Episode 132 – Women Led Construction Projects

Episode #132
Original Air Date: 07.05.2021

36 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Jody Staruk

When you think of an industry typically dominated by men, construction might be one that comes to mind. Currently, women make up approximately 10 to 11 percent of the construction industry’s workforce. Our guest, Jody Staruk, is a Project Executive at Consigli Construction. Jody is the first female recipient of Consigli Construction’s highest honor – Builder of the Year 2017 – out of 300 eligible employees. She is also the first female project executive in Consigli’s 116-year history. We talked with Jody about her career as a project manager and about working in a characteristically male-dominated environment.

Recently Jody worked on the YWCA Central Massachusetts $24 million renovation project. Hear about the requirements, scope and stakeholders of this project and the unique story behind their petition to win the bid for this renovation. Jody’s team had to cope with many challenges during construction and she highlights the different perspective that an all women-led team can bring to a construction project. Finally, we ask Jody how the construction industry is evolving in terms of women-led teams, and what guidance she would give to younger women entering the industry. Listen in for useful advice about creating more career advancement opportunities for women and men in the construction industry.

Jody has been with Consigli for 18 years, starting as a Project Engineer and holding project management roles prior to her current position. She is also a Board Member for Girls Inc. of Worcester and volunteers with their Eureka! program, teaching young girls about potential career paths in construction, engineering and architecture.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"...what I tell my younger teammates, male or female, is make a decision because at least then you’re in control. Otherwise, the decision is being made for you. And if you make the wrong decision, make another one to fix it. So there’s always another option to fix it."

- Jody Staruk

"...you’re asking me to be the first female executive of the company, which means it can’t fail,” I said, “because whether it’s my decision or not, it will never be viewed that way, and I don’t want to send that message to the younger women in the company.”

- Jody Staruk

Share With Others

The construction industry is evolving in terms of women-led teams. Listen in for advice to women entering the industry. Jody Staruck worked on the YWCA Central Massachusetts $24 million renovation project. She talks about the requirements, scope and stakeholders of this project and the unique story behind their petition to win the bid for this renovation.

Table of Contents

01:41 … Meet Jody
04:04 … The First Female Executive
06:23 … Consigli Construction Growth
08:38 … Maintaining a Strong Company Culture
11:10 … YWCA Central Massachusetts Renovation Project
13:44 … The YWCA Services to the Community
14:50 … A Unique Bid Petition
17:16 … Approach to Obstacles
21:53 … The Unique Perspective of a Woman-Led Team
24:34 … Overcoming Communication Barriers
27:55 … Is the Construction Industry Changing?
30:52 … Advice for Younger Women
32:29 … Creating More Career Advancement Opportunities
34:38 … Get in Touch with Jody
35:36 … Closing

JODY STARUK:  …what I tell my younger teammates, male or female, is make a decision because at least then you’re in control.  Otherwise, the decision is being made for you.  And if you make the wrong decision, make another one to fix it.  So there’s always another option to fix it.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m Wendy Grounds, and here in the studio with me is Bill Yates.  We want to take a moment to say thank you to our listeners who reach out to us and leave comments on our website and on social media.  We love hearing from you, and I always appreciate your positive ratings on Apple Podcasts or whichever podcast listening app you use.

One other thing is we know you’re looking for opportunities to acquire PDUs, your Professional Development Units, towards recertifications.  You can still claim PDUs for all of our podcast episodes.  Take a listen at the end of the show for information on how to claim your PDUs.

When you think of an industry dominated by men, construction might be one of those that comes to mind.  Not so, Bill.  Women make up apparently only 10 to 11% of the construction industry’s workforce.

BILL YATES:  Well, we are fortunate to have a conversation today with a real trailblazer in the industry.  In 2017, our guest, Jody Staruk, received Consigli’s highest honor, Builder of the Year, out of 300 eligible employees.  Now, Consigli is located –it’s in the northeast.  It’s mostly in the Boston area.  So Jody is the first woman recipient.  She’s also the first female project executive in Consigli’s 116-year history.

Meet Jody

WENDY GROUNDS:  Hi, Jody.  Welcome to Manage This.  Thank you for joining us today.

