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Believe You Belong

For the past 20 years, Tricia Kagerer has worked in the construction industry, currently serving as the executive vice president of risk management for Jordan Foster Construction, a member of multiple AGC chapters. In 2020, she became the first female to win both the prestigious Bill McIntyre Leadership Award from the International Risk Management Institute (IRMI) and the Award of Excellence from Board Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP). In addition, she is a published author; her book, The B Words: 13 Words Every Woman Must Navigate for Success, was released last year. She has made it her mission to equip organizations and individuals with tools to create healthier work environments that celebrate diversity, reduce risk and empower future generations. Here’s her story.

Tricia Kagerer, executive vice president of risk management for Jordan Foster Construction, authored The B Words: 13 Words Every Woman Must Navigate for Success in 2020.

Q. WHAT MADE YOU CONSIDER A CAREER IN CONSTRUCTION?

Tricia: When I moved from Munich, Germany, to my hometown of El Paso, Texas, I was looking for an opportunity in safety and risk management. A friend mentioned that CF Jordan Construction (now Jordan Foster Construction) needed a safety manager. I remember hesitating to take the position because my children were very young, and my husband was traveling all the time. Fortunately, company management gave me something priceless back when it rarely existed: flexibility. I started part-time for a few months, and I was so excited to work in the field that I loved and doing it while meeting my family’s needs.

I spent time in the field visiting projects and getting to know the team. I learned the process and terminology by asking questions and creating relationships with supervisors and superintendents. I continued to expand my knowledge and experience as my responsibilities grew. I ultimately landed a C-suite job as the vice president of risk management.

Q. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY OR FOR WOMEN CONSIDERING A CAREER IN THIS FIELD?

Tricia: I’d tell a newcomer to believe you belong here and tell yourself that you’ve earned the right. Rather than feeling like an outsider, embrace it, and learn from your peers by asking questions and forming trusted relationships.

Some of the best pointers I ever got included recognizing my value and my unique contribution. Every one of us has a unique path. My goals, aspirations, experience, and how I show up in the world are unique. Taking the time to explore and write down what success looks like to you — not your neighbor, your friends, your family, or what your current bank account balance says — is the key to exploring life on your own terms. Life is short, and our time on this planet is limited, so we all need to make the most of it.

Q. HAVE YOU ENCOUNTERED ANY PROBLEMS IN JUGGLING YOUR WORK LIFE WITH YOUR FAMILY/HOME LIFE?

Tricia: Yes. If I were a piece of furniture, the closest I would come to balance would be a wobbly stool. Balance is not meant to be permanent or sustainable. Creating a perfect life where everything works according to plan is a beautiful goal that may be achieved for a moment in time. I realized that balance is too close to perfection, and humans were never meant to be perfect. When we expect life to be a little messy and complicated, we can have a much more enjoyable experience and a much more rewarding career, home life and personal life.

Q. IN WHAT’S SEEN AS A MALE-DOMINATED FIELD, HAVE YOU HAD ANY TROUBLE ADVANCING? WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED?

Tricia: I have had many male champions along the way who have opened the door to give me an opportunity. While interviewing women for The B Words, I realized that some of the subtle challenges I have experienced were universal. Bias toward women stagnates even the best intentions of diversity initiatives. I’ve been told to “stay in my lane” when challenging the status quo or pointing out traditional processes that no longer served an organization. As I grew older, pursued more education, and became more confident in my knowledge and expertise, I occasionally faced anger or backlash. As I advanced into leadership roles, some respected the transition; others were diametrically opposed to it, going out of their way to set me up to fail.

I was able to navigate some difficult situations and face challenges. Sometimes it required me to look the other way. Other times I had to let go and create a new path. The key was being honest with myself and having the courage to develop a plan and embrace change on my terms.

Q. WITH THE CURRENT WORKFORCE SHORTAGE, DO YOU SEE MORE WOMEN ENTERING THE FIELD? MORE SPECIFICALLY, DO YOU SEE YOUR FIRM TARGETING WOMEN HIRES? WHAT ARE EFFECTIVE RECRUITMENT EFFORTS WHEN IT COMES TO WOMEN?

Tricia: Of all the people working in construction, women comprise only 10.9 percent. Several factors explain this gender gap, from unconscious gender bias to the lack of adequate training, lack of properly fitting PPE, and the overall perception of women working in construction. As the construction industry rebounds from COVID-19, companies should be looking to recruit more women than ever before to bring their skill sets into the field.

Jordan Foster Construction actively recruits women for all roles in our industry. Our numbers continue to grow each year. This year we established a Women in Construction Task Force. Our first order of business was to create an awareness and appreciation program for women in construction during WIC week. We will continue to work together throughout the year to recruit and establish our diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Effective recruiting starts early. Role models for young girls are few and far between. Fortunately, that is changing. Women are far more visible than ever before on social media and in our communities. Movements like www.moveoverbob.com, www.xenaworkwear.com and www.triciakagerer.com celebrate women in the trades and STEM and show women from all walks of life building careers in construction. Young girls need to see someone that looks like themselves to realize opportunities and solidify the steps toward a dream. The reality is that construction is a lucrative, well-paying career with a bright future. By breaking down the limiting beliefs that women don’t belong in construction, we open the door to young women’s future.

