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.
Stephanie Kretchmar, project manager at Draper and Kramer, Incorporated, is one such woman.
Here's her story on industry passion, pains, and shifting perspectives for women in construction.
Q+A With Stephanie Kretchmar
Could you tell us a bit about your market, company, and what you do?
I’m based in Chicago where I work for Draper and Kramer, Incorporated, a national full-service real estate firm, as a project manager in the construction and maintenance department for the multifamily properties we own and manage. Our portfolio spans 6,000 market-rate rental units across 20 properties in Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas and Phoenix, and my role is to manage major capital improvement and maintenance projects for any of those communities. That involves collaborating with our construction partners to plan and execute projects ranging from renovating and updating one specific area of a multifamily community to overseeing major redevelopments that encompass an entire property. For example, I recently finished up a $10 million redevelopment project that included building a new management office and three new amenity spaces, renovating hallways throughout the property and making significant mechanical upgrades.
What sparked your interest in the construction industry?
At the age of 16, I started working with my father at his real estate firm. This included, among other things, property management, development, and brokerage. As I got older, I was exposed to all different aspects of the real estate industry. I specifically enjoyed the development and construction side of the business that my father was so heavily involved with at his company.
From there, I began thinking about a career in construction, development, and real estate. Early on in my career, I became familiar with Draper and Kramer and targeted it as a place I wanted to eventually work because it is a family-run business, which was important to me. However, I landed my first job in the industry with a rental housing firm that serviced about 3,000 – 5,000 single-family homes in the Chicago area. I was a part of the company’s rehab team, mainly handling the construction permit process, but I was exposed to all aspects of what goes into a remodel or renovation project. I enjoyed seeing the renovations on the houses that we acquired progress from week to week, and it was then I realized I had a love for construction. I also learned from the team of construction professionals I worked with about what it took to run construction jobs, manage vendors and trades, and handle anything else that can be thrown your way in this crazy field.
I was eventually hired by Draper and Kramer in 2016 to be part of the redevelopment team for a development project in downtown Wheaton. I was absolutely thrilled for the opportunity because I knew it would expose me to yet another side of the real estate industry. I was part of the core team involved in the award-winning $40 million renovation of the six-building, 758-unit property. We remodeled everything from the façade to the entryways and the common areas/amenities in each building, and also added laundry facilities to over half the units. After the project was over, I stayed on as assistant property manager and also oversaw some additional façade restoration that went beyond the original redevelopment plan.
In 2018, I moved to a position in Draper and Kramer’s corporate office in the construction and maintenance department, and today I oversee projects across our portfolio.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the ability to show my creativity, where I can, on the jobs and projects assigned to me. It’s exciting to get to provide my input on the different elements of a project to make it the very best end possible. And, it’s just a lot of fun and very rewarding to take a space or building that’s in need of some care and turn it into something pretty.
Do you face any challenges at work because of your gender?
Luckily, I work for a company that values the input of everyone, regardless of gender, and I have a great team of colleagues who are incredibly supportive. It’s rare, but occasionally I encounter someone from outside our company who I can tell is more accustomed to working with a man than a woman in this type of position; in those instances, it’s important to be confident and secure in my own knowledge.
What has been the biggest barrier you've faced in your field? How did you overcome it?
Today I am one of the main project managers in a department that is mostly women. Draper and Kramer has allowed me to flourish in my position and has allowed me to build my confidence and decision-making from start to finish on the projects I’m assigned. This support has helped me overcome the barriers that women in construction often face working in a male-dominated field. I don’t back down from adversity and show that I have earned my spot in the same room as men on the job through my proactivity and day-to-day performance.
What has been your greatest career accomplishment so far?
One of the accomplishments I’m most proud of is when we had a contractor walk away suddenly from a large leasing office renovation, leaving me and my team to pick things up mid-stream and see the project through to the end. With the help of the team and some trusted vendors and tradespeople, we finished up the space and it turned out fabulous. It might not have been the biggest job I’ve ever been involved with, but just knowing what it took to make it happen made me incredibly proud once we reached the finish line.
Do you have any advice for other women in the industry regarding navigating gender bias?
Construction is a great field that opens up doors to a lot of different career paths and the opportunity to do things you may have never imagined being a part of. I try to establish an environment where I learn from every person I work with, both male and female. I ask a lot of questions and try to understand what they do so I know more for the next project. But, it’s also important to never discount yourself and what you do in your career. Just own it and be confident in your knowledge and skills!