‘I AM A WOMAN IN CONSTRUCTION’: Senior Project Managers Alyson Winters Kavanagh and Irina Makucha on their Experience in the Construction Industry

By Alexandra Comiskey, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

As a woman who strayed from the path of traditional marketing, I found myself at a construction firm with little knowledge of the industry, and yet, I belong. I think that is a true testament of what this industry is capable of and who it allows into its circle—anyone willing to adapt to change.

The construction industry has experienced ground-breaking milestones throughout history, and with the never-ending need to build, change is a necessary and inevitable occurrence. Women have been capable and willing to work in construction dating back to the earliest structures of the world’s first civilizations. So although it is still a male-dominated industry, more women than ever are pursuing careers in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), and the industry continues to welcome us with open arms.

As I navigate my own journey in construction, it is comforting to know there are many female industry leaders around me to look up to. I sat down with our female senior project managers, Alyson Winters Kavanagh and Irina Makucha, to discuss their combined 40+ years of experience. These are two women that we can all learn from, and use their stories and advice as inspiration to build our own.

Like every good story, we must start at the beginning. Both Alyson and Irina have more or less considered themselves women in construction since they were kids. “As a child, I always liked to build things, one of my favorite toys was Legos,” says Alyson, Senior Project Manager. “My mom was an interior decorator and my dad was a Civil Engineer; I always used to draw with my dad’s drafting tools.”

Irina, a fellow Lego-lover, had a similar upbringing, “There were three daughters in our family and my father needed extra helping hands with our home’s construction projects,” she explains. “He is an engineer, and building things with his own two hands has been engraved in his blood. And now it is in my blood.”

The AEC industry has changed exponentially over the past two decades—technology and innovation have certainly shifted the paradigm, and the influence and prevalence of women in higher-level roles even more so. When asked about how they’ve witnessed the construction industry changing over the years, Alyson and Irina had similar responses. Alyson says, “It’s changed a lot over the last 20+ years.  My first graduating class in Construction Management was 50 men and 4 women.  I think construction management is up to 10% female now and architects are 30-40% female. At one of my first co-ops in college, I was an assistant super and one of the tradesman said I would be better off at home doing the dishes.  I think everyone would think twice before they said that today. Luckily for us, there’s much more support for women in the industry now.”

Irina adds, “I have met many people who speak about inclusion but do not show it in their actions. It has been very discouraging at times. Over the years, I realized that inclusion starts with each one of us. Talking about it is only a small part. I have seen many companies that talk about inclusion and diversity, but do not really create an environment for people to grow. Diversity is inside all of us, as we grew up in different cities, we have different mindsets, we are unique. If the company’s culture is welcoming to all, it shows.”

To finish, I asked them, what is your advice to a young woman who is in high school, college, or even out of college wishing to start a career in the AEC industry? Irina quickly responded, “You don’t have to be some overpowering stereotype to be able to work in construction. You can be yourself just as you already are— kind, caring, intelligent, hardworking. If it feels that you are not appreciated, you are at the wrong company. Find the place where you are the happiest and most appreciated. That place exists; it’s where you will be accepted for who you truly are!”

Alyson agrees, “Trust your gut, go after what you want and don’t let anyone deter you.  Seek out women in the industry and groups that will support you.  Try everything, even if it’s not the right thing. It will take you in the right direction and help you filter through what you want and don’t want.”

At Wise Construction we are not simply “women in construction”. We are assistant project managers, project managers, senior project managers, accountants, and marketers. It is this month that we celebrate our contributing roles and reflect on women’s presence in a male dominated industry. Collaboration is at the core of what we do day in and day out. If we are all working together as a team, pulling in the same direction, it shouldn’t matter who or what you are. Our industry is thriving through a crucial stage of change, adapting through another milestone, which is gender equality in the workplace. And while there has been significant improvement, there is still room for more.