the value that I am bringing and make sure I am aware of that. I know early in my career, I was working with a welding crew and I didn’t know much about welding, so I was like, how do I get myself to a place where I know more? So seeking out, like Ellie said, the mentorship to help you, tell you, okay, so I ended up taking a night welding class after work every day, and then that just instilled more confidence in me because I was building my knowledge. I think the more knowledge you’re building, the more expertise you’re getting. So seek out those abilities to invest in yourself more, and then you’ll start having that confidence, and more than, I’m more than just a pretty face I have now, all this knowledge that I’ve built up, I’ve gone out and seeked out opportunities to learn new things so that I can add more value.

Megan Siefker:

And now when I encounter some of those comments, you’re just like, really, I mean, that’s on the person who’s saying that comment more than it is a reflection on you, so I’m just going to go out and prove that person wrong.

Catie Williams:

No, that’s great. I don’t know if anyone has anything else to add on that before I switch to the mentor topic, because you both brought it up.

Shannon Barlow:

That was actually a good segue, I was going to say that surrounding yourself with people who know your abilities is helpful. I had guys that I traveled with and they knew what I could do, and them just being there and being like, “Look, she can do that”, other people listened, and then more people listened, and that made me much more confident because I was walking into a situation, not just me, I was walking in with my group, this is my crew, they all know what I can do, they all listen to what I have to say, and you will too.

Anayeli Martinez Real:

Yeah. And the only other thing I’d add to that is one thing that I did quite a bit is when I didn’t know how to do something, I know Megan brought this up, but I would just go do a bunch of research and learn what it was that I didn’t know. So if I was talking about safety and I didn’t know the specific topic, whether it was tools, operation, whatever the case may be, in the evenings, I would go read about it, go find information, that way when I came the next day, I came loaded with knowledge, which helped for me because then it’s like, I had a baseline to start a conversation. But if I had to go back to my younger self and give myself advice, and I know you’ll probably talk about this a little bit later is, I wish I wouldn’t have taken things so personally at the beginning, because sometimes people do say stuff to you and you’re like, oh my gosh, I have no confidence, and I’m like, what do I do with this information?

Anayeli Martinez Real:

But a lot of the times it is, some people, that’s just the way they are. They don’t mean it, they’re not trying to attack you as a person, that’s just how they are. And so, I wish I just wouldn’t have taken things more personal. I would have just joked back like, “Oh, why did you say that?” Or seriously, or just come back with some really simple phrases of brushing it off and that kind of stuff, and then go load myself with a bunch of information. I think that would have saved me a lot of headaches that I had or beyond. Anyways, that’s the only other thing I’d add there.

Catie Williams:

How would you guys recommend someone new at a job finding a mentor? I don’t know if you’ve got some suggestions on different organizations or internally if you have suggestions. I mean, I think that can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially since you’re saying it doesn’t just need to be a woman mentor, but also could be a male mentor. It’s probably good to have a balance of both, but what suggestions do you have for someone that is interested in finding this, but doesn’t know where to go?

Anayeli Martinez Real:

I can start off with that one. I would say that it depends on what it is that you’re looking for as an individual. So, if you’re looking for mentors specifically to help support you in you’re looking for leadership skills, or you’re looking for advice on how do I get to the next level in my career, I would say depends on what guidance you’re looking for. So identify that, I think that’s extremely important. Before you go look for a mentor, think about what it is that you want out of it. And then once you figure that out, you can look within your organization or outside of your organization, see what’s that person that has those trades as a professional that can help guide me in the direction that I’m really looking for, and that’ll help you find the person. And then when you find that individual, you can ask them, “Hey, would you be willing to be my mentor?”

Anayeli Martinez Real:

And when you start having those mentor meetings, because whether you have a monthly or quarterly, you are prepared to go in with specific topics or things that are on your mind and get that guidance instead of just, “Hey, I’m going to go look for a mentor, but I have no idea what I want out of it.” That person may not know what guidance to give you because they could give you all sorts of guidance, it just depends on what you need as an individual. That’s what I would add to that topic.

Catie Williams:

I’m not sure if anyone has anything else to add, but I want to shift it just a little bit. I think unfortunately, we sometimes distort numbers in these male dominated fields, or are you seeing a complete opposite, or do you have any advice about how to have a more supportive environment for women with women?