JODY STARUK:  Thank you so much for having me.

WENDY GROUNDS:  We want to find out a lot of things from you today.  But I first want to know how did you get into the construction business?  It is rather an unusual choice.  Just tell us your background story a little bit.

JODY STARUK:  Sure.  Well, it was actually by sheer luck.  I grew up in Maine.  I never saw a building be built in my entire life.  My mom was a math teacher.  So if I got less than an A in math I was grounded, which didn’t seem very fair because the worse I ever got was a B, but that’s still how it works.  So I was good at math by necessity, and I also enjoyed, you know, the sciences and stuff like that.

And the only thing that led me down the road of engineering was a drafting class I took my senior year in high school.  And in Maine they have the University of Maine system, and UMaine Orono has a really good engineering school.  So I was going to go there because everybody goes to one of the UMaine schools.  And I applied to Worcester Polytechnic Institute just to say I applied to two schools.  I got into both, and I said, “All right, great, I’m going to go to UMaine.”  And my parents said, “Great, you’re going to live at home.”  And I said, “WPI it is.”

BILL YATES:  So it made the decision.

JODY STARUK:  Yeah, yeah.  And, you know, years later, once I had set up college accounts for my girls, you know, come to find out they really Miyagi’d me into that decision because it was cheaper for them to send me to WPI, which was a predominantly male school, because of the money I was receiving from them, than it was UMaine.  So they kind of reverse psychology’d me.  Then when I got there I was studying civil engineering, and I was going to do structural engineering.

But I had one advisor who said, “Have you ever thought about construction project management?”  I said, “No, I have no idea what that is.”  And he said, “I think you’d be really good at it because you’re really good with people.”  And I just kind of took that very naively and said okay.  And I ended up staying at WPI for my master’s degree – they do a five-year BS/MS program – and worked with him on my thesis.  Got introduced to Consigli at a job fair and then ended up working with them right out of the gate.  And almost 18 years later, here I am.  But I walked in day one not knowing anything.  And actually lucked out quite a bit, that, one, it’s something I really enjoy; and, two, come to find out I’m relatively good at it.

The First Female Executive

WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s amazing.  And what has kind of been the reality for you as a woman?  I think you were the first woman project manager that they’d had?

JODY STARUK:  So I wasn’t the first project manager.  There were two, I think, ahead of me by the time I was promoted to project manager back in, I don’t know, maybe ‘06?  But I was the first female executive.  And it was interesting because it took Anthony Consigli about a year to get me to say yes because, when he approached me with it, my girls had just turned two and four.  So I was in the heat of it.  I was busy.  My husband’s a firefighter.  So I’m working around a rotating schedule.

And frankly, what I told him, I said, “Anthony,” I said, “I come to work to feel confident and in control.”  I said, “And I don’t really know anything about the executive position and what they do.”  Because I never really interacted with them because I just ran my projects.  And if I needed them, I’d call maybe, you know, a half a dozen times a year.  Other than that, I was on my own island and said, “Leave me alone.  I’m good.”

The three reasons he gave me at the time were, “One, you’ve been here a really long time.  I think you deserve this position,” he said.  “Two, I think you’d have a greater impact on the company because you’d get to interact with more people and more teams than you do on your individual jobsites.”  And he said, “Three is actually rather selfish.”  But to me it was my favorite one.  He said, “I really need the women of this organization to know that they have a place to go.”  I really, really loved that.

It still took them a year after that because I said, “Well, I need to understand a little bit more about what they do and what my role would be.”  And, you know, he said, “Well, if you don’t like it, you can always go back to running projects.”  And I said, “Anthony, you’re asking me to be the first female executive of the company, which means it can’t fail,” I said, “because whether it’s my decision or not, it will never be viewed that way, and I don’t want to send that message to the younger women in the company.”

So it took about a year for me to get onboard and be comfortable enough with it that I knew it was the right thing.  And now it’s been about three and a half years, and I feel like I’m kind of gaining my stride and understanding it and doing some really good and fun things with my teams and the company.  And I’m really enjoying myself.

