Meet the Women of Interstruct
Megan Padilla, Content + Marketing Strategist
What makes Interstruct an award-winning commercial construction design + build + development firm with offices in Orlando and Tampa? The women of Interstruct are our secret sauce.
They bring expertise, passion and professionalism to all of our departments, including bookkeeping, architecture, project management, office administration and marketing. They boldly represent Interstruct as part of the powerhouse Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network in Orlando and Tampa Bay, and are amazing at building relationships with clients and subs, as well as across our industry. Furthermore, the women of Interstruct deepen the bonds within our own offices, making them better places for everyone to work.
We asked the Women of Interstruct about their experience as women in construction and their answers are honest and insightful. Anyone with a stake in the construction industry should read this Q&A (scroll down) that addresses the women of Interstruct’s experiences and shares their insights for the current, and up-and-coming generation of women in construction.
Q&A with the Women of Interstruct
Thank you to Ashley, Kelsey, Debra and Vanessa for sharing your experiences and insights as a woman in the construction industry.
Can you share a little of your background/experience that led you to your position at Interstruct?
Kelsey: I started my journey in the solar development field qualifying systems and homes for future solar installs.
Ashley: Over a decade of experience ranging from interior design, project management, owners’ representation, and business development.
Debra: I have worked in the construction industry in Central Florida since 2006. I enjoyed working in Glazing, Miscellaneous Metals and Structural Steel before I came to Interstruct. Building Immersive landscapes for theme parks and artistic monuments have been my favorite projects. For a while it was enough for me to see the structures take life and grow from prints.
Over the last few years of my construction career, I have most wanted a complete understanding and an omnipresent role in projects. I do believe I have found that (and more) in my position as a Construction Project Coordinator with Interstruct.
What drew you to this industry in the first place?
Kelsey: My peers recruited me to fill an open position.
Ashley: I received a college degree in interior design at Florida State University. My major always pushed towards commercial design. However, right out of college I landed an in-house interior design position with a home building construction company, willing to take a chance with my lack of experience.
I was lucky enough to join Sample Properties. This all-male company welcomed me, respected me, and built my confidence by taking the time to teach me. These men invested in me, providing the foundation of my education in construction.
Debra: I spent my childhood in sheet metal or welding shops down on Division Avenue, watching my mother design and build beautiful copper cupolas, awnings and domes; or theming focal points like the water tower at the House of Blues. I always knew this industry was busy and creative enough to pull me in and keep me interested and could offer me endless opportunities and creative outlets that other industries would never be able to do.
Vanessa: Construction careers run in my family.
Is being a woman in construction different at the office vs. out in the field?
Kelsey: Yes, our office is very welcoming and inclusive. Working in the field is a little tougher. Being a woman (who is also younger) has its setbacks. I notice that I introduce myself more and must make it known that I am on site for a reason.
Ashley: Absolutely, there are many things to take into consideration between the two environments. The first is attire. Women need to pay attention to how they are dressed out in the field so they are taken seriously. Attention is often drawn to certain areas while on a job site by simply being in the bodies God gave us. There is definitely an unspoken stereotype about women not knowing/understanding construction, so we are constantly up against that when walking on a job site with people with whom we have not yet developed a rapport. I’ve learned to hold my own and not be intimidated by worry that I’m not being taken seriously.
Debra: Earlier on in my career, working in the field; I was never able to find PPE that fit me. Necessary items such as welding hoods, gloves, hardhats, harnesses, and composite toe shoes were largely unavailable in sizes or styles designed to fit women. We had to make do with whatever was available in size XS for men, and those items were special orders and overly priced because the suppliers did not buy them in bulk.
Today, every major brand has an entire line of PPE and clothes designed to fit women in construction. The industry and the culture has moved forward to accommodate women in the field as well as the office. This shift not only allows for women to safely perform tasks, and look as professional as the men doing the same job. It also creates positive work environments where women feel comfortable inviting other women to join in, knowing they will look the part as well as they are able to perform the tasks and creating space for all people to work together with the flexibility to move between field and office.
What is a characteristic that you wish men in your industry would get on board to adopt from women?
Kelsey: Being more aware of others in situations and the environment.
Ashley: Honestly, the industry has changed so much and now our presence is almost half in the construction world. There are still old-school thinking men, but for the most part I have seen a shift over the years of acceptance and respect from the majority.
Since you began working in the construction industry, have you seen changes in how women are represented?
Kelsey: Yes, I recently met a ton of CREW (Commercial Real-estate Empowering Women’s) members and I think that organization is killing it!
Ashley: Definitely, it can go one or two ways. Sometimes women take on a more masculine approach wearing suits and covering up. They try to overpower conversations as their way of demolishing the stereotype about woman not belonging in construction.
And then you have women who embrace their womanhood and hold their own without feeling the need to be looked at as a man, but as a partner. I have seen this industry become more welcoming to women and encourage their presence. At my company, I am treated with respect and as an equal.
Debra: I have seen positive changes in representation, but not so much in regard. I know representation matters to the heart of recruitment for the industry, so that more women feel welcome to join. But often, our achievements are not seen as equal to men’s; in some instances, a typical achievement for a male coworker is celebrated as an esteemed achievement for a female coworker.
I watched my mother and her mother working in construction, owning construction businesses, and teaching architecture at Seminole State. These women have always been regarded and respected as valued colleagues, well versed in their trade, hands on in the field, as well as the office.
My personal experience has been the same, and while I understand that representation creates opportunities for other women to feel included and appreciated, for me, maybe it feels silly to use phrases like “Woman Business Enterprise” or “woman welder” and ” female architect”. I want to be represented as, and recognized, for being the best in my field, not as the best woman in my field.
What do you like most about being in a workplace with other women?
Kelsey:Their passion and their drive to do not only what is right, but also what is good. That goes for projects, giving back to the community, and to the environment
Ashley: The support! The construction industry is tough on its own and being a woman does add a lot of internal intimidation, but how the women in the Tampa area support one another — whether competitors or not — is incredible. We have one another’s back, always, because we understand each other on a deeper level, and provide the support/respect we wish we received at some point in our career, and didn’t. Look at CREW Tampa Bay; this amazing organization is a prime example of this!
Debra: I love seeing other women in different stages of life, relating to each other, thriving together, and lifting each other up.
Vanessa: That we support each other’s goals within our career progression.
Do you have an anecdote to share about a positive experience of being a woman in construction?
Kelsey: Don’t stop, don’t look back, and don’t let others bring you down. Mistakes happen, just keep pushing through, and take others’ opinions with a grain of salt.
Ashley: I noted several above, but receiving the mutual respect in my company and not ever feeling less because I am a woman. To be encouraged and looked at as an advantage in the fact that I am a woman and the benefits I bring naturally has made me feel very empowered.
Debra: A few years ago, my kids and their friends decided to dress like me for Halloween, and while they thought they were being little smarties, they found humorous functionality in my work clothes/PPE and “accessories.” Pocket knives are handy, small tool belts are great places to store anything you need within hands reach (candy), and measuring anything with a laser is just plain fun.
Would you recommend other women get involved in the construction industry? If so, why?
Ashley: Although challenging, the AEC industry is full of excitement, never a dull moment. There are always new things to learn and develop. Especially for those who are passionate about their community and want to be involved in its overall growth!
Debra: Absolutely, I recommend the construction industry to anyone bursting with creativity in need of a fast paced, high performance career. There is nothing like driving by something you helped create and hearing your kids say, “My Mommy built that.”