In honor of Women in Construction Week, Utopia conducted a Q&A with several women in the construction industry. From property and project managers, to engineers and CFOs, these women have climbed the ranks and made a name for themselves in their respective companies.
Jeanne Bartels, senior project manager at McHugh Construction, is one such woman.
Here's her story on industry passion, pains, and shifting perspectives for women in construction.
Q+A With Jeanne Bartels
Could you tell us a bit about your market, company, and what you do?
I’m currently the senior project manager of Platform 4611, a nine-story, 200-unit rental building nearing completion in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Although I have been on ground-up, new multifamily construction projects lately, I have also been project manager on some other unique projects at McHugh. For instance, I worked on the expansion and renovation of the East Bank Club, which was a fun change of pace. As a senior project manager, I get to be hands-on for every part of the project from participating with the estimating team in the final budgeting process during preconstruction, through the punch list and closeout. I love being involved in so many details and aspects of a project.
What sparked your interest in the construction industry?
Curiosity. I spent four years at an engineering firm before having the itch to move to construction. During my commute around the city I would look up and see the tower cranes and wonder, how does a building that big get built? When I decided to take a chance to change careers, I took a position with the best high-rise contractor in Chicago!
What do you love most about your job?
The variety of the day-to-day life of being a project manager is my favorite part of my job. Different aspects of the work, phases of the project and interactions with other teams and people on a job from start to finish is a cycle that lasts several years and keeps things engaging. One day I might be working on the budget and feel like an accountant, another day putting on my lawyer hat and working on contracts. Project management is problem solving, prioritizing and time management, and it’s a little different every day. Each year of my 15-year career I have grown and become more confident and competent with the nuances of working in the construction industry.
Do you face any challenges at work because of your gender?
I have worked with men and women that show me respect as a leader on the jobsite and office. I feel supported by my direct leadership, McHugh and the people I work with in the construction industry. My female counterparts in the industry have shared stories, dating back many years, of challenges, biases and abuse that I have been lucky enough not to have ever experienced. I give credit to the strong women that stood up in a minimally represented industry for years when it was extremely difficult so that I could establish myself in an industry and career that I love.
What has been the biggest barrier you've faced in your field? How did you overcome it?
This field is confrontational and combative at times. That is an emotional thing that can be very difficult to take on. Seeing an email come through and trying to not let it ruin my day can be a challenge. This is the barrier that is one of the hardest for me to overcome. In order to work through this, I will often vent, and take time and space so I can come back to it later, look at it with fresh eyes, and then do my best to figure out how to solve the problem.
What has been your greatest career accomplishment so far?
Working with a team, through all the tasks and problem solving that are necessary to start, execute and finish a large-scale building project is my greatest accomplishment. I’m proud to have been project manager on The Sinclair, a 35-story, 390-unit luxury apartment tower in Chicago that was completed in 2017, and my current project, Platform 4611, which is wrapping up soon. I share in these accomplishments with the McHugh teams, subcontractors, architects and owners. Seeing finished buildings in Chicago’s landscape and knowing the effort by myself and so many other people that went into them is the most satisfying part of my work.
Do you have any advice for other women in the industry regarding navigating gender bias?
Show them what you’ve got! Not that you should have to prove yourself more than the man next to you. But do your best and let the quality of your work be what shines for people to recognize. When you find yourself experiencing gender biases, I recommend you seek out camaraderie and advice from other women in the industry and coworkers you trust. Share your experiences and collaborate on ways to address the problem.