The role of women in construction has grown considerably in recent years. We’ve seen more and more young women choose an engineering route in college and have experienced an increase in female craftspeople. Our latest employee spotlight features one of Lewis’ young engineers carving a role for herself in the industry.
Isabel Al-Abed joined Lewis in 2015 as a project engineer. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Architectural Engineering from California Polytechnic State University and moved to Oregon upon graduation. As a native to San Carlos, California, Isabel was looking for a home away from home in her professional life and found that Lewis fit the bill.
BW: What attracted you most to pursuing a career in construction?
IA: Well, originally I went to school for structural engineering, but after taking a few construction management (CM) and architecture classes I was really drawn to it and made the switch to a CM route. I enjoyed the visibility of solutions that CM offered and the practicality of it.
BW: What do you enjoy most about working in the construction industry?
IA: I love that each day brings a new challenge. Getting to come to work and solve new problems and dive into new details every day keeps me engaged in my work. I also love the team integration and cross-training I get when working with the project team and subcontractors.
BW: Speaking of challenges, what would you say is the toughest part of your job?
IA: Learning to have the tough conversations with our trade partners. Part of my role as a project engineer is to work closely with the subcontractors, and sometimes we have to discuss the budget or scheduling concerns. Those conversations are never easy, but I’ve learned how to navigate them so that we arrive at a resolution as a team and create an achievable plan for moving forward. This is especially important because you want to protect your industry partnerships, not just for that individual project, but for all the ones to come.
BW: You were born and raised in the Bay area, how did you end up working for Lewis?
IA: While I grew up in the Bay area, I knew that after graduation I wanted to experience a new city. Portland was an easy choice because it was close enough that I could still easily visit home and the city seemed like a great fit for young professionals looking to start their careers.
For me, the job hunt was all about the people, and as I began to research various contractors, I found that most of them highlighted their family-like culture and commitment to their employees. During my senior year at Cal Poly, I reached out to a few Pacific Northwest contractors, sent my resume and tried to get a better idea of which firms would be a good fit. Lewis was one of the firms that contacted me. Coincidentally, Lewis was also attending a career fair at my school within weeks of me first reaching out.
I went to a few Employer Information Sessions and while many firms reiterated their website’s commitment to their teams being like a family—with Lewis that felt genuinely true. I left the room wanting to work for this company.
Not long after, I came to Portland for a formal interview and after spending two days getting to know the people, their projects and culture, it solidified my decision. The people were great, they were people I could see myself working with every day.
BW: As a young engineer, what’s an average day like for you?
IA: My day involves a lot of integration with subcontractors and the design team. Being fairly new to the industry I’d definitely say that I thrive in mentoring situations. I try to find daily opportunities to walk the jobsite to help myself visualize the problems I’m trying to solve at my desk.
BW: What is your favorite part of your job?
IA: The people I work with, no question. The atmosphere that exists in our jobsite trailer is awesome—the collaborative process that occurs when working through a particular challenge as a team keeps me excited to come to work every day. Arriving at a solution is always the goal, but when you’re able to get there as part of a larger team, the benefit multiplies.
BW: You’re just starting out in your career, do you have any advice for young professionals or young women looking to get into this industry?
IA: Being a young, female engineer has been an extremely rewarding challenge. My best advice for any woman looking to get into construction would be to learn to be strong when you need to be, but also be considerate of your peers no matter their role on the jobsite. Earning the respect of your peers will go a long way as well, regardless of your gender.
For new graduates particularly, I would say it’s important to be humble and be committed to being a team player. Having the ability to admit you don’t always know the answer often will earn you more respect than assuming you know it all.