10 Questions, 10 Answers – What Female College Students Want to Know

Charlie and I are in my hometown of Omaha this week! While Charlie plays with her cousins I will be attending meetings at my company’s headquarters. The main purpose of my trip to Omaha is to attend another women’s summit aimed at increasing female diversity. I was invited to participate on a panel answering questions in front of female college recruits while our executives listen in. Myself as well as three other female managers will take turns on Friday answering questions about our careers and our advice on how women can succeed in a male dominated industry.  I was happily surprised by the amount of questions that the young college students submitted before our panel goes on stage Friday. These young women have a lot of interest in what we do and I am so excited to share my experience and thoughts in front of such a large group of young and talented women.

Before I share my thoughts in front of the group on Friday, I wanted to share my responses to the best 10 questions that were submitted. If you have any thoughts to share I would gladly take them and find a way to incorporate them in my responses to the group. Please let me know if something is on your mind! For now, here are my thoughts:

1. What advice would you tell younger you?

I would have told myself to spend more time with my parents at the start of my career. It wasn’t until I had my first child 5 years ago that I woke up and realized exactly what my parents did for me and what I could learn from them as a career driven working mom. Starting your career is a very exciting time where your priorities shift and while it’s important to run hard at your career, it is also important to not get completely sucked in to your new “independent” grown up life. The average human’s brain isn’t fully developed until they are 24 years old and there are so many important decisions that occur after college before your brain is fully developed. We need our parents during that time more than we think we do.

2. Why did you choose this Company?

A lot of times starting with a company is like going on a blind date.  I audited this company for 8 years and during that time I gained a deep understanding of the culture that exists. I got to know the people both in Omaha and in the field. I saw ALL of the dirty laundry that was out there. And throughout the 8 years I consistently saw the profit stability that the company offered its shareholders. So I like to think that I dated this company for 8 years before I married it, which gives me confidence that I made the right choice long term.

3. What has been your biggest challenge in your career and how have you overcome it?

My biggest challenge has been shutting off work when I need to shut it off. Before I had children there was no one pushing the off button when it needed to be pushed. Before I had kids I worked 80 hours a week and I spent a lot of time at night and on weekends glued to my computer. But when I had my first child I realized how much I needed to truly shut off work when I got home from work. Kids definitely remember quality time versus the quantity of time spent with a parent. Just like any new parent I re-focused my schedule to be able to be present with my family. Working moms and dads both do whatever they can to get home in time for dinner and to not work on the weekends, but there is something in a moms DNA that makes us feel more obligated to do so. And more guilty when we make a decision that favors our jobs over our children.  But I have never in my career had a boss try to stop me or punish me when I left work to get home to see my kids. Moms are harder on themselves than they need to be.

4. What is your biggest advice for women who are joining the Company and starting their careers?

Be confident. Portray that confidence to others. Take as many opportunities as you can to present in front of groups early in your career. Speak up in meetings and don’t apologize for things you shouldn’t. I am naturally confident and I have a daughter who is more confident than I am which is my favorite thing about her. When you don’t portray confidence it sets off an alarm bell that you are too soft to handle what’s in front of you. You all should be confident in your abilities.

5. How do you balance having a family and an intensive job?

When raising kids and balancing career success there are two things that make it easier – having family close by and having a spouse that bears more of the home responsibilities than the other. My husband works full time but he has always put my career first and works hours that allow him to take care of before school and after school activities. I do a lot of shopping on Amazon so I can spend more time at home rather than shopping at a store. With us being in Vancouver we are very far away from family which is a new challenge for us. Matt and I both travel for work so when we are both traveling or if we both have really busy weeks we fly one of our parents up to Vancouver to help us out. We pay the cost of a flight ourselves because it means more time with grandparents while we both are able to meet the demands of our jobs. One last thing that I learned as I got older is the importance of taking vacation when you know you need it. It doesn’t need to be planned way in advance, but if you get in a rut with work it is ok to take a last minute vacation to reset your batteries a bit. Your company will always understand and everyone benefits from it.

6. Did you benefit from having a mentor/mentors during the beginning of your career? How?

Absolutely. I’ve had amazing mentors that have done so much for my career. I essentially had two beginnings of my career – one when I started at KPMG in 2007 and one when I started at this company in 2015. When I was at KPMG I had a partner in the firm as my mentor and he gave me candid feedback and stood up for me during the entire 8 years I was there. When I began working directly for Kiewit I chose an up and coming engineer as my mentor which was one of the best decisions I have made in my career. Having a mentoring relationship with someone that isn’t wired the way you are gives you another point of view for you to grow on a whole different level. Certain things that I thought were a huge deal as a business manager were not important from an engineer’s perspective. Engineers and business people think and act differently.  Both are smart but our minds are wired differently. So my advice to all of you would be to find a mentor that is completely different than you so you can grow along with them as a collective group in a company.

7. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, how did you make yourself stand out?

I don’t make myself stand out and in my opinion that is a key differentiator between women that succeed in a male dominated industry and those that demand success but get nowhere.  If you ask most of the women in this room they don’t want to be singled out as being a woman, they just want to be treated like the man sitting next to them. There are so many times when I am the only woman in a meeting and a man has stopped in the middle of meeting to apologize directly to me for swearing. At work I don’t need to be treated like a lady, I need to be treated like your competition.

8. How did you make a difference in your career for younger generations of women coming into the workforce?

I limit the number of young women I mentor.  Not only do I want to make sure the fit is right, but I also want to make sure I give them enough quality time to impact their career. This is an exciting time to mentor young women in the organization because there are so many positive things happening that gives them trust in our company’s leadership. From a global perspective I started a blog 6 months ago which is something I had been debating doing for a long time now.  It was scary for me to commit to having a blog but I wanted to do it in order for other women to see an example of a successful working mom in a male-dominated industry. The more young women can see success stories the more confidence they will have to do the same.

9. How do you think being a woman in your position differs than a man in the same position?

There is no difference in the ability to succeed if you are a male district controller or if you are a female district controller. We both need to be trusted business advisors to operations. However, the path to get to my position has roadblocks that my male counterparts do not encounter. Society has been shaped to believe that bringing children into the world and raising them falls primarily on the mom. We are shifting to more dual income families but we are very much still in an era where moms take care of the home and the fathers provide for the family. That’s why women need to be very vocal about their career goals and intentions of coming back to work after having a child. And after they come back to work women need to continue to be vocal about career inspirations because as in my situation my career comes first and my husband bears the brunt of the home responsibilities. It will take a long time for our society to switch their biased beliefs but we need to continue to celebrate examples of career priorities for the mom versus the dad.

10. Why do you think there are so few women that work in construction? How do you see Kiewit addressing this?

Women think construction is just as cool as men. But society does not think that women think construction is just as cool as men do. Toy stores, Target, Walmart, everything has separate clothing departments with boys wearing dinosaur and construction t-shirts and girls wearing pink tutus and sparkly rainbows. The ability to teach young women they fit in an industry like construction starts before they step foot in an elementary school. After a family day at one of our construction sites my daughter told me that she wanted to build a hospital for animals. I asked her if she wanted to be a vet and she said “no I want to build the animal hospital”. I did my absolute best to not explode in excitement because she needs to understand that is a normal aspiration rather than a fairy tale. Unless we change those kind of conversations with our children at an early age it will be impossible to get young women to believe what they can do.

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