Continental is celebrating National Women in Construction Week by spotlighting some of our team members who bring their very best to their jobs every day. And, while this nationally celebrated week may have originated as a way to highlight the roles and contributions that women make in the field of construction, at Continental we feel it’s also important to recognize the gender-specific struggles, challenges, and surprises some women have experienced throughout their careers as well. 

For this month’s blog, we’ve asked four of our team members to share their experiences as women building careers in hospitality construction. Read on to learn more about the biggest challenges – and surprises – they’ve encountered thus far.

What do you love about working in construction?

“I enjoy the problem solving,” says Project Manager Kate Penn. “What makes construction management an essential component of building anything is that there are always moving parts and problems. So whatever else we do, we are constantly getting in there and figuring out the best way to get something done and get the job rolling while meeting the needs of the renovation as well as the guests and the hotel operators. It’s always a balancing act of how can we do this in the most cost effective way for the owner, time effective way for operations and getting our job done to scope on the building side.” 

Field Superintendent Jessica Calipa has been working in construction for seven years and for her, it’s the people and the satisfaction at the end of a job that brings her the most joy. “I love the people and the teamwork. The fact that you can create beautiful things with people you just met with the same objective. Seeing people happy when they see the final product, you feel great because you did it with all of these other people.” 

“I love where I can go from here,” offers Field Superintendent Wafá Issa Glaus. “All I have to do is work as hard as the men do and I keep moving up in my career. I determine how far I will get in this industry.”

“One of the reasons why I love working in construction is because you never stop learning,” says Field Superintendent Daniela Monje. “The variety of tasks and skills involved keeps me engaged and challenged. And then, seeing a project come to life is gratifying. From the initial planning stage to the final walk-through, it’s incredible to see a renovation take shape and know that I contributed to bringing it to fruition.”

As a woman in the male-dominated field of construction, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?

“Being in the field is demanding and challenging, but if you can survive in construction, you can survive anywhere,” Wafá says. “For a woman to survive in this job you need to be strong and believe in yourself. I love what I do. Give me any challenge and I’ll take it. But it’s very hard and if you’re not prepared for the lifestyle, you can get burned out.” She recalls at the start of her career, 24 years ago, repeatedly being told that she would never make it in construction. “You won’t get respect because you’re a woman, they’d say. But then I would prove myself on the job, working just as hard as the men do.”  

For a woman to survive in this job you need to be strong and believe in yourself. I love what I do. Give me any challenge and I’ll take it.” 
– Wafá Issa Glaus

But it’s not just physical challenges that can siderail a career in construction for women. “Throughout my career there have been times that I’ve been denied access because of being a woman. Early on in my career, I showed up for a meeting with my coworkers and was not allowed into the meeting. That’s literally denied access. There have been other times, however, when it became evident over time – whether it was opportunities or pay – that my gender was a factor in decisions about my advancement.” Kate recalls having to quickly find her own way to advocate for herself, accrediting her struggles, in part, to her success as a project manager today. “I felt I always had to do my due diligence. I was taken seriously when I had my information correct, my documentation correct, and provided a tight argument for my case. Having everything well documented always made me a better project manager but down the road, as I rose to the top, it helped me there as well.”

As hard as one works, however, true success comes as a team effort. “I had some really great people throughout my career, both men and women, that took the time to mentor me. When it comes down to it, that’s all it takes—someone who’s willing to help along the way,” Kate offers. Daniela agrees, “It’s crucial to stay determined, keep pushing for progress, and support each other along the way.”  

What has been the biggest surprise for you on the job? 

“The biggest surprise for me was finding this niche field of hotel renovation and loving it so much,” says Jessica. “I came from Venezuela when I was 23 and was introduced to hospitality renovation by a friend. It’s not a usual field in my country because there aren’t a lot of hotels to renovate there. It surprised me how beautiful the results can be and the impact you get to make on people’s lives. And how much I love it!” 

The biggest surprise for me was finding this niche field of hotel renovation and loving it so much.” 
– Jessica Calipa

Daniela Monje agrees, “The scale of the projects we work on and their impact on the communities they serve are truly remarkable. Being part of a team that can bring such transformational projects to life is rewarding but also, I’m glad to see that hard work is rewarded in this field. Once you prove yourself and show that you belong in this industry, all the doors open regardless of gender. I believe that as more women enter the construction industry, the culture will continue to shift toward greater inclusivity and diversity. 

There has been so much change on the horizon as of late, what else are you hoping to see evolve within the construction industry?

“I would like to see more support for training and recruiting trades people,” Kate says. “I would love to see more respect for the trades from society as well so that more people will see it as a viable career option. Something that’s encouraged as an opportunity to work towards. Right now, there aren’t enough skilled trades people in the construction industry. We need to be talking about apprenticeship programs for the trades on a national level.”

In addition to support for the trades, Daniela would like to see more training, mentorship, and exposure to construction as a viable career choice for more women moving forward. “While there is a significant presence of women in fields associated with construction, like design and architecture, women in the construction field mainly work in project management and the office, with little representation on the jobsite. Then, once women enter the field, they often face challenges such as unconscious bias, unequal pay, limited career advancement opportunities, and sexual/gender-based harassment.” Daniela sees a chance to create a more equitable and diverse construction industry. “I want to see more efforts from companies to promote diversity and inclusivity in the industry, provide equal opportunities and training for all employees, and hold accountable those who engage in discriminatory behavior. Additionally, I want to see more initiatives that encourage young women to consider careers in construction and provide them with the necessary support and mentorship to succeed.” 

I want to see more initiatives that encourage young women to consider careers in construction and provide them with the necessary support and mentorship to succeed.” 
– Daniela Monje

Have you felt supported at Continental in your career pursuits? If so, can you offer an example?

“I came to work at Continental after taking a 10-year hiatus from my career to raise my kids. It was a pleasant surprise for me to come back into the world of construction and as someone new to the hospitality renovation field and see how much had changed for women,” Kate recalls. “At Continental I get asked what I want to do next. I feel heard here. And in the times when I have felt overwhelmed, people step up and lend a hand. It’s a very team centered company and we help each other. From top down there is a sense of supporting people to where they need to be.” 

“Continental Contractors provides all employees with the tools and training they need to succeed and the support and encouragement to pursue new challenges and opportunities,” Daniela says.  “Also, seeing women like our Chief Operating Officer Renee Bagshaw succeed and excel has been incredibly inspiring and empowering, and having female representation in leadership roles in the field and offices, such as Project Managers, Assistant Project Managers, and Field Superintendents, has made me feel that my contributions are valued and that I am an integral part of the team.

“Since my first interview with Continental I’ve felt supported and confident,” Jessica says. “They make me feel like I’m in the right place. It’s like a family. I like that they have values and they make you feel like you’re part of the family which builds confidence.” 

“Continental is willing to let me grow as much as I want in this career,” offers Wafá. “The sky is the limit with Continental and they have shown me that.”