This article is one in a series of conversations with women leaders in the construction industry. Click here for past conversations.
Beth Butler started out in the construction industry as a phone operator, and over the course of her 20-year career, worked her way up to superintendent at Minneapolis-based Adolfson & Peterson Construction.
During that time, she has seen many changes in the industry, including many more women like her who have moved out of office roles into leadership positions as project engineers, managers, architects and tradesworkers.
"It is great to see, and I look forward to seeing the trend grow," she said.
Here, Butler talks with Construction Dive about the challenges she has faced and the advice she gives to young women as they enter the industry.
CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What do you do in your current job?
BETH BUTLER: In my superintendent role at Adolfson & Peterson Construction (AP), I coordinate with personnel on projects, including the trades, the project team, clients, owners, architects and more. My current role allows me to meet new people, grow relationships with the teams and continue to learn something new with every project. I love working with dedicated individuals on projects they are proud of and passionate about.
What led you to choose construction as your career?
I realized early on that construction was an industry I wanted to stay in. I had two superintendents on my first project that would take me out on project tours. Every time we went out, I could see the changes in projects and the opportunities to learn and grow in construction. I had a project manager on my next few projects that would take me out on tours, show me the challenges he would encounter and explain to me how the team would collaborate to address the challenge.
Every day in construction is different — it is always changing and never boring. Every project is different. Every client is different. It is fantastic and exciting.
What are the projects you've enjoyed most and why?
I have enjoyed a piece of every project I have worked on throughout the years. Some of the projects deliver convenient and affordable transportation or bring joy to the community through new stores and restaurants. Other projects bring growth to companies with new office spaces, an opportunity to heal from injuries at a new physical therapy location and safety products to military, first responders, medical personnel and the public during a pandemic.
When I pass a former project site, I reminisce about the experiences I had, the people I worked with and the things I learned and I smile. I often look forward to what the future holds and what projects I will be on because I will be able to say, "I was a part of that!"
What challenges have you faced in your career that you believe are related to your gender?
The biggest challenge I have found is that many people believe women belong behind a desk in an office. Through the years, I have worked with many who initially said, "I'm surprised to see a woman in the field." After working with me for a bit, their skepticism goes to the wayside. It has been a great feeling to counter that challenge.
What changes would you like to see to better support women in the industry?
I would like to see more organizations where women can network, correspond, interact and support each other. I would like to see companies host more hands-on opportunities for young women and young men to ignite their interest in the industry. Additionally, I'd like to see more women in the industry be a part of these events.
Our industry will continue to grow, and we need qualified personnel to be a part of that growth. Bringing awareness to the wide variety of opportunities in construction will lead to interest which will, in turn, lead to more women joining the industry.
What advice would you give to young women considering construction?
Do not hesitate to express interest in learning something new and asking for the chance to learn. I learned if you speak up, work hard and treat people with respect, you can get more in your career. Treat the janitor with the same respect you would treat the president. The "Golden Rule" is something I try very hard to follow and I encourage others to do the same.
Keep going. Don't hesitate. Be assertive, but don't be rude. Get in there, ask questions, learn and grow. Never just assume. Rely on your subject matter experts to answer your questions. They appreciate you asking questions and being involved.
Volunteer for new roles and responsibilities. There are so many paths to pursue in the industry. As a woman, you don't have to follow the stigma of being "9 to 5 in an office." You can get out there and get your hands dirty in the field. Find the mentors you connect with. I am beyond grateful for the people who taught me about the industry, mentored me through the years and encouraged me to do everything I have done.