Anayeli Martinez Real:

I’ll start.

Catie Williams:

Great.

Shannon Barlow:

I would say that in construction, we are much more supportive of each other than any other industry. I really would say so. I guess, because we’re in small numbers. So when you see another one we’re like, “Hey, you, you’re now my friend, we’re going to work together and I’m going to help you and you’re going to help me.” I’ve seen that all across through engineering. I’ve got project coordinators who are women, I’ve got vendors that I work with, subcontractors that I work with, and ever there’s another woman involved, we seem to do things just at a little bit higher level because we know we have to. We have to prove ourselves, so we’re all working that much harder and and pushing each other along.

Catie Williams:

Yeah, that’s great. I always try to be really conscious of it and to make that extra effort that however I feel about someone isn’t because of them being a woman or whatever. That’s great, Shannon. Go ahead, Megan.

Megan Siefker:

Yeah. I’d also say what I’ve seen is especially women who are in higher positions, looking out for the next generation of women and really trying to uplift them and bring them up. Anayeli was talking about how to seek out a mentor, I’ve seen some women actually seek out to be a mentor, which was really opening and comforting to me. There’s not many of us, and so I think that construction is definitely much more supportive of women. I think when you start to get on the same level, then it starts to be a little bit, in some instances of the competitive nature, just like we’re at the same level, I want to maybe get ahead of you, and that’s what we have to squash. Let’s try to support each other and all move forward. But because I’ve definitely seen the different levels, a lot of support, but then when you’re in trying to get that next promotion, you’re like, well, let me be more competitive. And of course, that’s not going to benefit anyone.

Ellie Barko:

No, but what it does benefit is even if we are competitive, and you have another female that goes a step up, they take you with that step for one, is step for all, and you have a relationship with them, and that can help build your career and build the career for all the other young women. So regardless if you do have that competitive mentality, I think we also have that respectful mentality and the push for wanting more. And knowing that it moves it forward for all of us is the best thing to remember in that if women start to feel that way.

Megan Siefker:

I think the competition helps us all elevate our game and put more pride into our work too, so it’s good.

Catie Williams:

Are you seeing more women in leadership roles? That was a question that we had come in. I mean, from your vantage points, are you seeing enough movement in leadership roles or do you feel like women are getting passed over for those opportunities?

Ellie Barko:

Not as fast as I would, I mean, is my statement. I feel like to Shannon’s point, we have to work harder. It’s really easy to be noticed on the job when you’re a woman. I mean, you can’t miss a day and somebody not be like, “Where’s Ellie?” But yet at the same time, you’re not always thought of first when it comes to whether it’s putting this person in a leadership role that I don’t know that your name always comes up first. And so, we have to continue to prove ourselves and continue, in my experience, to be loud, and to be … maybe not loud is the right word, but to be an advocate for yourself, so you do make that impact so that they are thinking of you when they’re sitting around a table to get that promotion, or to get to that next level. I think we have to continue to work as hard as we have and advocate for ourselves.

Anayeli Martinez Real:

I’ll add a little bit to the first comment about the women elevating women. That’s one thing that I love about our industry, is that we do look out for each other when women come into the industry, and I love that. I love that about being in construction. I know in the last couple of years, we’ve spent a lot of time and resources in just like, what are the women that are coming into our district and how are we doing with women getting into leadership positions? And so, we’re having a lot of meaningful conversations and taking action and making sure that women are getting opportunities. And so, I would say it’s changing, and it’s changing in a good way. I mean, we have a lot more women in the district that I’m in than I ever had in my career. And even on my job team, we have … let’s see. Right now, there’s five of us, maybe six of us, and two are women. It’s going to grow, we’re going to have more.

Anayeli Martinez Real:

And so, I always love that, that it’s something that we’re aware of, that there’s less women in construction, but we’re being very mindful and trying to get more to come into the industry and supporting them. I’m super excited what the future is going to look like when you step on a job site, versus when I stepped on my first job site back in 2006.

Catie Williams:

Another question … Oh, did you want to add something, Megan? Sorry, go ahead.

