Women in Construction Week: Celebrating Swinerton’s Colorado Women

Back in 1953, the National Association of Women in Construction started Women in Construction Week as a way to bring women in the industry together.

Today, Swinerton celebrates the week by highlighting women and their success. Five women from Swinerton’s Colorado office answered questions about their career paths and the construction industry, including how to best navigate the industry.

Continue reading to learn about Project Engineer Charlotte Schmitz, Project Engineer Jessa Brinker, Senior Project Engineer Killion Hunn, Assistant Project Manager Adelicia Colmenero, and Senior Estimator Laura Kingfisher.

It’s safe to say “I want to work in construction!” isn’t a popular answer from kindergarten girls for the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Explain what led you to construction and Swinerton.

Charlotte: Growing up with a dad in the residential construction industry, I never realized how much that familiarity would impact me. I loved buildings and design, which is why I went to college for architecture and decided to pursue another degree in construction management. Following that passion for building, I fell in love with the construction world. Two internships later, I moved to Colorado after graduating from Washington State University to join the Swinerton family.

Jessa: I never imagined ending up in the construction industry. I had dreams of becoming a doctor or going to school for art therapy. I stumbled on the program at Kansas State University, and it was the right fit. The same thing happened when interviewing with companies. I didn’t know what I was looking for in the workplace until I got to know the people and culture at Swinerton – I was hooked!

Killion: My desire to be in this industry stems from where I grew up, my parents’ professional endeavors and early immersion into construction as a child. My father is involved in construction and development, and my mother is a muralist. I am from a mountain resort town that thrived on high-quality design and construction. I was on-site with my parents often, gaining exposure and comfort in this industry from a young age. Having a tangible outcome and making an impact on the built environment where we live is rewarding.

Adelicia: Several of my male family members were in construction, primarily working as concrete laborers or owning concrete pump trucks. I knew they worked hard, long hours and most weekends. At a young age, I never thought I could make a career out of working in construction. In undergraduate school, although construction management was an available degree, I still carried that misconception. I have an undergraduate degree in business finance, worked in banking, then thought I wanted to be an architect. It was not until I started my masters in real estate development and construction management that I realized construction could be rewarding. I was hesitant, as I felt I missed out on many years of learning about construction. I can now say it is exciting to see and touch what I am working on, especially when I can leverage the wealth of knowledge from fellow employees and trade partners.

After receiving my master’s degree, I interviewed with several general contractors, and at the end of the day, Swinerton had a strong culture that shined through all of the employees. I believe Swinerton’s employee ownership helps drive Swinerton’s culture. Overall, Swinerton’s culture for long-term success – both for the business as well for its employees – is what led me here.

Laura: I always wanted to be an architect growing up. I was a first-generation college student and didn’t have much assistance in picking a college. I ended up at Colorado State University and found they didn’t have an architectural program, so I majored in construction management. I ended up loving the whole program and the practicality of being able to apply it to the real world. Swinerton’s core characteristics align with me as a person – integrity, leadership, passion, excellence. Working for a general contractor that is genuinely supportive of employees and their growth is of high importance to me. People are the greatest resource for a company, and Swinerton has developed their culture around this.

Tell us about your job. What do you do? What’s the most rewarding part?

Charlotte: I am responsible for all document management on a project. This means when somebody has a question on the drawings, specs or details, I am usually the point of contact. Along with this, being so involved and in the weeds of the project allows me to learn and problem-solve alongside our subcontractors and design team. Being able to gather knowledge of the industry and build relationships with many different types of people is what’s most rewarding, especially when you can better solve problems because of it.

Jessa: By far the most rewarding part of the construction industry is the process. You get to watch something go from start to finish and see the impact of the building.

Killion: I’m a problem-solver and solution-seeker – facilitating both preconstruction and construction pursuits.

Adelicia: I am working on Block 162 in downtown Denver – it will be a 30-story high-rise office tower. Although every day brings new challenges and opportunities, I primarily manage the buyout of trades and cost management for the building’s structural elements. The most rewarding part of my job is that I am continually learning and working with a group of team members to solve challenges – the payoff is walking out to see and touch the quality product at the end.

Laura: I enjoy working with the architect/design team during the design phase of a project to help the team know the construction costs, so we don’t have cost surprises when we get to the final design.

Construction is a male-dominated field, with women representing 9% of the industry’s workforce. At Swinerton, 15% of employees are women, and 24% of our leaders are women. What advice do you have for other women on how to succeed in construction?

Charlotte: Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. Being different and having different viewpoints and opinions is healthy. Stay strong, but it’s OK to have weak moments. Don’t beat yourself up too much. Some days will be harder than others, and making relationships takes time. The best part about being in this industry is how people respect you based on how you handle yourself in all kinds of situations.

Jessa: I believe if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you’ll make a lasting impression on those around you. While it may be intimidating at times in a male-dominated industry, it also gives you an opportunity to stand out and prove you’ve got what it takes!

Killion: Have confidence in yourself and learn how to utilize your differences and unique strengths to the benefit of your project teams and clients. Let your work ethic and values speak for themselves, and equip yourself with a sense of humor.

Adelicia: I wish I could reach out to all kids in grade school and let them know a career in construction is not only an option but also a rewarding career path – so they don’t have the same misconceptions I did. I would encourage young women who have even the slightest interest in construction, architecture or engineering to request a job site tour or shadow a local GC. I think many people have a misconception about working in construction and do not realize that in addition to the technical skills, the business skills and communication with other team members are also key aspects in construction management. I think many more women would find construction as a rewarding career path, if only they were exposed to the option.

Laura: I’d say two things. 1) Develop your confidence. If you know this is the industry for you, study your craft and know it. This confidence will help you speak up when you want to, ask a question in a crowded room, and be assertive when necessary. 2) Spend time in the field working under an experienced superintendent that is well-respected by clients, the superintendent’s company and subcontractors.