W.E. O'Neil Promotes Five Leaders in Chicago Office
Margaret Caspers (Project Manager, Chicago) shares her experience and perspectives about being a women in the construction industry.
In marking International Women’s Day and Women in Construction Week, Illinois REjournals held their 4th annual Women in Commercial Real Estate summit on March 8, 2023.
Our very own Margaret Caspers (Project Manager, Chicago) was one of 20 speakers who shared their stories and lead discussions with the other attendees.
In the Q&A below (also shared by Illinois REjournals here), Margaret shares her ideals, motivations, and perspectives about the industry.
How did you get your start in the construction industry?
I used to get see my mom get home from work every day and immediately take off her pantyhose and business suit. By junior high, I would say I was going to find a job where I could wear jeans to work. My parents helped me start looking into engineering and I had a physics teacher in high school that encouraged me (told me I had to) go into engineering at University of Illinois. At Illinois, I learned that I wasn’t very good at design but the estimating and planning classes were interesting, so I found a job out of college in construction and 18 years later, I’m still here!
Describe a typical day on the job.
A typical day starts with a morning meeting with the project managers, superintendents, and foreman to coordinate the day’s work and any coordination of crane time, conflicts that we see, or answers we are waiting on for the design team. I then head to my desk to work on pricing change orders to the client, tracking our quantities and productions, or coordinating subcontractor work. I have certain things I need to get done each day of the week, and then other tasks arise based on what is happening on site that we need to attack each day.
How has the participation of women in construction changed over the years and where do you see it heading?
I definitely see more women in construction than I did several years ago. While the number of females just out of school that started in construction began to rise years ago, I now see more women taking on management roles and sticking with their careers for more than three to five years, which was more the norm when I started. I expect more women in leadership roles in the future and I see more flexible hours coming. I have also seen more women in the trades, which is a great career path if you like physical activity and actually seeing something you built for years to come. You can never work from home when concrete is being placed into formwork, but the mandatory work until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. (or on the weekend) is and should be a thing of the past. Women and men can benefit from coming to work, getting things done, and going home to rest and recharge.
What advice would you give to other women interested in entering the field?
I would tell other women to absolutely follow their dreams and get into construction. I would also tell them to not get discouraged as any job has frustrations, and to find another woman with experience, even if it is not in construction. Sometimes just venting to a fellow professional female, in the industry or not, can be therapeutic.
What hurdles do you face working in a career still dominated by men? How do you overcome these hurdles?
I do think that today there are less hurdles than I faced 10-15 years ago. I hope some of that is because the world is a better place for women in the workforce and in construction, but realistically I think some of it might be that I have more experience now, so I have more knowledge and expertise that people respect.
The way I have always overcome hurdles is to try and learn as much as possible from the people I have worked with and be someone they can count on. If I do something well, I’ll get more respect. As I have gotten older, I also have made sure to worry less about not “fitting in”. I don’t actually want to go on a fishing trip or a hunting trip or sit in the bar all night like some people in my past jobs. Maybe some mentoring happens there, but I feel that what I can pick up by paying attention and volunteering to look into something is just as helpful to my career.
What’s been your favorite project and why?
I think my favorite job was also the worst one I have ever been on. I worked seven days per week, sometimes 21-28 days in a row. We had a tight schedule and I was learning how to perform in my role as I went along on the job, so it felt like every day I had to figure out something new. Looking back, I learned a ton on that job and I have great respect for everyone I worked with on the project…I even stay in touch with several people and the job was over 10 years and more than four moves ago. I also now know that I can survive anything because I survived that project.
What do you like most about your job?
I like the people I have met over the years. I don’t think I would know anyone from Canada if I didn’t work in construction. I don’t know if I would have known anyone outside Chicago and the suburban areas if I didn’t work in construction. The people and their unique stories and experiences make the days go by quickly.