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Women in Construction: Interview with Barrie Deschaine

Barrie Deschaine has been with KBE Building Corporation since 1983. She started her career just after graduating from Skidmore College as a clerk of the works on a number of KBE projects, including the student housing project at University of Hartford, the Sheraton Hotel in Windsor Locks, CT and The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, CT projects. After six years in the field, she came into the office as the executive assistant to the then-president of KBE and subsequently to our current president, Mike Kolakowski. In 2012, she moved into her current role as a Manager of Business Development.

What’s the biggest challenge(s) you’ve faced in getting to where you are?
For me, it was breaking out of my comfort zone into the role of business development. It’s very much a relationship-driven position where it’s extremely important that our clients know that they can trust us to be their construction partner. Through the years, I have always tried to just be myself, to be genuine and sincere, and to truly listen to our customers.

What advice would you have for other women pursuing a degree in this industry?
Construction is a great career for women. Be strong…reach for leadership positions, and take advantage of education along the way.

What resources helped you out the most – a mentor, education, hands-on experience, etc.?
My parents were the hardest working people I knew, and to this day I think about their work ethic when implementing my own. I can hear my father saying “just keep working, just keep working, you’ll be successful.” Their entire motivation was to work as hard as they could to send their children to the best schools. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I certainly do now. When mentoring young students now, I tell them, “No one can take your education away from you.

Why did you choose a career in construction?
Back when I graduated from Skidmore, you found a job by answering ads in the newspaper, so I answered every ad I could, and got a call from KBE (then Konover Construction). I didn’t even know what a general contractor was! They asked if I had any construction experience – I said, “No, but I would like to learn.” And so here I am, 33 years later. It’s been a great experience, from working in the field, transitioning into business development, and supporting such a dynamic leader of our organization.”

What impact do you hope to leave on the industry?
I definitely focus on mentoring young women and young men in this industry. I’ve been a mentor for the CREW career day, which focuses primarily on encouraging young, inner-city women. I’ve also worked with high school students in the Farmington, CT school system on their Capstone projects, and I was involved for many years with the ACE Mentor program.

What is your favorite part of your career?
One of the best parts of my job is the chance to cultivate relationships that turn into true friendships, whether within the company or in the industry. Another is the satisfaction of the ‘win’, of knowing that the steps I’ve taken in my role have helped procure work for the company. It’s an amazing satisfaction to be part of that process.

Barrie and clients at a networking event

 

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the field since you started? 
It was definitely a more challenging time back in the 1980s when I started out in the field as far as acceptance of women in construction. Today, there is clearly so much more acceptance and encouragement toward women, which has been extremely rewarding to witness.  

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