Megan Siefker:

Yeah. I was just going to say, I mean, we might not yet see as many women in the leadership positions as we want, but I think there is an understanding that at least in the companies that I’ve been fortunate enough to work for, that they are seeking out women with high potential to see, how can I make a career path to get you to that next level and to get you into some leadership roles. That’s been incredibly encouraging, and I would say if you’re working for a company where you’re not seeing that, there are definitely plenty of companies who see the value in having women in leadership positions. And so, seek out to move to one of those companies. I mean, I know Kiewit and InEight, they’ve been doing a ton, and so that’s my experience. But if that hasn’t been your experience, know your worth enough to know that you should be at a company who understands the value that women can bring in leadership, just from being able to bring different perspectives, different insights, that diversity in leadership is really important.

Megan Siefker:

And so, working for a company that understands that and appreciates that is really valuable and makes you feel that much more appreciated as an employee.

Ellie Barko:

Yes, it does start from the top up. I mean, you can talk till you’re blue in the face, that you want to be able to do these things, but unless you can get management to change or get them to adapt to want to seek out those things, then you’re right, maybe that’s not the right place for you at this time, and so do go find a company. I mean, I said it on our live chat last week, I mean, for the fact that InEight’s even doing this, I mean, five years ago, there was still Women in Construction Week, but it wasn’t as advertised as it is now, and have as much support in those leadership roles. I mean, we’re still fighting for them, but we’re going to continue to.

Catie Williams:

We got a question that came in, are we seeing an increase in women of color in the industry? Do we feel like there are increasing opportunities as well? I know it’s along the same lines of having representation, but I don’t know if you guys could speak on that also.

Anayeli Martinez Real:

Well, I can speak a little bit to it. On the project that I’m on, same thing again, I mean, one of the … I’m Mexican American, and there’s two when I first … maybe just like three weeks ago, and there’s two other Latinas that are on our team. That was again, not the case before, so I do think that we’re starting to get more diversity into the industry, but a lot of that has to do with not the companies not wanting to hire people of color, but it has more to do with our people of color and women of color coming into the industry, because you can’t hire somebody that’s not going to the industry. I know I personally try to spend a lot of time talking to girls and mentoring girls to like, “Hey, plant a seed like construction and engineering is a great career, and this is why I love it.” So I mean, I think it takes a lot of us to just try to plant that seed in whatever community that we’re in across the country to try to get women to join and girls to be interested.

Anayeli Martinez Real:

And then if they join the industry, get a degree in that, then that creates a bigger pool which then we can start getting those folks to join our organization. So, I personally I’m starting to see that here where I’m at, so that’s exciting for me.

Ellie Barko:

Can I add? I mean, it’s been a strong passion of mine since starting. When you don’t see a lot of women or women of different diversity, we want just to be there at all. And so, one big passion for me is just outreach, outreach through here, outreach through high schools, being able to get in front of those young girls. And so, if you see her, you can be her. And then make a point to not just go to your local community, go to the outskirts of your local community, to do those outreach things. There’s a board that I sat on for years of underprivileged youth, mainly women of color, and I went down there at least two times a year to talk to them, and maybe two of the girls in the whole room had any interest, but those two girls sure got me super excited. And then just saying, “Here’s my card, you can come chat with me, you can come job shadow me.” You find connection to job shadow you in any construction industry, whether it’s engineering, whether it’s landscaping, I mean, anything we can help them find there.

Ellie Barko:

And it’s about us getting in front of them as well, so outreach is a huge, huge passion of mine.

Shannon Barlow:

I would agree with you, Ellie. I mean, you got to get girls interested young. People end up doing for their career what they had fun playing at as a kid. I mean, my favorite toys were a dump truck and a hammer. So my kids, they have all kinds of toys, they have Legos they like to build, they like to build on Minecraft, but they also have dolls. I mean, that’s just a diversity of interests stuff. You’ve got to get it out there so kids know that it exists. I didn’t know what a pipe fitter was, so I walked on the job site and they asked me if I want to be a pipe fitters helper, “Sure, what is it?” Because I didn’t know. If I had known that that was not an opportunity I had, then maybe that’s a direction I would have known I could have gone. But how many kids really know what an iron worker is, a pipe fitter is, even in high school, they don’t know what that is. I mean, kids should know what that is, schools don’t promote the trades in any way, and definitely not to women.

