Women in Construction Week: Meet Project Manager Melissa Tompkins of McHugh Construction

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. 

REjournals is running profiles of several women who are thriving in what remains a largely male-dominated industry. Today we’re highlighting the flourishing career of McHugh Construction Project Manager Melissa Tompkins.

What led you to a career in commercial real estate? 
Melissa Tompkins: I went to Purdue University at West Lafayette, and though I took a lot of math and science classes to gear up for the engineering program, I was undecided at the time as to what specialty I wanted to get involved with. A friend of mine was taking classes in the construction, engineering and management program, and she said, “You could join and get your feet wet, and then you could decide if this is your career path.” So, I jumped on that and stuck with it.

What hurdles do you face working in a career still largely dominated by men? 
Tompkins: It was a challenge early in my career because you still had men in the construction industry that weren’t used to women in the field. When I started, I wasn’t seen as a leader, but more as someone to assist them in a secretarial capacity. But that’s changed the longer I’ve been in the industry.

How do you overcome these hurdles? 
Tompkins: You have to stand your ground early on in order to be heard. If you don’t, people will walk all over you. But I’ve always been respectful because if you want respect, you have to give respect. People started to listen more when we had collaborative meetings, and I built a level of trust over the years. I hear a lot from people that I am very detailed and organized and I do what it takes to get a task done.

Are you seeing an increase in the number of women entering the CRE business? 
Tompkins: I am seeing more women in leadership positions, even on the design team side. The project I’m working on now is led by a female architect, and more women are fulfilling those kinds of executive-level roles that I did not see when I first started in the industry.

What do you enjoy most about commercial real estate? 
Tompkins: The relationship I have with my coworkers. Construction can be challenging, having to deal with all kinds of personalities, and if you’re in a disagreement and you’re not getting along with your coworkers, it makes it more difficult to get through the day. I’ve been fortunate that every project I have worked on I have had a great team that I was able to communicate well with. Everyone has good and bad days, but I’ve not only gained the respect of my team members, I respect my team members, as well.

What is a “typical” day on the job?
Tompkins: It depends on the stage of the project. My day is busy with troubleshooting field-related items that may come up. We have our coordination meetings with the subcontractors, as well. I could be in a meeting for an hour and a half just reviewing plumbing, mechanical and electrical. Planning is how I spend most of my day to ensure we’re building the building per the plans and specifications, as well as looking at upcoming tasks, making sure we’re staying on schedule and that we have the materials and equipment needed to finish the project. It’s a busy day. Before I know it, it’s 6 p.m.

What advice would you give to other women interested in entering the field?
Tompkins: There’s going to be challenges, but not anything you can’t overcome. Keep moving forward and always ask questions because no question is a dumb question. Nine times out of 10, someone else wants to ask that question, too. We all have to start somewhere and work our way up, and through that process, it’s good to have someone to talk to. There are people, like myself, who have already pioneered the path that you could reach out to—I always try to make myself available and continue to support women in the industry.