Seattle DJC: Meet the 'Ladies of Lewis'

Most of the largest projects at Lease Crutcher Lewis are being managed by women.

In 1886, when Lease Crutcher Lewis was founded, very few women worked in construction.

Even today, the number of women in the industry is just slightly above 3 percent. But that's not the case at Lease Crutcher Lewis.

“We have always been supportive of diversity,” says Gary Smith, president of Lease Crutcher Lewis. “We have attracted women who represent top talent in the industry and have supported and helped them grow professionally into key leadership positions. In fact, today the majority of our largest jobs are being run by female project managers.”

Hire the best, help them grow

Kathryn Emtman is project manager for the $102 million Nine Two Nine, a 19-story, 462,000-square-foot Class A office tower in Bellevue scheduled for completion in December 2015. Emtman is involved in the National Association of Women in Construction.

Coriann Presser, project manager for the 1915 Terry project for Seattle Children's Research Institute, helped found an internal organization dubbed the “Ladies of Lewis” — a group that focuses on leadership and mentoring within the company.

When that group was presented to Smith, he was enthusiastic. “It is the right thing to do,” he said.

Smith stays attuned to their discussion topics and frequently recommends pertinent reading material. The group meets monthly and members take turns developing topics and facilitating discussions.

Variety of positions

Project engineers Ellen Zouras and Margaret Wong, and project managers Shannon Testa and Presser, all got into construction management after starting with studies in architecture.

With 17 years in the field, Wong has a dual degree in architecture and construction management and has worked on sports and convention facilities around the country including Safeco Field and AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Zouras was attracted to green building and is a LEED Green Associate. As an environmentalist and advocate for all things sustainable, she is interested in pursuing LEED accreditations as part of her career growth.

“One of our best labor foremen is Lorie Tibbetts,” says Smith.

Tibbetts says she “got lucky to find a job in construction in 1986 as a laborer” and has grown to become a labor foreman. She has had many opportunities within the company and now runs labor crews, is responsible for all concrete work and materials placement, works with crane operators and helps subcontractors with site logistics.

“There are a lot of opportunities in the field but you have to want to go for them,” Tibbetts said.

Lana Gochenauer, BIM manager, works with Autodesk software and quality controls the BIM process, from preconstruction through construction. She works with architects and project managers to ensure that clients are getting the most efficient work on all projects. She is the vice president of Seattle Revit Users Group, a group that educates and promotes technology to make projects safer and more cost effective.

In the field, traffic control supervisors are the face of the company that the public sees daily. TCS Jackie Wasson has worked on projects with Lewis for the last six years.

“I love working with people, handling daily reports and signage,” says Wasson. “I've had many opportunities and would love to get into the safety aspect of the industry, which is an opportunity I may start exploring next.”

Industry involvement, training

Testa, project manager for the $185 million Troy Block, says, “I like big, complicated jobs and I like that technology is changing the ways we build buildings.”

Testa provides internal and external forums to help employees keep up with technology, and encourages people to try new ideas. She participates in Commercial Real Estate Women to further her industry contacts and learn from real estate experts.

Presser belongs to several organizations including NAIOP and AGC's Future Leaders Forum to continue her leadership and construction education and stay connected with related industry professionals. She has also volunteered for STEM education projects and the Architecture Construction Engineering mentor program where high school students are paired with industry professionals for a school year to learn about the business and conceptualize their own projects, such as high-rise towers or re-purposing underutilized land or buildings.

Work/life balance

“Construction is a demanding career and we strive to support work/life balance for all of our employees,” says Smith.

Being flexible with schedules whenever possible and encouraging people to take advantage of personal time are both important.

Project manager Sara Angus took time out from her career at Lewis to have children. She returned this year and is managing a $24 million TI for a confidential client. Angus says, “I am very grateful for the ability to schedule my time around my children's needs, which is important for work/life balance.”

Zouras, who came from back East says, “I like the pace here, the culture of this company and the Northwest in general. It is more appreciative of work/life balance and the importance of personal time to regenerate seems to be a norm.”

Cindy Little, project manager on the Boeing 737 Delivery Center, agrees it takes time and some effort to shut work off and concentrate on family but it's important and worth the effort.

Testa points to creating a well-rounded support group with family, the company and team members.

Recommendations

Little got into construction at a company that did tenant improvements. She recommends that women who are interested in the industry start with schooling if possible.

“There are opportunities for women in the trades as well as community college programs and university construction management programs that can prepare people for a rewarding career in the industry,” says Little.

All the women surveyed said they appreciate the daily challenges they face and the gratification they feel when they complete a project. When asked if they would recommend construction careers to women, all gave a resounding “Yes — go for it!”

Carey Smith joined the senior management team at Lease Crutcher Lewis as director of marketing in 2007 and added business development and oversight of human resources to her responsibilities in 2010. Lewis was founded in 1886 by her great grandfather. 

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