Shannon Barlow:

So if you want more women, more women of color in this industry, expose them to it. My children have all been in Girl Scouts, I was a Girl Scout, to me, that’s a great leadership start for young kids that they get to learn all kinds of STEM stuff in Girl Scouts. Another thing I was involved in around here is called ACE mentor, it’s architecture, construction, and engineering, and they do it in the high school setting, they take people from our industry, and match them up with high school students, and they build a project. And then there’s scholarships that go with that stuff, and so you got to start early, young. If you don’t hear about construction until you’re 25, it’s a little too late.

Ellie Barko:

Yeah, education. I mean, it comes back to guidance counselors, knowing those things in high school. So they can say here are all your other options, and for parents as well, that’s a big thing, like you said, for your daughters, to have diverse toys. I think of that consciously now when I’m like, oh, okay, I’ve bought my daughter a lot of dolls, how about we buy you a STEM flower garden so that you can build something. And as a reminder to myself I want to instill that in her young so that she will want to do those things as she gets older and want to … not I want her to be a builder, but at least educate them. And educate for the trades, because that’s another thing that I do heavily with AGC, is promoting the trades because not everybody has to go to college, not everybody wants to go to college, we have a large trade deficit in the industry which drives up the cost of construction, because we’re losing so many tradesmen. But tradesman are paid well, and they get basically free education.

Ellie Barko:

So just promoting that, it doesn’t always have to be the college route, and that stemming from home is super helpful.

Catie Williams:

Megan, were you going to say anything?

Megan Siefker:

Oh, no. I loved the point about college isn’t for everyone. I think Shannon’s a perfect example, there’s so many paths in construction, and learning a skill is amazing. And so, we need to make sure that we’re promoting also the perception that skilled craftsmen and women are incredibly valuable. There is a shortage, and if we thought, okay, well, how many percentage of women are craftsmen? Very low. Well, there’s your shortage, you’re missing half the population. So, how do we encourage more women to say, “Hey, if you like the hands-on stuff, some of the best welders are women because of your attention to detail and your natural ability to multitask and things like that.” That can add a lot of value out in the field, not just in management positions that require some bachelor’s degree or something, but go through the school of hard knocks and learn a craft, become really good at it, and then you can go in all these different directions if you do your job well and work hard. There’s a ton of opportunity to go through multiple paths to get where you want to get to.

Catie Williams:

I’m going to change gears just a little bit, and this is not timely to when this was mentioned, but Ellie, you said that women are working harder, and Megan, you mentioned that you took a night welding class to increase your knowledge. The question was, would men do the same thing? And so, I guess I’m asking, is it really harder for women? Do women really have to work harder? Do we think a man would do and make the same effort like you did Megan, for example? I’m elaborating on the question, but that was the general gist.

Shannon Barlow:

I think we do it to ourselves because we see that we’re the only one there, and so we have to be the best one there, so to be the best, you got to put more work in. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl, if you want to be the best, you have to put more work in, and I always want to be the best.

Ellie Barko:

But to your question, men will still take the class, they’ll still do those things, but the perception of what a woman thinks of herself versus what a male thinks of themselves is different. I mean, it’s proven, and it’s not just in the construction industry. There is some bias when you get to what a woman thinks that she thinks she needs to perform at a certain level before she could get promoted, whereas a male could get promoted without thinking that they need to perform at that level. I mean, there’s proven statistics just around that. Maybe then it comes off that we feel like we need to work harder because that’s the mentality we have, that we have to prove ourselves to get there, to earn it instead of being given that responsibility and then prove it. Does that make sense? Did that come off right?

Megan Siefker:

Yeah, I think to that point, I think some of the statistics, I’ve read some of those similar statistics about a position’s open, a woman won’t apply unless they meet all the qualifications, whereas a man is more likely to apply if they meet just a couple, and that mindset is probably the reason. I took a night class because if I’m going to manage welders, well, I want to make sure I know how to weld, and that might not be the same mindset that my male counterparts might have taken. I do think to Shannon’s point, we put it on ourselves. I absolutely want to be the best, and I would hope that there’s plenty of men out there too that want the same thing, so I mean, my hope is they are working just as hard, those high potential high achievers are out there.

Megan Siefker:

And a lot of the women that we see and we interact with, are those people, they chose the construction industry because it is challenging, because they wanted that challenge, so we might just be more those high achievers who are really driving to be the best, and that’s why we gravitated towards this industry too.

Catie Williams:

What are your thoughts on the wage differences? Have you personally been exposed to that, or do you feel like you know about it and exists? Because that goes a little bit hand in hand with that question about, is it harder for women?

