Women in Construction Week is dedicated to recognizing the impact of women in what has historically been one of the most male-dominated fields in the U.S. WIC Week is both a celebration, as the number of women in the field continues to grow, as well as a networking opportunity for those interested in finding a new role within it.
Here’s a look at the career of McHugh Construction Executive Vice President Kate Ivanova. Ivanova has overseen many projects throughout her career, such as the renovation of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago that was completed in 2020.
How did you get your start in the construction industry?
Kate Ivanova: My career started with McHugh International in Moscow, Russia, in the late 1990s while I was still in college. In 2000, I was offered an opportunity to come work for McHugh Construction in Chicago, so I packed up and moved a few thousand miles away from home. I was 24 and ready to take on the world. My plan was to get experience, build up my resume, build a few cool buildings in the process, travel, and most of all it was a challenge to see if I could do it. I’m still here doing all of the above and more.
Describe a typical day on the job.
Ivanova: No two days are the same, and that’s why I really like this industry and my role at McHugh. It suits my personality and the way my brain works. Some days may be spent solving immediate issues or pursuing new projects, others focusing on company strategic goals and talent development plans. There is always a high level of collaboration involved, with clients, project teams, trade partners, peers and colleagues. I really enjoy it.
What hurdles do you face working in a career still largely dominated by men? How do you overcome these hurdles?
Ivanova: I have answered this question a few times in the past, but I always struggle with it somewhat. I can’t say I consider being a woman in this business a detriment or more of a challenge to take on. I did get my share of people who were not used to working with women and received some off-handed or condescending comments, especially early in my career. But for every one of those, I met dozens of people who genuinely respected and supported me and welcomed me as part of the team, and I credit all those people for where I am now. I did have periods of internal doubt as my career progressed, and though I didn’t learn the term “imposter syndrome” until later, I certainly experienced it. Quite frankly, I sometimes still do! What helps me is having candid conversations with peers and colleagues in the industry and finding role models to draw inspiration from.
What’s been your favorite project and why?
Ivanova: Dearborn Tower. This was an adaptive reuse of an old cold storage facility into condos in the South Loop. It was my first project after relocating to Chicago, and it was such an amazing transformation to be a part of. But the main reason it’s my favorite is because of the many people I met during this project that became an important part of my life and influenced my career direction and development.
What do you like most about your job?
Ivanova: That I get to be part of transformations of some of the most famous and iconic properties, and I get to meet some amazing people along the way. I also really like the future-facing, strategic planning part of my role at McHugh Construction. The “what’s next” question is probably my favorite to ponder.
How has the participation of women in construction changed over the years and where do you see it heading?
Ivanova: The biggest change I see is how many more women are now in leadership roles within our industry, being the decision-makers in the room and truly influencing the future of the industry.
What advice would you give to other women interested in entering the field?
Ivanova: Don’t be afraid to speak up. Whether it’s telling someone what needs to be done or asking a question when you’re not sure. Be straight, honest and kind. You are not here by accident, and you earned your right to be here just as much as anyone else. Pursue your passion despite social norms and ignore the noise. Find a role model or six! There are so many smart strong successful women in construction nowadays that you can’t help but feel inspired.