Consigli Construction Growth

BILL YATES:  You’ve had a phenomenal career there.  Thank you for sharing some of that background, too.  And I’m sure for some listeners just that sense of, okay, I’m kind of going first into this position or at this level.  I’m sure there are many that can relate to that, that sense of, okay, this is more than just a job.  I’ve got some responsibilities kind of beyond me.  And I don’t want to let myself down.  I don’t want to let the company down or those that work with me.  So that’s powerful.  Tell us more about Consigli Construction because when I was looking on the website and the growth, there’s been some pretty phenomenal growth.  And the cool thing is you’ve been there throughout it.  So tell us some about that.

JODY STARUK:  Yeah.  So when I started, it was probably maybe a little over a hundred people, including our field staff.  We were in one small building in downtown Milford, and we were probably a 40 to $50 million company annually.  But now we have over 1,200 employees across nine regional offices that span between Washington, D.C. all the way out to Portland, Maine.  So it’s been, you know, interesting.  I’ve seen the onboarding of all these different offices and the different projects and niches that each of these regions bring.  So it’s gone from winning a project that was like $20 million and everybody going down the street to celebrate because we were all there and a part of it, to some of the projects we’re running now are bigger than the company was, exponentially bigger than the company was when I started.

But we’ve stayed true to what we hold important, being genuine builders, having that self-perform aspect.  We’ve kept increasing our self-perform labor force, you know, so we’re still doing the masonry.  We have masons, carpenters, and laborers.  So that has never changed.  We still do the same type of work, lot of academic work, healthcare, life sciences and the restoration which has never changed.  But we’ve been able to expand that a little more, especially as we’ve gone into the cities like Boston with the multifamily residential or some of the corporate developer work.  But yeah, we still like to be able to try and pick our projects within those niches that we find ourselves successful at and that we enjoy building.

Maintaining a Strong Company Culture

 BILL YATES:  It’s amazing to me, I mean, here’s a company that’s in New York.  It’s in Boston.  It’s in smaller areas in Maine and outlying states, as well.  But it’s in the Northeast.  Yet the company has still maintained a strong culture throughout all this growth.  What do you attribute that to?  You know, part of it is you guys are staying true to what you do in terms of the different disciplines that you bring into it.  What are some other tricks that you think the company could share with other companies to maintain culture like that?

JODY STARUK:  Yeah, because we worked really, really hard at that over the 18 years.  And to me it still feels like the same place as 18 years ago.  And we really tried to make the new people coming in feel the same, you know.  But it’s focused on our core values.  Like I said, that passion for building, a culture of accountability, and the focus on raving fans.  You know, Anthony had rolled out the “raving fans” piece as a focus at the annual meeting the year I started and has never wavered from that.  You know, we want people to be raving fans of our work, to be talking to other people in the industry about what we do, and that they enjoy working with us, and that we make it an enjoyable experience.

And part of that, too, is just valuing our biggest asset and what we see as our biggest asset, which is our people, making sure they feel supported, trained, whether they are coming in right out of college or are a seasoned industry veteran, and bringing them onboard and teaching them the Consigli way.  And we try to embed, you know, those success stories of the things that we find as non-negotiables for how we run projects, and to display that to them for what we see as the Consigli culture.

That being said, we also don’t want our management to be one-size-fits-all.  You know, we want to have, like I said, those non-negotiables.  But we don’t want to handcuff our teams, to limit the innovation or the creativity that they could come up with on their own, that could lead to something really great.  So there’s that balance that we strive with.  And then it’s just trying to, you know, we always have lived under the mantra of the “work hard, play hard,” and this past year has been a little hard.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

JODY STARUK:  To play hard.  But just being able to have that social aspect, whether it’s regional offices getting together for cookouts or doing some of the community events that we have through the Consigli Foundation.  Last week we just had the Building Worcester.  You know, we’ve been building playgrounds in Worcester for the past decade.  Just those different types of opportunities that we’re able to do and get together that aren’t necessarily project related.

YWCA Central Massachusetts Renovation Project

WENDY GROUNDS:  Talking about raving fans, I think you probably have some raving fans from a project that you’ve recently worked on, the YWCA Central Massachusetts renovation.  Can you just tell us about the requirements and the scope of this project?