Shannon Barlow:

I don’t know that there’s so much of the wage gap, but I will tell you that every construction job I ever started, I had to start as a pipe fitters helper, because they would believe me that I was a pipe fitters helper, wouldn’t believe me I was a pipe fitter, they wouldn’t believe me I was a foreman, they wouldn’t believe me I was pipe designer, wouldn’t believe me that I was project engineer, but they would believe I was a pipe fitters helper. So they’d hire me for a day as pipe fitter’s helper, and then within a week, they would have an apology and I’d get boosted.

Megan Siefker:

I haven’t experienced too much of a wage gap. I mean, I don’t know what every single one of my male counterparts makes, but I do think that I was lucky to start my career with a company that was very accepting to women and valued them. And so, I think I saw that my raises just among the field engineers always seemed to be higher than the men’s, and I thought that was because it was a very merit based company that we were working for. And if I was providing more value than a male, then I was going to get a higher raise. And so, I solved that in reality come to light. And so, I haven’t really experienced the wage gap. Now, I’m sure there’s companies out there that maybe just let that go under the radar. If you’re not trying to look into that and exposing if there is … if you are getting paid less, I would definitely want to know that.

Megan Siefker:

I’m not sure if any of you all on the panel have some experience, and how do you figure that out? I mean, that’s an open question for me. I don’t know.

Catie Williams:

Yeah, I would assume it’s pretty challenging, and not everyone is having those open conversations about your personal … Hey, but I mean, I guess hypothetically, if you were aware of it, let’s say you knew that you were mirrored in experience and what you brought to the table, I mean, how would you address it? Would you address it or do you just let it go on?

Ellie Barko:

I’ll talk from experience. I mean, there was a peer of mine that I worked well with, respected very much. We were both on separate projects the same year, we both were in the same role and both projects succeeded. Not to sound like I’m bragging, but mine had a better growth, had more profit. And so, I felt like I deserved a promotion, and maybe we’re not talking wage, but wage comes with promotion in that theory, and he was promoted and I was not. That was very upsetting for me, and I struggled with it a lot. And how do you have that? How do you go have that conversation? Because it’s not necessarily about the money, it’s more about the promotion and the acknowledgement at that point, and I wanted to know what it is that I didn’t do. And so, it’s about how you frame that conversation, and that was the approach that I took, tell me what it is that he has done that I haven’t so that I can work towards that to make myself better.

Ellie Barko:

And it really brought the perspective to management of, well, you did do everything that he did. Okay, then tell me why. And I never truly, probably got an answer, but those are the conversations that have to be had to better yourself, and to make other people aware of it. That very well could have happened if it was two males, if I was a male or that was another female, I still would’ve had the same conversation. But those things are just important to not … to me, it’s, don’t let that go under the rug, you want to be a high achiever, you want to grow, and those are ways you can grow.

Megan Siefker:

Yeah. You’ve got to hold people accountable if you know something like that is going on. To answer my own question I guess, when I got to project engineer role, I am starting to manage the staff indirect schedule, and then I can see how much everyone is making. So checking through that, making sure the female are in par with what the males at the same level, and then if there is an issue, absolutely bring it to their attention because that should not be going on in today’s world. So, we’ve got to hold people accountable if they are doing things like that.

Catie Williams:

Yeah. I mean, I think you both just keep hitting on you have to be your own advocate, and I think that that’s … I mean, a lot of the things you keep saying right, is really that it may be uncomfortable, but you have to bring these things up and be your advocate because it will help the future for women so much more. If one person is willing to stand up and say something, there’s a ripple benefit by doing that, for sure. Okay. I’m going to switch gears again to work life balance, and I know I shared with everyone beforehand that I didn’t know how comfortable everyone would be to talk about this, but very general my question, you can go as personal as you want, but how have you dealt with handling work-life balance, being a working mom, being in this industry and having a family? I know there’s lots of travel sometimes, the hours can be long, so maybe shed some light on what you’re comfortable sharing about how you’ve dealt with handling your work life balance. Well, Shannon?