Recognizing that one size doesn’t fit all, AGC of America and Autodesk in 2020 launched a one-time grant program that addressed the need for better-fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) for women who work at heights. As a result, they granted awards to 21 construction firms to provide more than 300 fall protection safety harnesses designed specifically for women. Read more here: http://bit.ly/AGCAutodeskGrantProgram.

See also Constructor’s March/April cover story on how one firm designed safety vests for its women employees.

Q. THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED WITH THE TIMES, AS MOST INDUSTRIES HAVE DONE. WHAT HAS STAYED THE SAME? WHAT PART OF THE INDUSTRY DO YOU THINK WILL REMAIN A CONSTANT?

Tricia: Safety has come a long way in our industry, but there is so much more to do. Companies that really “get it” create a caring culture where people feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. When companies get that right, safety, turnover and quality issues will no longer plague organizations.

The following are some considerations for the future:

Construction sites of the future will see an increase in the use of advanced technologies such as drones, exoskeletons,  autonomous vehicles, remotely controlled mobile equipment, 3D printing, and building information modeling (BIM). These technologies will increase productivity and quality while reducing the cost of construction projects. Also, the new technologies can improve the safety of workers for specific tasks. Wearable devices and sensor technologies also have been used to monitor workplace hazard exposures. Technology does come with additional risks, and construction companies must address cybersecurity risk management best practices. Every construction organization should consider cyber insurance as a critical risk management strategy.

Offsite production of construction project components will change the way we select and manage our trade partners. Construction materials are ever-changing as human-made, recycled, and engineered materials become the normal part of the construction material cycle. This may increase risk as the potential negative impact of these materials’ content become known and potentially create hazards not currently on our radar.

COVID-19 created a new focus on managing a pandemic and staying operational while protecting our workforce from the threat of infection. Now more than ever, a fully integrated crisis management process is vital to protect an organization’s future.

Finally, the construction industry has the highest rate of suicide among every sector measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The pandemic only compounded this issue. The old-school way of micromanaging is finally showing cracks in its foundation. Organizations must create a holistic culture where everyone — men and women — experiences an open, honest, authentic culture. The old-school, bro-code culture-based organizations will be unable to attract and retain top talent and ultimately fail. It’s time to solve this issue by embracing the AGC’s Culture of CARE concepts at every construction organization and jobsite.

AGC of America’s newly formed Culture of CARE pledge is designed to create a more welcoming workplace environment for team members, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, and provide tools and resources to help establish a caring culture. 

Q. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR COMMERCIAL CONTRACTORS TO STAY CONNECTED WITH FELLOW INDUSTRY PEERS THROUGH AGC MEMBERSHIP?

Tricia: One of the best decisions I ever made was becoming involved with the AGC at the local and national levels. The construction industry has unique challenges due to the upstream and downstream contractual relationships and the inherent operational dangers that those closest to the work face. The TEXO chapter has been an excellent resource for me to develop relationships, network and become a leader in my industry. The national conferences, including the Surety and Risk Management and Safety Conferences, provide guidance and expertise on current issues facing our industry and an opportunity to benchmark, grow and prepare for our industry’s future challenges.

Finally, from a safety perspective, the Construction Safety Excellence Award is the roadmap to excellence. I encourage every organization to go through the process and use the application as a risk assessment to paint an accurate picture of your current commitment to safety and where you need to allocate resources. We must never stop on the journey to performance excellence.

Q. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING IN YOUR SPARE TIME?

Tricia: Sunday mornings, you will find me writing blog posts focused on empowering women. My goal with The B Words book is to encourage and empower women to live authentic lives on their own terms. Sometimes we need a role model to emulate. I inherited my grandmother’s talent as a natural storyteller, and I use it by telling women’s stories.

My kids are away at college, so I spend a lot of time with my husband, Markus, and on bucket list projects. And, after two scary health crises, I committed to my health once and for all, and I walk three to four miles every morning with my dog, Sadie, and my best friend, Debbie. I also started working out with a personal trainer, and I’m proud to say I can deadlift 150 lbs. I also love to travel and ski.

To learn more about Tricia, visit www.triciakagerer.com, https://www.linkedin.com/in/triciakagerer, and https://www.instagram.com/triciakagerer. Her book, The B Words: 13 Words Every Woman Must Navigate for Success, can be found wherever books are sold (https://amzn.to/2NnOP3g).

3 comments

  1. Great article, really enjoyed it! Congratulations and keep up the great work of inspiring other women!

  2. Great article — too many insights to focus on just one.
    I’ve already read “The B Words”, and it is equally filled with wisdom!

    But I would like to follow up on the discussion around suicide prevention as we are about to embark on a pilot program to share information on this along with our partners CIASP & LivingWorks. Stay tuned for more information!

    • Thanks, Doug! We’ll keep the conversation going on mental health and suicide prevention too. Critical issue!