Women in Construction Week Panel: Advice for young women, the work that excites us, and why Swinerton has been the right place to build a career

To commemorate Women in Construction week from March 4-10, we're proud to highlight the talented women at Swinerton who lead the way in the construction industry. As part of Women in Construction week's mission to emphasize the growing role of women in the industry, we're highlighting the thoughts from female leaders at Swinerton on the construction industry and much more.

If you had one piece of advice for women looking to find success in your industry, what would it be? 

Carrie Schaeffer, Division Manager, Aviation: Be self-confident enough to both speak up and to ask questions without apologizing.

Jenn Lauritzen, Project Executive, Healthcare: As women starting out in construction we want to be taken seriously. I’ve noticed many young women in the industry (myself included when I was young) don’t want to stand out as women because some men will dismiss us based on bias (conscious or unconscious) so we tend to dress manly, play down our femininity and we try to blend in the best we can. Often this leads to developing a “split personality” the work version and the home version of ourselves. It is very difficult to really connect with your coworkers and managers when you are not being your true self. I would like to encourage women to be themselves, to offer their best ideas and feel confident in their role. I would like to encourage men to pay attention to when they may be dismissing a woman’s idea due to gender bias.    

Lauren Nunnally, Director, Craft Services: Don’t try to compensate for being a woman in a man’s industry! Use your strengths as a woman, whatever they may be, authentically and strategically. I’ve seen so many women in this industry who seem to be overcompensating for being a woman by being overly tough or aggressive with their teammates and their business partners, even though it’s not their natural disposition. Woman bring a lot of strengths to the table. Research has shown that woman naturally focus on people (colleagues and customers), establish expectations and implement rewards, act as role models, take a long-term view, balance risk well, and are inspirational to others. Each person is unique in the strengths that he or she brings to their work and my point is, know yourself, know your strengths, and capitalize on where those strengths can add value to your work (instead of trying to emulate the perceived strengths of what someone else brings to work).

Also, try to avoid taking things personally. Most of this advice goes for men and women really, particularly young people. But I do think woman tend perseverate on certain things more than men – lack of feedback, constructive feedback, tone, brevity, etc. I know I do! And the best way I’ve found to deal with this when it happens to me is just to ask. Just approach the person and ask for feedback or how you can improve or whether or not you interpreted their tone or brevity accurately. I’ve found that our assumptions often falsely get the best of us.

Lia Tatevosian, Operations Manager, Orange County & Los Angeles: Work harder than the guy next to you. Be a great example for women below you. Don’t ask for preferential treatment just because you’re a woman. Always be over prepared. Show confidence and command in a room. All of these things will essentially gain the respect of your peers and the men and women working with you. My advise also applies to young men in our industry…

Lisa Larance, Senior Estimator, Denver: Be prepared. You have to know what you’re talking about in order to confirm your industry acumen. Approach your work from a factual standpoint and understand as many aspects of what you’re tasked with. You don’t have to know everything, but you must know how to find out. Be your own advocate and always give your best.

What’s exciting for you in your career right now?

Lauren Nunnally: The opportunity to start up a completely new department within the company. There is no precedent for what I’m doing so I love the challenge of trying to navigate something completely new. It feels like a “big swing” in my career. Whether I succeed or fail, I will have learned more in these 2-3 years that I’ve probably learned in my entire career to date. I get the chance to learn about every aspect of our business and I get the chance to change and improve many of our current processes and approaches, which is something I love. It involves what I believe to be the trifecta of business success – strategy (creating a vision), execution (planning and executing to make that vision a reality), and building relationships throughout an organization and industry. I really enjoy being a part of building something completely new and creating a department that will hopefully be integral to the future sustainability of our business.

Lia Tatevosian: The opportunity to hire young people and watch them grow.  The opportunity to put teams together that gel so well and make great impacts on their projects and their clients.  The ability to plan for succession of our division and have a say and play a part in selecting those to mentor for the future.

Lisa Larance: I have recently taken a role in preconstruction and estimating with our Special Projects Group. One of the things that really excites me is being a part of process development and improvement. I very much enjoy strategizing about how to win a project and then working with all team member to make it a reality. I also enjoy working with people across all project lines, all who come together to create a successful project. And, I believe that I can grow and contribute professionally at the same time – learning and teaching are occurring simultaneously, which is very exciting.

Why has Swinerton been the right place for you to build a career?

Jenn Lauritzen, Project Executive, Healthcare: Swinerton provides a very family-like atmosphere, I would think for a large company this is rare, but our structure and leadership promotes this family-like atmosphere. I feel valued, I feel like I have opportunities for growth and I believe in the company leadership and core values.

Lauren Nunnally, Director, Craft Services: I came back to Swinerton after business school for three reasons: 1) The People, 2) The Opportunity, and 3) My Ability to Have an Impact.

PEOPLE: I really enjoy the people I work alongside at Swinerton. It has set a very high bar in my opinion for those that I work for, those that I work with, and those who have worked on my teams. People work hard, they are driven, they are passionate, and they are a lot of fun to be around. I’ve learned something from every single person I’ve come in contact with.

OPPORTUNITY: Swinerton has always value my contributions and given me the opportunity to take on more responsibility. Additionally, these opportunities seem to always come with great challenges, which in my book is a huge plus. I need to be challenged at work and they seem to always give me something that qualifies as such. Further, they give me a lot of different opportunities outside of my core day-to-day role which I really like. It gives me the opportunity to continue to expand my knowledge and skillset and do the things I’m passionate about that might not be a direct part of my current role.

IMPACT: Swinerton has always allowed me to have a tangible impact. They are open-minded around my ideas and perspectives and are always genuinely willing to listen and to let me make my case on something.  And when they believe a strong case has been made, they will clear the way for you to take action and have a true impact on the company.

Lia Tatevosian, Operations Manager, Orange County & Los Angeles: Swinerton has always supported my personal life and career. I’ve had three kids while working at Swinerton and while my job was like a 4th child always, Swinerton management always stood by me and never looked at me as someone incapable of the next step because of that. I have always respected the overall leadership and their core values and ethics and that’s a very important factor. And I’ve always appreciated the transparency/employee ownership factor which really makes me feel like a part owner of the company.

Lisa Larance, Senior Estimator, Denver: Swinerton has been a career-changing company for me. The first thing that energizes me is our people. We have so many amazing people who work here. They are smart, conscientious, and engaged. I truly enjoy working with and learning from them. The next thing that sets us apart is our culture – it is open and honest – and pervasive throughout the offices I have been introduced to. A difficult task across geographic regions unless the culture is strong. Having been at other companies where culture struggles were very real and where I, myself, may not have fit, my time at Swinerton has re-ignited my passion for this industry. I look forward to many opportunities in the years to come.