Shannon Barlow:

Well, I work for a pretty good company, I would have to say when it comes … Yes, there’s a lot of long hours and everything, but when it comes to I need to get off to go pick up my kids, or I need to help the kids with homework, and instead of finishing this little thing that you wanted the next day, they’re very accepting. When I was out on maternity leave, it was no big deal, kids get sick, I work from home, you can work things around. People knowing that you’re good at your job, knowing what you’re capable of, what you bring to the table, that is the most important step to being able to have that work life balance though, because if I wasn’t putting my all in when I was at work, then I probably wouldn’t have those options to work from home or go pick up the kids when I want to.

Megan Siefker:

Yeah. I’ll say for me, I know that when I started, I was very focused on my career in my early years, and I made that decision myself. So as long as it was me making that decision, I told myself, I’m going to really grind for these first five to however many years, and I’m going to put in the work, I’m going to truly focus on my career. And so it was my decision to do that and let aside, I didn’t find a husband because I was working 80 hours a week, and so some of my life things shifted and took a back seat to the career, because that was what I wanted at the time. I think I always knew I’m going to get to a point where I am not going to have as much time to spend doing the 80 hour weeks, and I moved 10 times in five years. So moving my life all over the place, so I want to put in that time now, and I balance it out, not on a day-to-day basis, but this is my chunk of time, I’m focusing on work, I’m focusing on my career.

Megan Siefker:

I’m going to learn as much as I can, I’m going to build the respect within my company, so that then when I get to that point where I need to have that balance, they know the value I bring and I have the knowledge and I can now maybe have some more flexibility with my working schedule. So I think going into it knowing exactly what you want, because maybe early in your career, you want that work-life balance and you have to control your destiny there. That was how I handled it, and now I made the decision to move into more of a technology role, which does have some flexibility and more freedom. You’re not attached to the job site where you’re working the extremely long hours, even though of course, we all work long hours at times, but I have the flexibility to live where I want to raise a family and things like that. So, I’ve shifted into that next stage of life where, okay, now I’ve got to have more of that balance and I’m in the position now where my company respects that and is willing to work with me on that.

Anayeli Martinez Real:

I would agree that it is a personal decision on where you’re at, because I was the same way. I mean, I worked a ton of hours at the beginning just because I wanted to learn everything there was about construction, and I went the college route. And so, you learn about a lot about calculations and then get an engineering degree and all these things, but they’re not really teaching you how to become a builder, and when you’re managing construction, there’s just a lot that I felt like I needed to learn. And so, I also worked a lot of hours, but even now, I would say I do have a family now and a husband and a son. And I would say that even now, it’s still a choice, I balance things depending on what’s going on, but I’m extremely involved in my community. I sit on boards, and I’m extremely, I mentioned we have more initiatives to get women into the industry, that’s a choice, I am choosing to help with that initiative within the organization.

Anayeli Martinez Real:

And so, I think a lot of that with the whole work-life balance, it just depends on what it is that we want as individuals and how much you want to progress in your career. I think that that’s just different from person to person, and I agree that it may not be an age thing. Sometimes you are young and you just graduated college or you just finished your trade school, and you’re just like, okay, I’m going to go in and I want to have a work-life balance at the beginning. That’s okay too. So, I do think it’s a personal choice, but it can definitely be done. I mean, even the panel that you have right in front of you, we all have lives outside of work, and I’m sure all the way that we balance things at home and things at work are slightly different, but you’re able to figure it out. It’s just a matter of what you find to be the most important and find what works for you.

Ellie Barko:

I have one more thing, Catie to add to that is it is a choice, but it’s also been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. To mimic what everybody has said, when we start in the industry, we want to learn so much. That doesn’t end because we have children. Okay. I have three kids, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to further educate myself and continue to get further and further and further. The hardest lesson for me has been how to balance it. I can still get there in a year, but maybe if I want to have a kid, it’s going to take me a year and a half, or it’s going to take me two more years. I can’t achieve everything all at once in my original life plan. There was a time when that I sat on three boards and two associations, and worked 50, 60 hours, 70 hours a week. And then I have kids, and it’s like, how do you juggle all of that? Something’s got to give, and you have to be okay with personally giving up something, but know that it’s not forever. That’s my hardest lesson, is it’s not forever.

Ellie Barko:

There’s a time now where my kids are young and I can’t sit on all those boards because I don’t have the capacity. But I know in six years, I’m still going to have that same passion and my kids are going to be older and I’m going to be smarter, and I’m going to have the ability to help more people then than I do now. That’s the hardest lesson, is I can’t do it all … I mean, we say it all the time, I want to be able to do everything. I physically, emotionally can’t. I have to set my boundaries, know what I can achieve and know what my goals are to achieve later when I have more time. That was a real lesson for me, and a real struggle.

