The construction industry is in my genes, and I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t a part of my life.
My father owns a residential construction company in Mexico, and I had always enjoyed going to the jobsites with him, in awe of how he dealt with all the daily challenges. Even though I didn’t see too many women then, I always knew I would pursue construction as a career.
While I was studying architecture at Monterrey University in Mexico, I decided to move back to where I was born, Texas, and transfer to The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) to continue my architecture degree. I have a great passion for design, but I also wanted to build something tangible from the ground up.
Therefore, I decided to double-major in architecture and construction science and management. Today, when meeting other women considering a construction career path, there are a few things I ask them to keep in mind.
With my close ties to the construction industry, you would think I would have known all the possibilities in the field, but I did not. With that in mind, I now want to make certain that students, in high school and in college, know the many opportunities available to them in construction.
In school, I realized that I could learn so much more by getting involved in student organizations, such as the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). This organization connected me with local contractors, helped me gain more knowledge about the industry and gave me the opportunity to participate in events and construction jobsite tours. Thanks to my involvement with UTSA and being a recipient of numerous academic scholarships, I was later extended the opportunity to intern with Skanska and, eventually, secure a job with the company after graduation.
Now, I continue to work closely with UTSA, giving presentations and technology demonstrations to university students. I also regularly coordinate hardhat tours on our jobsites to help spark interest in construction and the trades for everyone, but especially young women. I want to open their eyes to the opportunities, and their involvement so far shows me that they are willing to learn.
Many women do not know how they can make a career in construction, even if they have an aptitude for project management, building and design. Thanks to the support I received through UTSA and interning at Skanska, I was able to explore more such avenues.
As I gained more confidence in my career at Skanska, I wanted to add value to the team and expressed interest in becoming a drone pilot. I have a passion for technology and innovation, and I wanted to help find ways to increase collaboration and enhance productivity.
After a few years of flying drones, I became one of just three thermographers in Skanska, nationally. With thermography, we can improve the energy efficiency of a building from being able to collect data that we are unable to see with our eyes.
Additionally, I started to become more experienced in other technology applications such as 360-degree cameras, laser scanning, and BIM coordination, as well as virtual, augmented and mixed reality. If I had not spoken up, however, those career growth and contribution opportunities likely would not have been available to me.
So, making my voice heard and sharing my interests and passions gave me the opportunity to further develop my expertise in construction technology and to become an even greater asset to the company.
Know Your Value
One thing I wish I had known at the start of my career is the unique value that I bring to the table as a woman and as an individual. I realize now that I spent too much time at the beginning being timid when I had great ideas and a unique skillset. As women, we tend to be great at assessing risks when making decisions, multi-tasking, time management, etc. And we have a good eye for detail.
Being part of a minority group within a male-dominated industry is no excuse not to pursue a career path you love. It is important to always be confident, work hard and to strive for excellence. Bringing these attributes to the jobsite will take you far, no matter your gender.
A positive work environment is driven through communication. As women, we are very good communicators, but some may not have the confidence to communicate with the right people. For me, communication has allowed me to not only grow in my career but also grow my family.
I know I am fortunate to work for a company that believes in work-life balance and to have a supportive supervisor and project team. However, communication is key to make it work well.
When I was pregnant, I worked with my supervisor and human resources office to create a flexible plan well in advance of my parental leave so everyone would know when I was going to be out and for how long. I also created a spreadsheet with the most recent status updates, including where I had left off, and sent it to my team prior to heading to the hospital.
Communication also helps women to successfully transition back into the workplace.
Being a new parent drastically changes your life and returning to work can be overwhelming. Communicating with your supervisor and co-workers about your needs for work-life balance, including any flexibility to go to appointments or to take care of your baby when they are sick, helps set expectations. That is crucial for a smooth transition back to work. When you continue to work hard and communicate with your team, it makes being a mom in construction doable.
Follow Your Passion
"Do what you love." As I meet with other women at UTSA, I realize there is not a lack of interest, but a lack of understanding of the options available to them in this industry. If you have a passion for construction, architecture, technology or the trades, I encourage you to explore your options.
Of course, the construction industry is still male-dominated. But more women are making waves today and bringing a unique perspective to an industry that welcomes change. So I am a mother now working in one of the most fascinating and challenging industries.
In the years to come, I want my one-year-old baby, Emilia, also to find her purpose. So I will encourage her to follow her passions, no matter the challenges, how long it takes or what others may think or say.
Monica Martinez is an assistant project manager for Skanska in San Antonio, TX.