See all the women featured in our Women in Construction series here.
The world is a classroom; few situations and days don’t offer a learning experience. Jennifer Vides, project superintendent for Turner Construction, embraces this concept and any teachable experience, which helped advance her rising career.
She obtained a civil engineering degree with the intent of going into design, but soon realized she wanted to try something in the field rather than sit behind a desk most days. Vides' father was in construction, so the idea wasn't foreign. After a construction internship, she decided she wanted to be a superintendent to be directly involved in the field.
Although the day-to-day responsibilities of coordinating project elements start to finish haven't changed, the demands change year over year. "Because of industry changes, it gets more challenging each year," she said. "The owner wants things done faster and more innovatively so you have to learn to adapt as years pass and as projects progress."
Vides began her career with Turner Construction as a superintendent intern. She then was hired as assistant superintendent and progressed to superintendent and then project superintendent. She hopes to continue that progression and be a general superintendent, which will enable her to supervise larger projects, as well as give her greater opportunity to share her knowledge with those rising up in the ranks.
"I just like passing on and helping other people," she said. "That's one of my biggest goals — helping to develop this business unit and pass on the knowledge that was passed onto me."
She favors commercial construction projects and recently finished work on her second convention center. "[Commercial] has a little more movement and bigger learning potential because you’re involved in different aspects of a project rather than a single part," she said. "Everybody brings something to the table. I just love to learn; anything I can grab from anybody I keep piling it up."
Organization and relationships
Even with a variety of tech tools and scheduling software at her fingertips — which she uses — Vides says the best tool in her arsenal is having relationships with workers and their supervisors and fostering a comfortable atmosphere for open conversation.
"A relationship with the field staff is what has made me successful so far," she said.
One of Vides' coworkers specifically mentioned her ability to garner respect from all those she works with. Some of that respect comes naturally once Vides demonstrates she's willing to learn and her humility for the job.
"I don't know everything so you have to be patient with me, but at the same time I show them I'm doing my homework," she says. "I'm trying to help you as much as I can and we're going to work together as a team."
Juggling personalities, understanding how each person best works and thinks, and being able to include everyone in the project is vital. For field staff in particular, Vides recognizes "without them we can't do our job and without us they can't do their job either."
Some of it has been harder earned. About 80% of the people she's worked with have been fairly seamless relationships.
"The other 20% has been a challenge because of my age and because I'm a woman," she said. "They tend to respect older male counterparts. I overcame that hurdle because I was patient and showed them I was chosen for this role for a reason. I'm just as capable as my male counterparts and I earned their respect little by little. Eventually those were some of the people I had the best relationships with on a project.
"They were relationships built on trust and the knowledge that no matter what, I was going to own what I said and stick to my word," she continued. "In this industry, when you give your word you better keep it."
An open mind
As much as Vides loves her profession, though, she emphasized the importance of carefully considering if working in construction is what you truly want to do. When she entered the industry, she was told to have a tough skin.
"But that’s not the advice I'd give," she said. "You just need to have an open mind, be able to work with different personalities and, if you encounter a difficult person, just think of it as another challenge to get through and you will. It's motivation, persistency and being open-minded to everything that’s going to come your way."
Vides hopes more women will consider construction. "We bring a different perspective to the construction field," she said. "Definitely more innovation and, especially with the younger minds, they have different views. We're changing a little bit of construction every day. I'd recommend it for whoever wants to get their boots dirty and get out there."
This article is part of our five-part series about women leaders in construction for Women in Construction week 2018. Read the others here.