Catie Williams:

I can completely relate, so I get it. I get it completely. I’m sure others can as well. That’s great. All right. Time check, because I knew we would go all the way to the hour, we have five minutes left and I have definitely not gotten through all of our questions or everyone’s questions, but maybe we could end with some of your highlights and your favorite moments of things that have happened to you on the job or being in this industry. Maybe each of you could just share a couple things in five minutes.

Ellie Barko:

Just a funny one, Shannon, and I joked about this one before, but one of the highlights was getting our own port-a-potty on the job site. It’s funny, but that-

Shannon Barlow:

With a key.

Ellie Barko:

With a key, and a heater sometimes. I mean, sometimes we could get spoiled too.

Catie Williams:

That is funny. Anything else, Ellie, before we mute you?

Ellie Barko:

Just the overall impact I feel like I’ve made on people’s careers. Once you get to a point where you’re training others, no matter who they are, that feels fantastic. Pushing for more women is a big passion of mine. I don’t know that I have another one.

Catie Williams:

That’s great. No, that’s good. Thank you.

Megan Siefker:

I’ll say, one of the highlights is anytime there’s a big team, I think when you’re in the construction industry, it’s such a team oriented business. And so, when you’re on a job site and your crew is successful or achieves the highest productivity and you’re able to celebrate that with them, and then those craft guys get excited about, “oh, wow, we set this record breaking production rate on erecting a steel structure” or something, and they start to feel that energy. And so, you feel like something’s like shaking up in the industry, I think anytime you feel like something’s shaking up. I know in my new role now, when a company sees and realizes, wow, we’ve got this new process and this new technology, and then like, “whoa, it’s actually working, and we’re seeing the benefits and we’re starting to realizing the outcomes that we wanted.”

Megan Siefker:

To be able to share in that moment with them, those are always the highlights, either looking out on a project that we just finished and being like, “Wow, we built that.” That was always awesome when I was out on the job sites and now it’s like shifting to, “oh wow, our process is that much more optimized, and our data is all connected, and we’re starting to be able to analyze and do all this fun stuff that we couldn’t four years ago”, and then you get to share in that moments with them. I think those are some of the highlights.

Catie Williams:

Shannon or Anayeli, do you guys have anything?

Shannon Barlow:

One of my favorite things on the job site is to walk out on the job site anymore, because I have people that have worked with me for almost 20 years, and I don’t get to see them all the time, because they still work in the field. And so, if I walk out on a job site and I’m just going to look at something or look at another project to estimate or whatever, and I walk on the job site, it’s, “Hey, Ms. Shannon, Ms. Shannon.” It’s like I’m a celebrity, it’s really awesome that they really appreciate me, and I really appreciate them. So I make it to the point to stop and … I like to give out stickers and stuff like that, guys love stickers.

Anayeli Martinez Real:

Yeah. I’ll share one, one project that I really loved being a part of was a community college campus project that we were working on, and we had a pretty large team, but we also had a pretty young team. And so, being able to train and develop the team was super fun, but full circle, being on the project and turning it over, but now going back and sitting on their advisory board of the college has been super cool, because it’s like now I get to go into the project that … I was on it for more than two years and help build it, and now I get to go help mold the program of their teaching trades plumbing, HVAC, drafting in trying to get a lot of young people into the trades. And so, it was super cool to be on the job training our team and making sure that the project was successful, but now it’s helping people come build for us. And so, it’s been definitely a pretty cool highlight in my career.

Ellie Barko:

The relationship, that’s what that reminds me of, relationships, the relationships that we build with the community because we’re building things for the community, and the relationships you build on the job. I mean, those people that you end up surrounding yourself with is crazy cool. That’s a highlight of mine.

Catie Williams:

It’s a great way to end it, Ellie. We are officially out of time, we could easily have gone for another hour or more. I appreciate you so much. Thank you. It was great to hear everything, all of your experience and insight. Thank you everyone for joining, and please let us know what you thought, or if you have any other questions that you want us to follow up on, we would be happy to do that. Thanks everybody, and hope you have a great day.

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