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Women in Construction: Interview with Brit Funk

Brit has been a Development Manager with Columbia Pacific Advisors since 2015, but began her construction career as a receptionist with Swinerton Construction in 2003.  After obtaining her Construction Management Certificate, she was promoted to project engineer at Howard S. Wright Construction, and subsequently moved on and up into her current role. Today, she manages a multi-million dollar construction portfolio of senior living communities throughout the US.

Why did you choose a career in construction?
I actually started off as a receptionist, answering a newspaper ad for a position at a major construction firm. I was very undecided at the time about what I wanted to pursue for my career. But over next few years, I became more and more interested in construction. I was surrounded by a lot of smart, hard-working people, and while not a lot of them were women, there were a few around me who were not in administrative positions but were actually running big projects as project managers.  Watching them succeed created a determination inside me that said, “if they can do it, why can’t I?”

What’s the biggest challenge(s) you’ve faced in getting to where you are?Well, the biggest thing for me was starting as a receptionist at Swinerton with no degree. It took years of hard work and tenacity to prove my capabilities to those who didn’t believe in me. But I have been very lucky to have some great bosses who did believe in me and who were confident that I would excel in this field. It was one of those bosses who really encouraged me to go into the construction management degree program. I really owe him a lot.

Another challenge I’ve found is the amazing range of personality types that make up a project team and a company. It can be challenging to find the right communication style to fit with each person. But at the end of the day, all of the teams I work with are very strong and we all share the same end goal, so any differences get worked out. It is definitely challenging being a woman in this job. I thought our industry had evolved more, as we’re seeing more and more women in upper management positions and out in the field in trade work roles. But I read a recent statistic that said women only occupy 9% of the construction workforce! So, while we are progressing, there is quite a bit more work to do to get women into the business.

What advice would you have for other women pursuing a degree in this industry?
First of all, don’t give up. As long as you have the drive and determination and can surround yourself with others who can champion you, there is no doubt that you can be successful and have an impact in this industry.

What resources helped you out the most – a mentor, education, hands-on experience, etc.?
Like I said, I was very fortunate to have a boss who really pushed me to get my degree. And I have a few other mentors as I grew into this position who really helped guide me and gave me the confidence that I needed to excel.

What impact do you hope to leave on the industry?  Do you feel you’ve paved the path for other women?  How do you inspire them? Are you a mentor yourself?
I hope to impact others as my own role models did for me, helping to break through the glass ceilings and help other create their own opportunities. Have I paved a path for other women? I do feel that I have. I took a big leap from being a project engineer and moving into the development world. It was definitely a learning process and I had my moments of uncertainty. But you just have to surround yourself with people who empower you. We get a lot of support here at CPA, whether female or male. Right now, I work with two other development managers who are both women, and the three of us mentor each other, serve as sounding boards for one another, and ask each other questions all the time, without feeling embarrassed for asking. That kind of support is definitely something I am thankful for every day coming to work.

What is your favorite part of your career?
Oh, I have to say it’s working with so many diverse personalities – it’s a challenge but it’s also a great feeling to have a strong team and being able to build relationships with people all across the country.

What has been the most surprising part of being a woman working in construction?
I think about this often – at one point in time in my career I was denied an opportunity because of my gender, which even back then, really took me by surprise.  To this day, you run into certain individuals that are still living in old-school times. So you just have to remember that while this industry is evolving, you still have to be prepared and not become a victim of other people’s ignorance.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the field since you started?
By far, it’s the technology change. Things like the document management software that contractors are using,  and being able to go completely digital in the field, not to mention just the tools our design teams use for design.  And I am definitely finding more women in the field. When I first started, the only women you’d see in the field would be final clean-up labor. Today when I’m on the job site, I’m seeing women electricians and plumbers and carpenters. And that makes me smile.

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