Women in construction: Trading in makeup brushes for a hardhat

BRIDGIT | Feb 5, 2017

Every year, the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) dedicates a week to celebrating the role of women in construction and bringing awareness to the opportunities available in the industry. The Bridgit team is joining this effort, by highlighting successful female construction professionals whom we’ve had the privilege of working with.

We all know, life is full of curveballs. Sometimes you think you’re headed down one path but before you know it, it’s not at all what you set out to do.

For example, a junior employee at the Minto Group, Maya Keay-Smith, thought she’d be on her way to becoming a makeup artist a few short years ago. “I was working at a clothing store and was very interested in fashion and makeup,” says Keay-Smith. Instead, life presented a different kind of opportunity. Thanks to another part-time job she took on to help pay for her studies, Keay-Smith is now on her way to pursuing a career in construction.

Keay-Smith is a part-time project administrator for the Minto Group, as she continues to work towards achieving a Construction Engineering Technology diploma at George Brown. She now has her sights set on working her way up the ranks to a site superintendent role. Keay-Smith’s story is a great example of how being open to new experiences can help you find your true passion.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the construction industry?

“My dad is a successful superintendent at Minto as well, and he actually got me my part-time job there. I knew absolutely nothing about construction at the time. The first thing I learned about construction was how to use Bridgit Closeout. I was responsible for making sure trades received the most updated closeout list, inputting deficiencies into the app properly, checking to make sure they were completed, and so on.”

“As time went on, I started liking it more and the team I worked with was great. I loved using Closeout and how everyone came together for one common goal. I realized I had to give equal consideration to both career paths. I told myself, if I got into the construction program, it’s a sign of what I’m supposed to do. I received my acceptance letter the next day. I knew in that moment – this is what I’m going to do and I’m just going to go for it.”

“I’m really grateful for that first experience in construction. I think a big part of it is the people that I work with. But if we didn’t use Closeout, and I had to keep track of everything by hand, I would have been much more frustrated and may not have chosen this career path.”

What has been the most surprising part of being a woman in construction?

“What surprises me the most is how welcoming everyone is. It is a fact that there’s more males than females in construction. As a result, I thought there would be more of a stigma around me as a young female, or people would be less friendly. My experience has been quite different than what I expected. Everyone I’ve met has been so nice and so accepting. Especially when I started off, I knew nothing about construction, but everyone was very willing to help me out.”

“My boss is also a woman, and she has an incredible amount of respect. Everyone on site always talks about how efficient she is. It was a nice surprise to be respected, regardless of my gender.”

What is the biggest challenge women in construction are up against?

“Although I haven’t personally encountered this, some males who are a little bit older and have been in this industry for a while are more likely to question the role of women in construction. Generally, people who are 40 and under are completely fine with a women in charge, but those 40 and over might have more of a problem with it. I’ve seen that firsthand with some of the older people and how they deal with my female boss. Whatever industry you’re in there’s always going to be people who are skeptical.”

Are there any advantages of being a woman in the construction industry?

“People are actually a lot nicer. I see how people talk to me versus how they interact with my male boss. It’s very different. If they’re having an issue, they might approach him very defensively. On the other hand, if they see me first, they’re a little bit nicer. I’m not sure if that’s because of my age or because I’m a woman, but their demeanor is a little bit less aggressive.”

“It’s as if they’re trying so hard to not be sexist against women that they’re overly courteous. They seem to give more attention to women and are more eager to help, because they don’t want to be perceived as not giving you a chance, just because you’re a woman.”

What is the most memorable moment of your career in construction?

“When I was working on the 30 Roe project for Minto, we would get the PDI’s (pre-delivery inspection) in the morning. I would try to put all of the PDI’s into Bridgit Closeout before coffee at 9 o’clock. After I printed off the list, I’d pass it on to the handyman’s foreman. If he had any questions, I’d help him work through it.”

“After we finished the job, he moved to another project where my father was. He went out of his way to find my father and provide really positive feedback about my work. He told him that ‘Maya made that job for me. She’s a big part of the reason it went so smoothly.’ Hearing that made me feel great, and further reinforced that I had made the right decision about my career.”

What’s the top advice you can offer to women who are thinking about pursuing a career in construction?

“Focus on yourself and listen to those who have more experience. Think about what your goals are and get advice from those who are in the position you’re working towards. My boss is a finishing superintendent, so I go to her when I have a questions about the job, my studies, or what I should do next. She’s already done all that.”

“Find someone who is doing what you want to do, and don’t let others tell you what you can and cannot do.”

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