On this week’s February is Female series I introduce you to one of my favorite engineers: Jesi Neil. Jesi is the perfect balance between Bold and Beautiful and she can lead all-male crews better than any of her male peers. If I had to choose one person who I think Charlie will grow up to be like it is Jesi. Here is her inspirational story about the life-changing trip that gave her the skills and confidence to chase her dreams of being a future leader in our company.
PS – After reading both Jesi and Mi’s articles I realized my life has been quite boring. Jesi/Mi – this is my official offer for you to take over A Splash of Humor 😉
I grew up in Manitoba in a family of boys. I’m sure at times my mom wished I knew more about which nail polish colors were in style rather than knowing all about concrete mix designs and structural steel. As an adult this has worked in my favor because every time she flies to Vancouver and I greet her in steel toe boots and I get a spa day out of it so she can feel like she has a daughter again LOL.
As a child/teenager I was shy – one of those kids always hiding behind my mom. I lived in a little bubble in a suburb in Manitoba and I didn’t know anything else. The biggest worry I had was which jeans I should buy next to keep up with the trends at school. I was always focused on academics so naturally I had registered to go straight into university out of high school…that is until my step dad threw me a curveball.
He sat me down before my high school graduation and told me that if I chose to go straight into University I was on my own – he wouldn’t support me. However, I could take option #2 which was to spend one year living abroad with no visitors, no financial support, and THEN go to school after I had experienced more of the world.
At the time it didn’t make any sense to me – why would any parent convince their child to NOT go to school. Getting on that plane the flight attendant actually pulled me into a room thinking I was being abducted I was crying so hard. I had never been on my own, and there I was at 18 flying across the world with no plan – crying the ENTIRE WAY.
But 10 years later I look back at that decision and it makes perfect sense. Sure I would have gone into school and passed all my exams, but what kind of employee would I be? What kind of person would I be without those life experiences? There is no doubt I struggled. I remember going into the grocery store for the first time in Madrid and realizing how expensive cereal and cheese were and having to leave them at the counter…or stealing toilet paper from the metro station because my parents never taught me how expensive life is. I thought those things were all free!
I survived…barely. I made it through the year and learned more than school would have ever taught me. I lived with a punk rocker, a British video game nerd….a group of guys that would have never normally been part of my friend circle at home because at first glance we had nothing in common. But it opened my eyes to the different relationships we build in our adult lives, how to interact with new and different types of people and how to budget and survive on my own.
That year abroad gave me the travel bug, there was no stopping me. Since then I have backpacked 49 countries, most of which I did alone. One of my greatest accomplishments. If I hadn’t spent that time exploring and learning about myself I promise you I wouldn’t be here with our Company today.
I didn’t grow up with an engineering family or knowing this is where my career would take me. But when I was saving up for my trips I would work in construction – doing whatever I had to do to save up for the next trip. This is where I realized I wanted a career building cool sh*t.
I got a job with with my company on a project in Manitoba and the rest is history. I graduated with a degree in civil engineering and packed up my life and headed out to Vancouver to continue my career. Since then I have worked as a planning engineer, a civil field engineer, a subcontractor manager, a marine engineer, a structural steel field engineer, a project engineer and most recently went up to Lillooet, BC to run my first job as a job superintendent.
I just came off a job where I was the only female – but to be honest I never noticed because that is my normal. I can sit around and play victim and tell everyone that my years in this industry have been much harder because I was a minority. But that isn’t true. Sure there are always going to be some people that treat you differently – I mean the security guard on my last project thought that for the entire year I worked there I was the Event Planner. Just like the security guard on the project before that assumed I was the Secretary. These stereotypes won’t go away overnight, so what I focus on is all the people that treat me equal and don’t care that I am a female.
Bottom line – I love my job. I love that I get to go out every day and build what we build. I love that I am constantly challenged to do better and take on more responsibility.
If I was giving advice to the next females coming into this industry I would be honest and say it takes work – you need to set a tone early in your career. Have confidence – if you don’t believe in yourself no one will believe in you. Women shouldn’t feel like they were hired or promoted because the company needed to hit a quota. They need to be hired and promoted because they worked hard and deserve it. Be vocal about what you deserve. “Don’t give me opportunities just because I am a girl and we need more girls in management, give me opportunities because I have earned them”.
What I learned in this industry is you need to advocate for yourself – you need to stand up and take opportunities and fight for what you believe you deserve. You can sit around and play the “female” card and talk about how hard it is as a girl in a male-dominated industry. OR you can kick ass and prove those people wrong. I don’t spend my days dwelling on the one person that thought I was a Secretary. Instead I focus on the 9 other men on my job that tell me “I will be their boss one day” and truly don’t care what my gender is.
Q&A with Jesi:
What advice would you have given younger Jesi who boarded that flight in tears?
Don’t let fear stop you from at least trying! I thought my whole world was crashing around me – but it turns out it was the best years of my life.
You are never alone – you will make friends wherever you go you just need to be open minded. Plus – if you are homesick everyone I just a flight away! I still get homesick sometimes out in Vancouver – but then I remember that if I really wanted to I could get on a plane tomorrow and see my family the same day. Whether you are away for work or travelling – being away doesn’t seem so daunting when you think of it that way. You aren’t stuck where you are, if you need a break with family –get on a plane and fly back for visits!
Take it one day a time – don’t think of it as a whole year away – focus on the present – one step at a time.
Do you have a mentor and if so what has he or she taught you?
I have many mentors – all of which I have different relationships with. Of course I have some key female mentors that I can go to for advice, but I think it is important to have both male and female mentors. The reality is our management team is made up of mostly men, so if they don’t buy in to the development and mentorship of young women then we aren’t going to get anywhere as women in this industry.
My female mentors have first and foremost taught me to speak up. Don’t be the person that says “yes” to everything and think that is the way to get ahead. If you don’t agree with an idea or approach, say something! This is something I struggled with a lot at the beginning of my career. I was nervous to have a voice in meetings because I feared being judged. What does that young girl know about construction? But over the years I learned to stop caring what other people think and speak my mind – it’s the only way for your ideas to be heard.
When I first started my career I was struggling with anxiety. I am one of those perfectionists that lets the smallest mistakes eat me alive and I let fear get in the way of taking risks and opportunities. This industry can be tough at times. One of my mentors sat me down and I opened up about my fears and challenges I was having internally. To my surprise he had struggled with the same thing early in his career – and so he gave me some advice that has stuck with me. He said “whenever you feel overwhelmed or anxious about work ask yourself two questions: 1) Did I do everything I could do? and 2) What is the worst that could happen? In this industry it’s easy to get so caught up in your job that you feel like one mistake and the whole world is going to come to an end. But when I feel like I am overwhelmed I now step back and ask myself those two questions and it really helps put everything into perspective.
What is your #1 career goal?
District Manager! Ok that is a long shot right now – for now my focus is to keep learning and taking on new challenges so I can be a Project Manager of a 600 million dollar + project.
What is your favorite country you have ever visited? What country is next on your list?
My favorite country I have ever visited is the Philippines. I spent a lot of time there scuba diving and fell in love with the beaches, diving and the people. Which is why this is also my next trip. I am heading there in 2 weeks to go backpacking with my little brother. We are going to go on one last backpacking adventure before he heads back to school for engineering. It is the perfect time since soon I will be too old and backpacking with your 30 year old sister isn’t “cool” anymore lol.
THANK YOU JESI!!!