Women in Construction Week: Meet Carmen Killingbeck of Chicago-based GI Stone

Women in Construction Week is dedicated to recognizing the impact that women have made in the construction industry. It’s also about raising awareness of the opportunities available to women in this field. 

In honor of this, REjournals is running profiles of several women who are thriving in what remains a largely male-dominated industry. Here’s a look at the busy career of GI Stone Project Manager Carmen Killingbeck.

What led you to a career in CRE? 
Carmen Killingbeck: It was by accident. Originally, I did cable construction. I was intrigued by GI and applied for the Administrative Assistant position, and they saw that I was talented. They saw more in me and started me as a Project Coordinator, instead. They said, “You’re a little overqualified, but we have something we think you’d be better suited for.” And that’s how I started here.

What hurdles do you face working in a career still largely dominated by men? 
Killingbeck: I’m a Puerto Rican lesbian from the West Side of Chicago. Talk about hurdles. I had to prove myself. And it wasn’t easy to gain the respect of a group of men—I worked hard to earn it. Now they welcome me at job sites, and they request to work with me and for me. I’ve come a long way. Now, I belong.

How do you overcome these hurdles? 
Killingbeck: Hard work, perseverance and staying the course. I treated everyone here with respect, and they gave me respect back.

Are you seeing an increase in the number of women entering the CRE business? 
Killingbeck: I am. Growing up in Humboldt Park, I didn’t see many women in construction, much less women like myself, even in cable construction. I believe that women are strong and versatile, and over the years we’ve become more empowered. The more other women see myself, and women like me, taking strong leadership positions and winning at them, you’re going to see more and more women in this business.

Why do you think there aren’t more women in this business? 
Killingbeck: This was a ‘man’s job.’ Although women were capable of doing it, most men didn’t allow them to, or they made it extremely hard for them to be successful in an industry like this. Now women are starting to be more assertive about their wants and needs. If women want to work in this industry, you’ll find a lot more that are now, working from bottom tier up, just like I did. Women now are doing flooring and putting in cabinets. You wouldn’t have seen that 10 years ago. You wouldn’t have seen that three years ago. It’s going to be interesting to see how women take over construction in the next couple of years.

What do you enjoy most about CRE? 
Killingbeck: CRE shows us how our communities are evolving. Chicago is known to be a city of neighborhoods, however, it was also very segregated. Today we’re seeing that change. Working in this field, I get to witness the transformation firsthand, and it’s enormously rewarding.

I also love the field because it’s demanding. Every day is different. There are so many different aspects to this, and things change in the blink of an eye. I’m someone that’s good at moving at a quick pace, and I tend to thrive in chaos. And I love that we at GI Stone can turn raw stone into something useful and beautiful. This playground suits me very well.

What advice would you give to other women interested in entering the field?
Killingbeck: If this is what you want to do for a living, go for it. Own who you are. It’s not easy, and people will doubt your capabilities, your leadership, your intelligence. They’ll question everything about you. The way you dress, walk, talk, act—I know because it happened to me. But if you stick with it and put your all into what you love to do, you will come out on top. I fell in love with it, and I’m still learning and growing every day. If I can do it, anyone can. You just have to believe in yourself.