JODY STARUK:  So the YW’s facility was built in the ‘60s, and it had only ever been renovated once, in the ‘90s.  So it was in dire need of repairs and upgrades.  But obviously, being a nonprofit, they had some constraints from a budgetary standpoint.  And in order to bring up a facility like that to current codes, there was a significant amount of work that had to happen, and we had to prioritize the dollars based on what they had received in terms of grants and tax rebates and things like that, and fundraising, to say, okay, this is how much we have to spend to bring the building up to code.  And then there’s this amount left to be able to spend on refreshing and upgrades.

So a lot of it was infrastructure work that unfortunately will never be seen, an entire new HVAC system, all new electrical, fire protection, plumbing, all brand new.  But then we were able to get in some aesthetic pieces of things that were falling apart, brand new windows, which made a huge difference.  And then of course on top of that it was 100% occupied the entire time we were there.

BILL YATES:  Did you just say that it was 100% occupied the entire time you guys were doing this project?

JODY STARUK:  Yes.  So we had to, like, sequence people around the building and only take certain chunks.  And that in and of itself took a lot of the dollars, just to be able to make that happen.  I mean, you think about renovating plumbing systems, well, plumbing systems are gravity.  So we had to work from the bottom up because everything flows down.  And there were definitely nuances surrounding that that made it difficult for them.

So during preconstruction we probably resequenced that job at least a dozen times about who we could move where, and how we could get into other spaces earlier.  And we leveraged relationships in the City of Worcester with local colleges – because there’s a residential component, they have two floors of residences – to be able to send them to one of the local universities over the summer to be able to renovate those spaces in 12 weeks instead of the six months that originally we had in the schedule because we had to do it four rooms at a time.  So we could take all the rooms at a time and cut four months out of just that section.

The YWCA Services to the Community

BILL YATES:  A quick follow-up question on this, Jody.  I’m real familiar with YMCA and YWCA.  I’ve served on a YMCA board here in Atlanta.  And I was blown away by the number of services that they provide to the community.  When I got on the board, it’s like my eyes opened up to just so much more that they did.  So you’ve hit on some of those.  But for those who are not as familiar with the YWCA, describe your customer a bit further.  They have a housing component.  What are some of the other services they had?

JODY STARUK:  They had two floors of housing for women that needed that, whether victims of domestic violence or just down on their luck, that needed a place to stay.  So I think before they were housing 37 women, and we added capacity to that so they could be able to serve more women in the community.  You know, the YWs and the YMCAs are known for their fitness center and exercise facilities, so they certainly had that with their pool and their fitness center.  They had a large childcare component.  They have a big program there for that.  And then they also run programs for domestic violence support and services and another one called Women’s Economic Empowerment, just to teach women how to support themselves financially and get on their feet.  Quite the wide range of services.

A Unique Bid Petition

WENDY GROUNDS:  What was unique about how you petitioned to win the bid for this project?

JODY STARUK:  So what was interesting is about maybe even a month after I was promoted to project executive, they had approached us to help them put together some preliminary estimates so they could apply for all their grants and secure their funding.  So we had volunteered our services just to work on that.  And I’ve done a lot of work in and around Worcester because I’ve been here for the last 20-plus years.  So I got assigned that to kind of help with those preliminary estimates.  During development of the estimates, learning about their services and learning what their motto is, which is to eliminate racism and empower women, I was put in a unique position where here I am the first female project executive, so I started thinking, can I develop a team top to bottom for female management?  Because I bet that would be a differentiator.

So I started looking at all the different positions.  And for a majority of them I had options.  There definitely were some where there was only one that I could choose from.  But for the majority of the positions there were several.  So not only could I put together a team that was entirely female management team, I could put together a diverse team, you know.  So we said, let’s go in.  I mean, we can’t align with a client’s mission any closer.

So that’s what we did.  And my favorite part of the interviews is we were second out of four, and we looked in to the first one, and they were coming out, and they looked at us as seven women.  You could just see, they were like, oh, no.  And the same with the group that came in after us, and we were seven women coming out.  And, you know, they had one or two on their team.  So we felt pretty good about it, and ultimately were awarded the project.  So we were really excited.

