Women in Construction Week celebrates the growing role of women in the construction industry and raises awareness of the opportunities available for women in construction.
For today’s installment, we highlight the career of Bethany Crispin, senior vice president and director of the residential business unit in the Chicago office of Clayco.
How did you get into the construction industry?
Growing up, I always had a love for math and science. Originally, I wanted to go into architecture and visited the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). I really liked the programs it offered and small campus feeling. As a student there, I was initially only enrolled in architectural engineering and then decided to add construction management as a dual option once I got through more coursework.
My first internship during college was for a smaller, family-owned construction company in New Berlin, Wisconsin. The group of PMs and executives mentored me and showed me the practical world of construction. They took the time to explain to me the basics of building construction and project management plus they welcomed me on their projects and into their meetings. I absorbed all I could that summer and quickly realized I found my passion.
It was an easy decision to work my internship that entire year of school and ultimately work for that construction firm once I graduated from college. My first full-time role was as a project manager. I was running very small projects and ultimately managed my first senior housing project in 2001.
Describe a typical day on the job.
I am perpetually in creative thinking and strategy session mode, trying to figure out ways to increase profitability and success by working smarter. I can often be heard saying, “Let’s plan our work and let’s work our plan!”
The reoccurring question I ask myself throughout the day is “How can we keep building upon this great portfolio and keep our eyes and ears open on ways we can be better in our industry?” These days I am in many meetings, both in person and virtual. I look at our existing portfolio and ways to build our pipeline, collaborate with our teams and share my experience where needed.
What have been some of the biggest obstacles?
I’ve found it challenging over the years to balance success with self-awareness and self-care, knowing when to take a breath from something I feel very passionate about to avoid burn out. It’s not always easy to prioritize life outside of work while climbing the ladder of success. There are so many 24/7 moving parts in this fast-paced industry that it can sometimes be difficult to recognize when it’s time for a break to stay healthy and rejuvenate my mind so my thinking can be fresh, motivating and creative.
What was your favorite construction project and why?
Smith Village, a continuing care retirement community at 113th and Western in Chicago that I worked on from 2005-2008. This was my first project after moving back to Chicago (after having completed more than 15 projects in Milwaukee and Minneapolis). This project brought me back to my roots as it was in the same neighborhood as my high school, Mother McAuley. The Smith Village project allowed me to manage a large team, experience my first block-and-plank building and collaborate with experts in the senior housing field. From top to bottom it was massively complicated. The success on this project helped catapult my career in the senior living and multifamily housing space. I still keep in touch with many peers and colleagues that helped make this memorable project!
What do you like most about your job?
I really enjoy the collaboration, challenges, creativity and organization involved in taking a sketch or idea and turning it into reality. Being an integral part of the process is rewarding because I drive by projects 20 years later and say to myself that I had a small or big hand in that building. It’s fascinating watching the building process succeed and seeing buildings stand the test of time.
How has the participation of women in construction changed over the years, and where do you see it heading?
When I was a student at MSOE, the male to female ratio was approximately six-to-one. We were definitely in the minority. I have experienced being the “first woman” or “only woman” at many times in my career. It is important to me to be an equal part of a team and not be seen as lesser just because I am a woman. I believe that whether a female or male, it is important to show peers your value through experience, knowledge and success. As much as I want to be treated equally, I also don’t want to lose my female identity just because I work in the construction industry. I am glad that these days it is more acceptable for women to be in STEM fields, especially in leadership positions.
What is your advice to women wanting to get into construction?
Find a good mentor. Work hard because it will pay off. Stubbing your toe hurts but the pain is short-lived. And most importantly you can always wash the mud off your boots, but your boots will never get muddy if you don’t put your foot in the mud. Stay strong, vested, self-aware and upfront as a woman in this field, and don’t allow poor treatment of yourself or your peers.