This year, I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership conference—and yes, it happened to be geared towards women working the construction industry. However, I would say that the key takeaways I got from this two-day conference and networking event would benefit not just women, but anybody in our industry.
One topic that I found very insightful dealt with career advice for construction industry professionals. The panel was moderated by Rachel Birnboim, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, senior associate at Perkins Eastman. The two panelists were Mary-Jean Eastman, FAIA, vice chair at Perkins Eastman and managing principal of the NYC Studio, and Barbara Mullenex, AIA, managing principal at Perkins Eastman’s Washington, D.C., studio. The panelists tailored their responses for different stages in one’s career:
Generally speaking, this is someone in their early 20s to early 30s. Whether you work for an architecture or engineering firm, general contractor, subcontractor or product manufacturer, the focus should be on getting the technical aspects of your job down pat. This is where you do the grunt work, nerd-out on information and practice. Sometimes during this early phase, people are tempted to go into project management right away, but you run a real risk of hitting a ceiling in your career because not having the technical training makes you less credible. So, while this can be tedious and requires patience, it is necessary.
Generally speaking, this is someone in their early 30s to mid-40s. They have the technical foundation and are probably contemplating moving up into management or leadership positions. This is also a time where some professionals are either starting families or raising young children. During this time, the panelists advised to “be nice to yourself.” Doing so will help in avoiding burnout, which is a risk at this stage. Seek out work-life balance in the best way that suits you, because it is different from one person to the next. For women especially, we feel the pressure—whether its societal or self-inflicted—to “have it all.” What I learned is that it is possible to have it all—but not all at one. Don’t be too hard on yourself because it could happen at different times. So, make your plans, set your goals, but take it one day at a time, one year at a time. Make adjustments if you need to.
Generally speaking, this is someone in their mid-40s, -50s, or older. At this stage, you may have a few people, several people or whole teams under your charge. This would be a good time to understand and hone in on what the characteristics of a good leader are. Take stock of the characteristics you have already, and work on the ones that need further development. There are leadership courses you can take, books you can read or videos you can watch on this topic. We live in a time where information is literally at our fingertips, so let’s take advantage of that.
If there are opportunities for you to participate in industry conferences or events, take it. Get yourself out there! Stay involved. Not only can you learn valuable lessons from different leaders and innovators in our field, but you can make great connections and friendships with other professionals. Never underestimate the power of shared experiences!