BILL YATES:  That’s fantastic.  That is too funny.  I could just see their faces as they’re walking out.  Oh, boy.

JODY STARUK:  Well, and what was interesting, too, is we walked into the room, and that side of the table was all women.  You know, and I haven’t been in a situation like that, either.  The owner’s, project manager, the architect, the women that worked at the YW, you know, the other side of the table was also all women.

Approach to Obstacles

BILL YATES:  This is a construction project, and I’m going to say it’s a living building because you have people, three dozen people that are living there.  You have, similar to the YMCA experiences I’ve had, they have tremendous daycare services that go way beyond what I thought.  So you’ve got kids coming in and out.  You have people that are living there.  You have all these services that are going on.  Plus you have a health club, right, a health membership for many.  So I’m sure you guys had some obstacles you had to overcome with this mundane construction project.  So describe some of those obstacles and some of the approaches you took.

JODY STARUK:  Yeah.  So like I said, it was all about the phasing and how we could gain the most real estate that we could be in to make it the most economic for them, while also keeping it as painless as possible.  We made up big boards of just the floor plans, big whiteboards, and we took all these markers, and we shaded the different areas, like I said, at least a dozen times.  And over the course of that year, you know, figuring out – you remember those puzzles years ago that were in like a little square, and there were eight pieces, but nine spots, and you had to shift them all around.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah.

JODY STARUK:  They were infuriating.  I would always pop them out and then just put them…

BILL YATES:  Yes.

JODY STARUK:  …back in.

BILL YATES:  Right.

JODY STARUK:  Because it’s like, no, I’m not doing this.  But that’s exactly what this process was, is if I move these people over here, then I can move these up here and this.  So we had done that, like I said, a dozen times during preconstruction.  And as a result of that, we were able to get probably close to half a million dollars out of the job that would have been spent on time, you know, general conditions or general requirements for those temporary requirements to actually physical build it and keep the other systems operational. 

So that was a huge win because then we could redirect that money somewhere else that they could spend.  So we got a phasing plan that saved us a lot of money.  We were ready to go.  We started in January of 2020.  And then come beginning of March, you know, the world ended.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Oh, yeah, yeah.

BILL YATES:  Yes, yes.

JODY STARUK:  Right?  The world as we knew it ended.  That added a level of complexity that we weren’t anticipating, whether that be we had carpenter shutdowns up here for about two weeks.  Manufacturers shut down.  Our windows ended up being four months later because the manufacturer shut down.  Plus the Historic Commission, you know, they stopped working.  So we couldn’t even get the approvals we needed from a historic standpoint.  And then just all the added precautions and things we had to do onsite to try and keep people apart and work in different areas, and as a result we were resequencing again.

That being said, we originally projected that the project was going to be about two months later than originally planned.  But once the team resequenced it again, because there were some opportunities, and we wanted to jump on what we could, you know, because the office staff for the YW was then working from home.  So the YW said, why don’t we just leave them at home?  We said, great.  So we were able to get in the office areas earlier.

BILL YATES:  Oh, yeah.

JODY STARUK:  And the gymnasiums and fitness centers up here were shut down by the governor, so those couldn’t operate.  So we said, okay, so how about we go in here now because there’s not going to be anybody in there. We weren’t supposed to go in there until after Labor Day.  Thank goodness that happened because we opened up those walls in the locker rooms, and it was just studs deteriorating, plumbing pipes that we cut open that were filled this high up with sludge.  We found a lot of stuff in those areas that we ended up being in that space two times as long as we thought.  So that was a blessing in disguise.

So we tried to make it work as much as we could.  We took the opportunities that the pandemic gave us to help offset the things that slowed us down.  So we ended up finishing within two weeks of the original end date.  And frankly, we would have finished on time, but in the City of Worcester there were five inspectors.  Unfortunately, one had passed away in the fall.  And then three of the other ones got COVID.  And so they were all out. 

So they were down to one inspector, and it was taking 10 days to schedule inspections because the poor guy was by himself.  And at that point it was just kind of what are you going to do?  We worked on punch list and got other things done that we could.  And it was just the paperwork side of things.  We were this close to finishing at the same time.

