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 Becky Simonsis, project manager with Lendlease, who is overseeing the construction of the outdoor amenities at the upcoming Cascade and Cirrus residential towers at Lakeshore East in Chicago.
How did you get into the construction industry?
Simonsis: I originally wanted to be an architect—the next Frank Lloyd Wright. I went to an open house at my university and realized I couldn’t draw a straight line, so I went into engineering and figured I could structurally engineer high-rises. I landed an internship at a construction company, and I told my boss at the time that I was considering switching to consulting and he said, “That’s fine, but you’re pretty good at this.” So, I stayed in construction and that was nearly 20 years ago.
Describe a typical day on the job.
Simonsis: I spend a lot of time on calls and in virtual meetings. However, I do get on a job site occasionally. I’m mostly in charge of the outdoor amenity areas at Cascade and Cirrus, two under-construction luxury rental and for-sale properties in the Lakeshore East neighborhood. We are gearing up for spring and good weather, so I’ll be on-site more coordinating with the superintendents.
What have been some of the biggest obstacles (if any)?
Simonsis: There is still an old boys’ club in the broader construction industry. We sometimes see those kinds of people and have to figure out how to overcome that. Fortunately, I don’t see it nearly as often as when I started.
What was your favorite construction project and why?
Simonsis: I really love Cirrus and Cascade, the project that I’m on right now. It’s located on a very prominent site, where Lake Michigan meets the Chicago River, and includes the creation of a new park. I’ve been working with the landscapers and coordinating the installation of thousands of cubic yards of geofoam to get the sloped elevation of Cascade Park just right. It’s exciting that the general public is going to be able to see the work that I’m doing. I’ve project managed a lot of residential high-rises and typically only the residents see all the hard work that I’ve put into it.
Another favorite project is theWit hotel. Most people in Chicago know about theWit and have hung out there, so it’s fun to say I was a part of that.
What do you like most about your job?
Simonsis: There is something rewarding about working on a project for two to three years, addressing all of its challenges and then taking the lessons learned and applying them to a new project. Also, I get to work with a fantastic team, including my coworkers at Lendlease and all my subcontractors.
Working at Lendlease has given me the opportunity to work with people across the country and around the globe. Currently, I am heading up a national Women’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) for the company. We have local ERGs that I also manage for Chicago, but this new initiative will allow female employees from across the country to network and learn from each other. It’s nice to introduce it just in time for Women’s History Month.
How has the participation of women in construction changed over the years and where do you see it heading?
Simonsis: It’s definitely changed. I was the only female on-site for my first project back in 2004. There have been more and more women on every project since then, and in different roles as well. The Lakeshore East development is the most diverse project that I’ve been on. That goes for gender, race, sexual orientation—everything. I love seeing that level of inclusivity and the unique perspective each person brings to the team.
What is your advice to women wanting to get into construction?
Simonsis: Start as early as possible. It is so competitive, and not just between women. If you are in college, try to get an internship before your junior year. When we are hiring, we are looking for people who already have some experience. Also, ask a lot of questions. No one expects interns to know everything, so that’s an ideal time to learn the ins and outs of the business. Go visit job sites as much as you can and see how things are done. Later in your career, when you are a project manager, you will still be asking questions. There really is no cutoff to learning the industry, so it’s important to embrace what you don’t know and seek out those answers from your peers.