By Meghan Hall
The beginning of March is well known in the commercial real estate industry for “Women in Construction Week,” which is dedicated to increasing diversity and highlighting women as important contributors to the construction industry. To celebrate women in construction, The Registry recently spoke with Jamie Gilman, vice president at Clark Construction, about her successes in the industry and her perspective as a woman in construction. Throughout her career with Clark, Gilman has ushered more than $2.6 billion in projects through the pipeline. Currently, Gilman oversees the construction of the new academic building at U.C. Hastings and has worked on building a new hospital at Stanford University, as well as the construction of 150 Van Ness, a 420-unit apartment complex in downtown San Francisco.
Jamie, you have been part of the Clark Construction family for nearly 20 years now. In your time with the firm, what about the construction industry has changed? What has stayed the same?
The most significant change is the ability to instantly access drawings and information through smartphones, iPads and other modes of technology. Nowadays, we are constantly connected. This can be both good and bad. While having these technologies at our fingertips, can, at times, make us feel as though we need to respond immediately – I always try to evaluate each situation and determine if it warrants an immediate response or deserves more thought.
Though technology can connect us regardless of location or time of day, I still believe the best ideas happen when you have all parties in a room brainstorming options together. That said, this isn’t always an easy task. When in-person just isn’t possible, using video conferencing, FaceTime and other technologies can be a good alternative.
While the construction industry continues to evolve, what remains the same are the people – technically-strong, smart, savvy and safe builders, designers and craftworkers who are committed to delivering quality work and projects that will leave a lasting positive impact on the community. In recent years, our industry has been impacted by a shortage of skilled craftworkers as younger generations look toward other jobs and industries. To continue to deliver quality projects for our clients and communities, it is imperative that we find ways to promote and foster growth and development opportunities within the construction trades.
What are some of the biggest trends in the industry that you will think have an impact on 2020? Why?
Prefabrication is becoming more widely utilized in the US, but requires a collaborative and thoughtful approach among project stakeholders. As an industry, we should continue to work to identify opportunities to leverage prefabrication to reduce costs, waste and safety hazards, and help ensure quality.
As someone with extensive experience in the construction industry, what has allowed you to succeed?
I’d like to say it is my wits, bubbly personality and perseverance (which may have some truth), but I really think it comes down to the opportunities I’ve been afforded by Clark Construction throughout my career – those opportunities, and great leaders and mentors, have helped shape me personally and professionally. There have always been strong women at Clark to look up to, which has helped push me to embrace my potential. I don’t like to accept second best or “it’s good enough”; I am continually looking to improve myself and others around me. I try to lead by example and be my best self.
Outside of construction, you are actively working to develop internal training and leadership courses for Clark as well as supporting the firm’s Strategic Partnership Program. Why did you choose to become involved in these programs?
This industry is not an individual effort and we must continue to help each other because it takes a team – often times a very large team – to construct great things.
I love to help others and share knowledge. I have had so many teachers and mentors throughout my career in construction, and I believe that giving back is a must. I am always willing to share my wisdom and experiences to anyone who will listen.
In your opinion, why are these programs important?
I’ve supported Clark’s Strategic Partnership Program (SPP) for some time now. This eight-month executive MBA-style professional development course is designed for small businesses who are looking to grow their capacity and take their business to the next level. The program covers all aspects of construction – from contracts to estimating to presenting to negotiating to scheduling to change orders to reading drawings. I got involved with our San Francisco program because I believe it’s important to invest in our local small business community and help position small business owners for greater success in our industry. Clark offers the SPP at no cost to participants; administering it is really a labor of love for those of us involved. The SPP has more than 800 graduates nationwide.
This month is Women’s History Month. How is the San Francisco Bay Area when it comes to matters of diversity and inclusion?
San Francisco is the most diverse and inclusive community I have ever had the pleasure of living and working in. During National Women in Construction week, which took place the first week of March, there were a number of local special events celebrating women’s contributions to our industry. I was fortunate to be able to attend several.
The construction industry has a reputation for being slow to evolve and adapt, including in matters of diversity. In your opinion, why has the industry been slow to change?
I think the construction industry has a stigma of being gritty, dirty, tough and unrefined. At the beginning of my career when I told old people that I worked for a construction company, they would ask if I was cleaning or painting. When I explained my role and all the intricacies of the construction site (i.e. coordinating with the client, designer, and trade partners) that I was responsible for, they were shocked. Many people still perceive our industry that way and overlook the tremendous planning, evaluating and creativity involved in bringing projects to life. I do my best to educate them otherwise.
What is your advice for young women pursuing a career in the construction industry? Why?
My first piece of advice is to ask questions and be prepared to really soak in all the knowledge. Ask questions about everything going on. Why? Why not? How? When? What?
My second piece of advice is to be positive and persevere. When you hear, “No, you can’t do that,” ask “why?” again and again until you come to a better understanding, compromise, or solution than the one you wanted in the first place.
What are some of the steps you think the industry can take to become more inclusive?
I think the first step in attracting a more diverse workforce is to better highlight all of the wonderful, hardworking, impactful women that currently exist in our industry. Second, I would say we need to focus on putting more women in positions that challenge their potential and allow them to be leaders and mentors for other younger women.
What are you looking forward to most in the coming year and why?
There are lots of exciting things happening in the San Francisco construction market this year. That said, personally and professionally, one of the things I’m most looking forward to is attending ENR’s Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference in San Francisco this May. The event is a great training opportunity; it’s also inspiring to see the camaraderie being built among women in our industry. The conference includes some great panel discussions, which are less focused on the challenges of “working in a man’s world”, and instead focused on the challenges we face as an industry and how can we can solve them together.