BILL YATES:  That’s impressive, yes.

The Unique Perspective of a Woman-Led Team

WENDY GROUNDS:  Looking at it retrospectively, can you describe what was the unique perspective that a woman-led team would bring to a construction project?

JODY STARUK:  Yeah, it was interesting.  It was just a different vibe.  They connected with the client, I think, a lot deeper.  They got really aligned with what the mission was and what was going on because we had our own mission; right?  Like we felt like we had something to prove.  We were all in.  They listened to what the client was trying to do.  You know, we knew that we were inconveniencing them, but they tried as best as they could to minimize those inconveniences.

The first area that we renovated was the childcare.  So the children were everywhere.  But we knew they ranged from the little ones, like the infants, up through preschool.  And our PM, in one of the meetings, asked them, you know, “What time is naptime?”  Because if we can, we’ll work around that and try not to be jackhammering the slab during naptime.  And I just kind of sat back and was like, that was a great question.  Because I had two young kids, and I’m like, yeah.  That would tick me off if there’s jackhammering going on and they wake up those babies.  Don’t wake up the babies.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.

JODY STARUK:  You know, but ultimately we never really heard much of complaints from the users of the building.  I think collectively everybody just had the end goal in mind.  So they were willing to go through a little discomfort and inconvenience to get to the end.  Then they just kept looking down the road.  And as I walked in that trailer, I mean, those women on our team had every right to be defeated, frustrated.  Every time we turned around there was something, whether pandemic-related, like I said, we opened walls, and you’re just like, what is this?  So there was a lot of work that just we couldn’t get in to see the extent of what it was going to be ahead of time because it was all buried behind CMU walls.

So to then have to deal with that. And so there was a lot of changes that the design team helped work through really quickly once things were uncovered.  But it ended up making us really reactionary, which is not a place that we like to live.  But it was a necessary evil of this project.  And they still just owned it.  They kept pushing forward, and you never walked in that trailer and just felt down.  They were just pushing and pushing and pushing.  And I’ve been on jobs where at the end it’s tough, and attitudes can get tough, and emotions are running high.  And this job had every reason to be that, and it wasn’t.  The only thing I can think of is just based on the people that were out there leading it.

Overcoming Communication Barriers

BILL YATES:  One of the things I wanted to ask you about, Jody, is related to communication.  And you’ve already said a keyword that I don’t – this is going to sound punny.  But I don’t hear it often enough, and the word is “listen”.  You said you felt like one of the successes of your team was how well they listened to the customer.  I think that’s a trait that that we often overlook.  I think for many of us, you grow up in a consulting world or a SME expectation where you’ve got to have the answers. 

And I think as I’ve gotten, let’s say, more seasoned in life, I’ve started appreciating more those who can come into an environment and ask the right questions, and then make notes on those, and then come back later and ask deeper questions.  So they’re really going deeper with the client, understanding their needs.

But a lot of that revolves around the bigger issue of communication.  What were some of the communication approaches that you guys took because, like you said, you’ve got some of your key stakeholders where you thought you’d be face to face with a client, and they’re at home.  Right?  There’s the pandemic.  And maybe even your own resources, you know, some of the contractors that you would normally work with you just don’t have accessibility.  So how did you guys overcome some of those communication barriers?

JODY STARUK:  Sure, I mean, they were a lot of FaceTime calls.

BILL YATES:  Okay, yeah.

JODY STARUK:  In the field, things like, hey, look at this, because we needed you to see it, because the architects weren’t coming out at the beginning because of the same thing.  I mean, even internally we sent our PM staff home.  So it was just the supers and the assistant supers onsite because we thought, if people go down and get sick, we need other people to be able to back feed them.  So there probably was about two months that our PM and our project engineer were at home while our assistant supers were onsite.  And so even just making sure that they were communicating, right, you know, we had our weekly team meetings over teams that were all physically looking at each other and staying in contact.

