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.
TRACY DEAL, PROJECT MANAGER
A MEMBER OF MULTIPLE AGC CHAPTERS
Q: TALK A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY?
A: The construction industry has played a major role over the course of my entire life. Before I turned one, my father moved us from Dallas to the U.S. Virgin Islands to work on several projects there – he being in the industry himself. I grew up with a dinner table that was always packed with players in the industry. Heading into college, I once told my father that I was considering following in his footsteps and getting a degree in construction management. He discouraged me from it – saying it was a hard way to make a living. So, I chose to get a law degree instead and started working at a boutique law firm in Fort Lauderdale that specialized in construction law.
My law firm greatly encouraged participation in the local construction industry networking associations, and through that effort I came to know the Fort Lauderdale Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction. During our annual “WIC Week,” twice we were able to visit the Suffolk team working on the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Expansion and Renovation projects in Hollywood, Florida. During these trips, I was absolutely blown away by Project Executive Jessica Chen and her (primarily female) team leading the charge on the construction of the Guitar. The team at this project was packed with talent and with people who were passionate and truly proud of their work. The energy was invigorating, so much so that I wanted to be a part of it and a few months later I was.
I’ve been with Suffolk since 2018, where I started as an assistant project manager. Although I knew how to read, write and enforce contracts, I had virtually no knowledge about the day-to-day roles and responsibilities of a project manager. However, Suffolk truly invested in me (as it does all of its employees) with amazing online and in-person trainings that helped me quickly close the gap.
Q: WHAT MADE YOU CONSIDER A CAREER IN CONSTRUCTION?
A: There’s a common misconception about women in the construction industry. While we still make up only a small percentage, that percentage seems to grow by the day. And even though we are still the minority, our roles and responsibilities span the whole gamut – there’s absolutely nothing we can’t do. I don’t think I would have found my way to this industry without having been raised in it, but I am so proud to be in it. I find that this industry – because it is a hard way to make a living – naturally elevates those who work hard and play fair. Those are rules I was raised by, so it has been a natural fit. Suffolk was also a large part of what made me decide to make the switch. This company truly cares about its people. The employee benefits, the quality of my colleagues and the ground-breaking projects made it an offer I couldn’t refuse.
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: Innovation is Suffolk’s middle name. The firm is one of the largest building contractors in the entire country and as such, we get to work on some of the most challenging and exciting projects. From guitar-shaped hotels, to some of the finest condominiums in the world, to airports, schools and hospitals, Suffolk does it all. Projects like these demand innovation, and Suffolk is constantly bringing on the latest technology to make sure our projects run as efficiently as possible. One of my favorite tools is OpenSpace, where I can take a “capture” of my unit with a 360-degree camera and it automatically ties to the floor plan. I use this tool for coordination meetings, documentation of progress, to review payment applications, quality control, and more. Suffolk is not only technologically innovative, but they’re also innovative when it comes to building their workforce. They have internal initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion in an effort to attract and retain top talent from all backgrounds. In terms of my own trailblazing, I hope that by sharing my story of such a dramatic career change will inspire others to prioritize happiness themselves.
Q: WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY OR FOR WOMEN CONSIDERING A CAREER IN THIS FIELD?
A: 1.You do not have to know everything to be successful. Come in early, work hard, don’t be afraid to ask questions, do what you say you are going to do. Those are the keys to success. 2. Don’t be fooled by the look of a jobsite’ there is good money to be made here.
Q: IN WHAT’S SEEN AS A MALE-DOMINATED FIELD, HAVE YOU HAD ANY TROUBLE ADVANCING? WHAT CHALLENGES HAVE YOU FACED?
A: I was fortunate enough to enter the construction industry through Suffolk, a company that champions the presence of women in construction. If anything, the most difficult challenges to overcome were due to my lack of technical education of the industry. But through hard work, lots of long days and late nights, and a team packed with the best in the business, I was able to reach the position where I am today.
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: Suffolk has a brilliant program called Rebuild the Ratio through which the company pledges to increase the percentage of women employed by 10 percentage points over 10 years, which is a dramatic increase that will provide more jobs for women and boost the percentage of women employees to near 40%. That, tied with our amazing employee benefits package, ground-breaking projects, and opportunities for women in all positions from marketing to operations, make this a very enticing career choice for women.
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?
A: Although there are thousands of people working in the industry, it actually feels like a very small community. Everybody knows everybody and with that, reputation is everything. This industry will always innately promote those who act with integrity and do what they say they are going to do. This is not an industry where you will get away with cutting corners for long.
Q: WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
A: I love spending time with my family, attending art festivals, reading a good book, and tending to my orchid collection.