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Construction Conversation: Jessica Chen

In honor of Women in Construction week, Constructor magazine recently connected with several women in the industry to get their take on what it means to be in a predominantly male industry, the obstacles they’ve faced in their journey and whether they would choose the same career again. Spoiler alert: They would.

JESSICA CHEN
PROJECT EXECUTIVE, SUFFOLK CONSTRUCTION
A MEMBER OF MULTIPLE AGC CHAPTERS

Jessica has been in the construction industry for decades. In 2020, Jessica led a groundbreaking team that was 30% women to build the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. She’s currently overseeing multiple projects in the Palm Beach area, including the multi-million-dollar expansion of the Plumosa School of the Arts in Delray Beach.

Q: TALK A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY?

A: I’ve been in the construction industry for nearly 30 years, 18 of those with Suffolk. I worked very hard and Suffolk allowed me to take my time to have A work-life balance until I was ready to become a project executive. Throughout my career, I’ve managed a wide range of projects from residential high-rises to university buildings and hotels.

Q: WHAT MADE YOU CONSIDER A CAREER IN CONSTRUCTION?

A: I knew I wanted to work in construction since I was a little girl. I attribute my inspiration mainly to my grandparents who owned a small glass shop that manufactured and installed windows in Lima, Peru, where I was born. Years later, after graduating from Florida International University, I began my journey in the construction industry on a condominium tower in Miami where I was tasked with measuring kitchens and bathrooms.  I loved the controlled chaos, beeping equipment, people bustling around me, and the gruff yet kind field superintendent who always made sure I had the right footwear to walk on his jobsite. From that day forward, I knew that I only wanted to work in the field. 

Q: If you were to do it all over again, would you? Would there anything you’d do differently?

A: Of course! I’m incredibly fortunate to have been exposed to the industry from a young age, and I’m extremely proud of the career I’ve built for myself.

Q: HOW ARE YOU OR YOUR COMPANY FACILITATING CHANGE OR IMPLEMENTING INNOVATION IN ORDER TO KEEP THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY ADVANCING AND VIABLE? WHAT TRAILBLAZING HAVE YOU DONE?

A: Suffolk is known across the country for its innovative approaches to construction. The company is deeply committed to advancing the construction industry by pushing for more diversity in the workforce. To empower women in our industry, Suffolk is investing in education and training, enabling more women to enter and thrive in construction. I observe with great pride the young women on our team as they effortlessly command their rightful place at the meetings and contribute with confidence and great technical expertise. This new generation of women are boldly plowing through and paving the roads of tomorrow without the limitations.

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

A: Don’t shy away from construction. Despite what most people think, women are prepared to handle what the construction industry has to give. We are very organized. We tend to multi-task, and we are very detail-oriented – skills that are critical success in this field.

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

A: I have felt supported every step of the way, with Suffolk giving me opportunities to grow into various types of work, from residential high-rise to educational construction and casino work. It’s actually surprising that more women aren’t working in construction. When I started in school, there were only two or three women in my construction management class in a room full of guys. But on projects now, it’s rewarding to see so many women working at different levels, from the field to high up. I’m fortunate to be part of a leadership team that welcomes your input, with people asking one another for advice. I can always go to my ‘floor cousins’ to talk about a difficult situation, and to me it’s a great comfort to work with other leaders who feel like a family.

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?

A: I do, and I credit organizations like Suffolk who are doubling down on their commitment to attracting more women in the industry by launching initiatives like Rebuild the Ratio.