The team did a great job in putting together weekly updates for the YW so that they could pass it along to their user groups to be like, this is where we’re working this week.  This is what you’re going to going to hear.  This is what you’re going to see.  And this is what you’re going to smell.  Those type of things so that they would be prepared for it.  So they would put together those communications.  And, I mean, this job was fortunate enough that we had all been working together for, like I said, the 18 months ahead of time.  So we had those relationships developed, that being on a computer screen versus in-person.  I never saw anybody skip a beat.

You know, it was just this is how we communicate now.  We can use all the systems that we have to send the documents back and forth collaboratively.  And like I said, if someone needed to see something, it was either photos or video chats in the field so that people could see it.  We just kind of did what we had to do.  And again, even that in and of itself could have been something from a motivational standpoint, you know, the supers were never, like, why do we have to be here, but the PMs are home? 

There was never that.  And, you know, there very well could have been, and rightfully so.  But it was still like, okay, this is just another roadblock in the list of roadblocks, so let’s do what we have to do and figure it out.  And that’s what they did.  It was great to watch.  Other than I was at home because I couldn’t go either, and I wanted to go see the stuff.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, that had to drive you crazy, yup.

JODY STARUK:  Because it’s more fun there, let’s be honest.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

Is the Construction Industry Changing?

 WENDY GROUNDS:  Do you see signs that the construction industry is changing and starting to evolve a bit in terms of women-led teams?  I kind of researched and saw that there’s a lot of women in construction, we just don’t hear about it a lot.  So what have you seen?

JODY STARUK:  Yeah, I mean, 18 years ago when I started going to construction meetings in the trailers, you know, I was the only one there.  And as the years have gone by, you know, not only from our side, from the construction management side, you see it a lot on the owner side and the design side and the engineering side now.  Say our state universities, the head of facilities at several of them are women.  So they’re running the show, and that’s who we’re working with and for on those campuses. 

So you’re starting to see it more and more across all of the participants, which is great.  It’s been even more and more so over the last, like, five to 10 years.  There just seems to have been this significant jump, you know, I had said I was the first project executive.  But now there’s four of us, in less than four years.

And even just our PM staff and our field staff, when we started this project, first our project manager, she got pregnant and ended up leaving. So I had to replace her.  But I had to replace her with the woman who was going to be the superintendent.  So we were at a point where we said, okay, it was an A for effort, but we’re going to have to bring in a male super because our only other female super at the time was in Maine.  And she would have loved to have come down.  She would have come down in a heartbeat.  But she was committed elsewhere.

But what ended up happening is Janice Narowski, who was our MEP manager, unbeknownst to me, had started to take her CSL classes for her license.  And once she was about halfway through she called me, and she said, “I want to be the super.  Like I believe in this mission.  I think it’s important that we keep the all-female team that we promised them.  I want to be the super.”

And I was blown away and also kind of mad because it’s like, that’s a brilliant idea.  Why didn’t I think of that?  Because the job was very mechanically heavy, and she had been into the weeds on it for the last year.  So if ever there was going to be a job to make the leap, you know, this was it.  And I’ve known Janice since college, so for 22 years now.  And that woman has never failed at anything that she’s put her mind to.

So I was all for it.  Not only was I all for it, I talked to the director of field ops, and he said, “Absolutely”. Anthony and Matthew said, “Absolutely”.  And the client didn’t even hesitate.  And then ultimately, at the end of all this, she’s going to remain a super.  So she’s moved on to her next job. She’s a superintendent.  And since then, I think there’s at least a half a dozen young women that are either assistant superintendents now that have come on just in the past two years, or superintendents.  So you’re really starting to see it even on the field side, which I think is really exciting.

Advice for Younger Women

 WENDY GROUNDS:  What advice would you have for younger women who are looking to get into the construction industry?

JODY STARUK:  Yeah, I would say don’t be shy.  Ask all the questions of everybody.  Follow your super around and just listen to who he’s talking to, what are they talking about, why.  Try to figure out why are they talking about that.  Find a tradesperson in something you haven’t seen built yet and ask them if you can just watch them for an hour, two hours, a day, so you can figure out what it is they do, how they do it.  And what I found coming up through the industry is when I would do something like that, the tradespeople love nothing more than to teach the next generation what they do.  There’s a lot of pride in what they do.  So they love being able to show it off.  And I learned so much that way, just watching and listening.

