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Women in Construction : Interview with Christine Pandolfi

Christine Pandolfi is president of CMP Exteriors, LLC, a Connecticut-based commercial siding company that opened in 2017, specializing in commercial exterior coverings and provides expert installation of fiber cement, masonry veneers, vinyl, and specialty siding. Her firm has worked on projects throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic, working for many of the area’s major general contractors.

Prior to CMP Exterior, her time was spent managing award winning CMP Design, an East Coast-based company focused on high-end residential and commercial design clients.

What’s the biggest challenge(s) you’ve faced in getting to where you are? 
I started off in construction in my 20s, coming at it from my interior design background and business. I wasn’t always pleased with the quality of the construction my clients and their projects were receiving from contractors, so I decided to take over the construction management of my projects early on. This allowed me to put teams together that were cream of the crop. But being a young, 20-something woman doing high-end work with high-end clients – I had to be prepared, had to know my business, and had to be better than the next guy – literally, the next guys. I can remember attending meetings where I was the only woman in the room. That male resistance to women in construction does seem to be fading away – now when I attend meetings, I see women who are involved and making an impact.

What advice would you have for other women pursuing a degree in this industry?
I would urge women interested in entering this industry to not let the stereotypes of construction as a male-dominated industry deter your ambition. Women are letting their voices and talents be heard and seen in all industries that have been historically dominated by men. Construction is no different. Trust in your talents, let your voice be heard.

What resources helped you out the most – a mentor, education, hands-on experience, etc.?
I would say all three are important. I have been incredibly fortunate during my career to have many great mentors who were willing to guide and share their knowledge with me. For example, I learned rough and finished plumbing early in my career from Steve Brown, a supplier I have used for many years; he is just a great teacher who can make you really understand just about anything. Mike Kolakowski [KBE Building Corporation’s CEO]  has been an amazing mentor. He somehow always knows which direction to move in, and he anticipate problems so you can avoid them altogether. He is great at forecasting and planning! My willingness to listen and learn is a big part of my success. I am a sponge when it comes to learning and education.

Additionally, I would say that hands‐on experience is invaluable. I have always spent a significant amount of time in the field learning and implementing good design and installation. The lessons learned through experience can really make or break your business. We all learn from our successes and our failures. And never be afraid to ask questions. Gravitate to people who know more than you, and don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know – teach me.” And don’t just think it’s the older seasoned construction folks who have all the answers. I get a lot of input from people of all ages. Everybody knows something that you can learn from.

Why did you choose a career in construction?
My education is in Interior Design. I began working with design clients who needed construction services as well. Early on, I would sub-out the construction portion of that work, but I always wanted to know more, so I began to GC -ing projects on my own and found that I had a knack for it. It was a natural for me, as design and construction go hand‐in‐hand and having that understanding of everything from plumbing to electrical to framing just means that I know exactly what’s going into every project I manage. I can fully own the process.

What impact do you hope to leave on the industry?
I think that I’m very blessed to have a career in the construction industry. To be able to create something that I can point to and say, “my company built, designed, or installed that” is a special feeling. I take pride in the quality and detail of our work, and I think construction is an industry that women are particularly well-suited for, with our attention to detail and our focus on building good relationships. As I stated earlier, I’ve attended construction meeting where I’m the only women in the room. It’s time for that to change, and I see it changing. I think it’s important for women to succeed in any industry. I hope that my success will inspire other women to follow me into this industry. I have always enjoyed being a mentor to someone that is trying to break‐through into design or construction. Anyone that knows me, knows that I’m a “girl’s‐girl”, and that I will always help and promote other women.

Do you feel like you’ve paved the path for other women? How do you inspire them? Are you a mentor yourself?
I hope to inspire women when they see what we are able to build or install. When they see that I can be direct and forthright and do what is necessary to get the job done right. It helps them see that you can be a woman and still be strong, without losing who you are or losing your femininity. I have and continue to mentor/guide many young people women and men, because it is important to share your strength, talent, and knowledge with others and pay it forward.  We must make our place and find our way based on our merits and our skills. But nobody owes us anything because we’re women – except an open mind.  It’s about being the best, not whether you are a man or a woman.

What is your favorite part of your career?
I love building!  The before and after; regardless if it’s new construction or a renovation. You have a group of individuals coming together, and if you have the ability to be working with talented like-minded people, the “right crew”, and you are all working toward the same result – that’s the magic, it’s when the “after’’ can be amazing!

What has been the most surprising part of being a woman working in construction?
Finding myself in commercial construction. I never knew I’d have a place here. And I certainly never expected to be a woman owner of a commercial construction business. To be honest, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to work on the commercial side of the business. There are a lot of moving parts but our innate attention to detail and work ethic will ensure our success.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the field since you started?
Happily, I am seeing more and more women in the business – young, capable, fearless women. And I find that we don’t have to spend quite as much time proving ourselves – the industry is more and more accepting of women in the field and there’s a lot less push-back from those who don’t think women belong in construction. Now we can just come in and do our best without the added hassle and time of having to get through the whole gender bias. Sure, there are still struggles and old-school thinking that you come up against – honestly, women still face push-back from some men, no matter what the industry. But it’s getting better – and you just have to ignore it and push on. Look, the bottom line is- no matter if you are a man or a woman, talent is talent, and it will be recognized.

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