Women in Construction Week Panel: Overcoming Obstacles and Finding Work-Life Balance

Contributor: Swinerton Blogger   |   March 07, 2018
Women in Construction Week Panel: Overcoming Obstacles and Finding Work-Life Balance

To commemorate Women in Construction week from March 4-10, we're proud to highlight the talented women at Swinerton who lead the way in the construction industry. As part of Women in Construction week's mission to emphasize the growing role of women in the industry, we're highlighting the thoughts from female leaders at Swinerton on the construction industry and much more.

What is the biggest obstacle you faced during your career and how did you overcome it?

Carrie Schaeffer, Division Manager, Aviation: I’ve encountered my biggest obstacles due to a hesitancy to act when faced with a challenge. When I reflect on my career, I have more regret about times that I didn’t take action than from times that I did. I regularly remind myself to have the courage to move forward.   

Jennifer Lauritzen, Project Executive, Healthcare: As a young Project Engineer I was in a position where a project was struggling because a superior was not updating or managing the schedule. I didn’t want to go over his head and bring it to the attention of upper management, but I also did not want the project to fail. I came up with a solution where I offered my assistance to work with him to update the schedule and set regular scheduling meetings. I advised upper management of the issue and my proposed solution to ensure I had support, but was able to resolve the issue without damaging my relationship with my superior.

Lauren Nunnally, Director, Craft Services: Three particular examples come to mind. First, early on in my career I went through a period where I felt like my growth had plateaued due to not being exposed to new things or not being given the opportunity to learn and take on new responsibilities. Instead of just letting this continue, I requested a meeting with our Operations Manager at the time to explain the situation, how I was feeling, and request more responsibility and he delivered! Speaking up was key as sometimes we forget that everyone around us is so busy, they may not even realize what you are experiencing.

The second challenging period in my career was when I was placed on an 18-month project after it had already started and realized that some agreements had been made during the start of the job that I was not a part of that were going to make the project very challenging. I felt the only way to meet this challenge was to dive in and completely own it, acknowledging first the challenge ahead with the team and then coalescing as a team to strategize about how to move forward. The key to our success on this job was our strength as a team – we were all in it together and we all had each other’s backs. Towards the end of that job, it felt like the building could have burned down and our team would have figured it out. The strength of that team and our reliance on and trust in one another is something I’ll never forget. You have to be willing to put your full faith in your teammates in order to overcome a big challenge, understanding that a true team is always stronger than a collection of individuals.

The third example that comes to mind is something I’m currently still working through and that is implementing a large change in a big company. Change management has definitely been the most difficult thing I’ve undertaken in my career to date. It requires a lot of patience, listening, strategy, persuasion, compromise, flexibility, and a willingness to be unpopular with those who dislike change. Beyond all of the things I just mentioned, being successful in this effort requires the ability to identify key stakeholders, see many different perspectives, and seek compromise in solutions. And lastly, likely the most important factor in overcoming this challenge will be to communicate as much as is reasonably possible!

Lisa Larance, Senior Estimator, Denver: My biggest challenge came when I was given a stretch opportunity in another division office (prior to my time with Swinerton). My Division Manager was very business- and numbers-minded, and probably one of the most intelligent people I have ever worked with. Yet this person lacked leadership and people skills to support the team I was tasked with managing. We met consistently to strategize expectations for pursuits and execution, only to have our work plans re-invented just days before a deliverable. During this time, I grew the most when I realized several things about my professional self: my team and I are not commodities; my commitment to my role within my organization is directly affected by my ability to connect with those with whom I work; and that working in a hostile culture is not good for my motivation. I also learned that some situations are not completely within my control. I overcame my fear of perceived failure by recognizing that the skills I bring to my career are not always the best fit for every position that comes my way. While I eventually elected to leave that role, I value that hard work and professional growth during that time as much as other ‘happier’ times in my career.

How do you find an equilibrium between work and your personal life?  

Carrie Schaeffer: Not sure equilibrium is achievable but flexibility helps. I try to be honest with myself about things that cannot be missed, such as certain family events or business deadlines. Then I’m flexible about everything else. 

Jennifer Lauritzen: This is tough. I am passionate about my work and I want to do a good job. I genuinely care. This makes it hard to set work hour limits and not take work issues home with me. I have a great partner in my husband and we have a ritual, where we sit in our hot tub after work, enjoy a glass of wine or sparkling water, and talk about our work challenges and successes. This helps me get a fresh perspective and talking it out then allows me to relax and let go of work stress for the rest of the night.

Lauren Nunnally: Answering this question honestly, I probably do not have the best equilibrium between work and personal life. But two things I hold near and dear that I always find a way to make time for in order to maintain my sanity are working out and spending at least an hour a night with my family. Additionally, I try as hard as I can to keep one day a weekend completely work-free.

The other thing I will note here that is key is that sometimes the word “balance” implies that a complete trade-off has to be made between work and life. One of the best classes I took at Wharton, called Total Leadership, taught the concept of work/life INTEGRATION instead. It’s about finding areas of your life (work, family, self, and community) that overlap whenever possible. I consider many of the people I work with my friends, so it feels like a bit of a 3-way win between work, self, and community some days when I’m at work. Additionally, Swinerton does a great job at putting together extracurricular events which I highly recommend taking advantage of where I’ve found 4-ways wins! These include Swinerton Ragnar Races and Ski Weekends, both of which my spouse has participated in as well. Any time you can find opportunities for the key areas of your life to overlap, you should capitalize!

Lisa Larance: It has taken me years to understand that life ebbs and flows – there are times when work will trump personal life and vice versa. The key to finding balance, for me, is to find specific times to focus either all on work and or all on personal life. That way, I don’t feel like I should have a foot in each space – I can be present in each situation separately. And when that doesn’t work, I grab small bits of time between the two to keep things moving forward. Having a good team around me always helps too – I’ve come to realize that we’re all looking for equilibrium.