And then lastly, don’t be afraid to make a mistake.  I see a lot of the young people coming in that just won’t make a decision because they’re afraid to make a mistake.  Which by default is deciding not to do anything.  So what I tell my younger teammates, male or female, is make a decision because at least then you’re in control.  Otherwise, the decision is being made for you.  And if you make the wrong decision, make another one to fix it.  So there’s always another option to fix it.

BILL YATES:  That’s great, yes.

JODY STARUK:  I’ve made plenty of mistakes over the 18 years.  But it hasn’t been my lack of willingness just to pick something and go because we don’t have a lot of the answers some of the times.  You’ve just got to take the information you have and say, all right, let’s try this.

BILL YATES:  That’s right.

JODY STARUK:  And see what happens.

Creating More Career Advancement Opportunities

WENDY GROUNDS:  Jody, how can the industry help? When we think of what could be done to create more career advancement opportunities for women and for men in the construction industry, what is a way that the industry can attract more women to the world of construction? 

JODY STARUK:  You know, we talked about how we have seen more women in the industry.  But I still think we need to do more.  Like I said, I’m very inorganically landed here.  You know, I lucked out.  I had no idea what I was getting into.  I walked in day one, I could draw you the exact outfit I wore on the first day.  It was this patchwork jean skirt with a light yellow shirt with a white collar, a blue necklace, and these brown sandals.  I’ll never forget it because they ended up wanting to take me to a jobsite on my first day. They had to sneak me in the back because I was not dressed appropriately.

So I definitely had zero clue what I was getting into.  And I remember spending my entire first summer just writing down all these words and then asking people, what does roughing-in mean?  Or what is blocking?  I remember asking my superintendent, like I don’t know what these things are.  So just to me, one of the things, and now having two little girls, they can see me, and they know what all the equipment is, you know, they can tell you between the excavator or a skid-steer or a backhoe.  My husband helps with that, too.  So they’ll be exposed to it.  So that if it’s something that they want to go into, great.

But one of the things that I’ve tried to do is get involved with the organizations that are going to teach young girls, or just young children in general, about the industry and all the different facets of it because it’s expansive.  There are a lot of different parts to the industry.  And just making sure that the young people know that it exists as an option.  Because I didn’t know it was an option.  So I spent a lot of time trying to do that.  And I think particularly in the industry as a whole, like we’re facing a shortage as it is, even in the trades.  You know, so even if we can get people to go into the trades by telling them this is out there, I think that’s really, really important.

Get in Touch with Jody

WENDY GROUNDS:  If our listeners have questions for you, how can they reach out to you?

JODY STARUK:  I think probably the easiest way is searching for me on LinkedIn.  Just Jody Staruk, project executive at Consigli on LinkedIn.  Or you can always go to the Consigli website, just www.consigli.com.

BILL YATES:  Thank you so much for sharing about, not just the project, but your organization and your growth within it.  And it’s so inspiring.  I know to any project manager, male, female, doesn’t matter, this is an inspiring story, and especially for those who are looking at an industry and saying, you know what, I don’t think this industry’s cut out for me.  I’m interested in it. But I’m not sure that I’ll fit.  Yes, you can.  You can get out there.

JODY STARUK:  Yeah.  Absolutely.

BILL YATES:  And we deeply appreciate that.  Yeah, thank you so much.

JODY STARUK:  Yeah.  Thank you so much for having me.  This is fun, and I will tell the story to anybody who wants to listen because I’m so proud of what these women accomplished.  And being able to watch it and watch them succeed was amazing.

Closing

WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  Thank you for joining us today.  You can visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can also subscribe to this podcast and see a complete transcript of the show.

And you just earned some Professional Development Units by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com, choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page, and click the button that says Claim PDUs, and follow through the steps.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

One response to “Episode 132 – Women Led Construction Projects”

  1. Judy Tamburri says:

    This was a very interesting podcast. I enjoyed hearing about how Jody ended up at WPI and in the Construction Industry. Jody is a lively and engaging speaker.

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