To close out Women's History Month and to celebrate the Lowe Family Legacy, TD is excited to share an exclusive interview with Jack Lowe Jr.'s daughter, Julie Strong. Julie has more than 25 years of experience in the construction industry, serving in a variety of roles including project manager, financial controller, HR manager, and now in her capacity as CEO and Chief People Officer for C1S Group, Inc. Julie also spent 10 years of her career at TD serving as a Project Manager. Her passion for people and processes has helped C1S grow as a design-build contractor, while being recognized as one of the best places to work in America.
TD: Tell us a little bit about your story. How did you land in the construction industry?
JS: I grew up around TDIndustries, and my dad often took us to “topping out” celebrations to tour a newly completed project. To be honest, it wasn’t my favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I was only there because dad said we had to go, and I knew we’d get barbecue after the tour. As we walked around the buildings, someone would explain all the complexities and challenges of the project, and everyone was amazed by what they were seeing. Invariably, someone would ask me, “are you going to work at TD when you grow up?”
At 10 years old, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to work in construction. All I could see was air handlers, cooling towers, and pipe and ductwork, and it just wasn’t that interesting to me. But I loved listening to all the stories about things that happened on the project. That was my favorite part. I have always been interested in people.
So, flash forward a few years, I majored in psychology and after a few jobs, I landed in the People Department at TD when I was 26. I began to interact with the people who built all the buildings I had walked as a kid, and that’s when I realized what was really happening on those jobsite tours. They weren’t marveling at the building or the equipment or the ductwork. They were marveling at the people who built it. These people are so incredibly smart, committed, funny and interesting. That’s when I fell in love with construction.
TD: What do you enjoy most about the construction industry and your role specifically as the CEO of C1S Group?
JS: I really love the people and the teamwork in this industry. Everyone on the jobsite and in the office plays a part in getting the job done, and none of us can do it alone. We need each other to be great, and it’s the best feeling when we all bring our strengths and gifts together to accomplish something awesome. My job at C1S is 1.) make sure we have great people; and 2.) make sure C1S is a place where great people want to spend their career.
TD: What can be done to increase the percentage of women in construction? How can companies recruit more women and promote diversity?
JS: Right now, women make up less than 15% of the workforce in construction and we’re struggling with a labor shortage, so we’ve got a huge opportunity here!
The best career advice I ever got was to look for the right company, instead of looking for a specific job or title. Once you find a great company, then look for a job opportunity within that company. More and more construction companies are being recognized for their amazing workplace policies and culture, and those companies are attracting and retaining great talent. It’s a competitive advantage to be a great place to work.
We also need to do a better job of promoting the wide variety of careers that are available in the construction industry. Of course, increasing the number of women in the trades, engineering, and project management is a big piece of the puzzle. But there are equally rewarding roles in finance, operations, information technology, legal, marketing and human resources. These roles and their leadership opportunities need to be more visible, and we need to ensure our hiring and promotion practices are aligned with our diversity goals.
Finally, we need women to advocate for our industry. If you’re here and you love it, you need to show up and be heard! Whether at your kids’ elementary school, at a college recruiting fair, or at your neighborhood social. Talk about your job, and the opportunities you’ve had in the construction industry. Everyone in construction has a hard hat, but we don’t all wear them every day. When we talk about construction careers, we should talk about the whole industry.
TD: What barriers do women face in the construction industry? How has this changed over time?
JS: I think the barriers for women in the construction industry have improved significantly in the last 20 years, but there is still work to be done. Construction companies, like all companies, need to continue to raise awareness and advocate for equality in the workplace. We need to ensure our hiring and development investments are representative of our diversity goals. The metrics for success are pretty obvious – just look at the leadership page on any website and you can see who’s walking their talk. I definitely think the needle is moving in the right direction, but it will take focused and intentional effort to keep it going.
TD: What areas of the industry do you feel still have the biggest need for women?
JS: I think women can be very powerful collaborators and communicators, so project management is an ideal arena to harness those gifts. Women definitely need to be included in HR policy development.
TD: What opportunities are available for women to advance and grow their careers in the industry? Any professional networking groups where women can collaborate together?
JS: Our industry knows we need the skills and expertise that women can bring to the workforce, and our industry associations are working hard to create a space for women in construction to network and grow. TEXO has a standing committee call the Women’s Forum and also offers a great 9 month leadership program for executive women in construction; the Association of Professional Women in Construction provides programming and networking events The National Association of Women in Construction is also very strong.
It’s important for women to support each other, but men must be advocates too. We’re all in this together. Women need to advocate for their own career development, and they need mentors and sponsors within their organizations who will help them advance.
TD: What advice would you have for young women who are eager to join the construction industry?
JS: I’d give them the same advice that I got. Go find a great company that’s doing quality work and takes good care of their people. Make an informed decision based on all information you can gather (formally and informally).
Compensation is only one of the many factors to consider. Are there other women on the team? Are there women in leadership? What’s the company’s culture? Do you like the people who interviewed you?
You’re going to spend a lot of time with these people, so you need to know what you’re getting into. You want to make a decision you can live with for at least a couple years. Frequent job changes are a red flag to employers who value and invest in their people. Job hoppers can be seen as a high risk investment.