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.
Noel Speirs has been in the construction industry for about 10 years now, but she didn’t start out with ambitions of becoming a construction professional. After exploring a variety of career paths such as a receptionist, executive assistant, and doing a stint in an interior design program, she finally found her calling and was able to pursue a role she was passionate about.
During her time as an executive assistant, Speirs was presented an opportunity from a previous co-worker to work for Omicron, one of Western Canada’s largest development, design, and construction firms. As she worked her way up from a Project Coordinator to a Field Expeditor and proved her abilities, she was promoted to her current role of Construction Manager. “It was very much a bottom rung of the ladder start for me in the construction field,” explains Speirs, and it being a male-dominated industry never came up as a concern in her mind.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the construction industry?
“I didn’t start out with the mindset that I wanted to work in construction, but I always had an interest in space planning and building things with my dad. I was one of those mechanical children who just liked to tinker. It was a series of experiences that led me to the right role.”
“Luckily, I had parents that encouraged me to use tools and build forts growing up, so understanding how things come together on site has always felt second nature. When I was younger, I would spend hours drawing up plans for a house that I would love to move into – so I think it’s always been in my blood.”
“I did essentially fall into the construction industry, because a role came up and it was a good fit. However, if I hadn’t had the opportunity, I could have fallen into the same trap a lot of people who go to school find themselves in – where you take general studies and aren’t sure what to do with your degree.”
What has been the most surprising part of being a woman in construction?
“When I first started on site as a Field Expeditor, I was apprehensive because I knew it was going to be an entirely different environment from what I was used to – but I was also excited for the opportunity. I had been based in a office until that point, where most conversations are over the phone with clients, trades and sales people. You feel like you’re in your own bubble.”
“I was concerned that working on site would be an entirely different ball game. You’re coming in with preconceived stereotypes of men on construction sites, because of the way the industry is portrayed on TV shows and movies. However, the men I’ve met on site are by far the most respectful in the industry.”
“Negative stereotypes that are portrayed in social media and television are completely incorrect. It was surprising to see that even though women have progressed in the construction industry, our male counterparts (especially, on site) are still denigrated by these negative stereotypes.”
What is the biggest challenge women in construction are up against?
“I am very fortunate to work with an employer that is very supportive of its female employees growing professionally in the construction industry.”
“Although I’ve never experienced an issue with being a woman, there are still social aspects of the construction industry that display an awkwardness around including female participants in activities or events, more typically geared towards the male population.”
Are there any advantages of being a woman in the construction industry?
“Women are excellent communicators. Women feel more comfortable being open in communicating, which can result in a reasonable conversation on how to resolve a problem.”
“Easily developing a rapport and relationships with others is also a huge advantage, especially when you need to have difficult conversations, negotiate and/or build trust with a project team.”
“If you know how to communicate the facts or what you need in a reasonable way – that’s the biggest advantage you can have. There’s no room for egos in our fast-paced world – your job is to solve problems and move forward.”
What is the most memorable moment of your career in construction?
“A project that I had across the street from our office comes to mind. We added approximately 40,000 pounds levelling to just under 4,000 square feet, in order to install large scale tile flooring. I remember being on site until the late hours of the night and sketching with our interior designer. We were trying to figure out how we were supposed to level the floor, put the tile on, while accommodating the existing stair structure and its new finishes.”
“There’s always a lot of on-site problem-solving. Those are always my most memorable moments, because it’s when I get to make my personal mark on a project.”
What’s your top 3 pieces of advice for women who are thinking about pursuing a career in construction?
“Trust your intuition about people, your skill set, and your problem-solving abilities in general. Trust your gut feeling. I’ve received this advice a number of times. I have also gone against it and learned from the consequences. I’ve never thought of myself as ‘the only woman at the table,’ even if I’m often the only woman on site.”
“Don’t exclude yourself from activities or single yourself out because you’re female. You’re a person in the industry – the only thing holding you back is yourself if you think that way.”
“Don’t question your ability based on other people’s perceptions. You can’t be sensitive that you’re the only woman – you have to own it.”