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Blog | Mar 10, 2021

Laying Foundations for Women in Construction

A discussion with Vice President Bernadette Barnett and Project Executive Roxanne Sale on their experiences as leaders in the construction industry

Pictured L-R: Roxanne Sale and Bernadette Barnett

For Women in Construction Week, we sat down with two female leaders at HITT – Bernadette Barnett and Roxanne Sale – to discuss what it means to be a woman in construction, how to better advocate for women within the industry, and how to encourage more to join the field.

Bernadette Barnett, Vice President of our New York office, has worked in construction for nearly 40 years, attributing her success to her penchant for learning and connections to strong female mentors. Roxanne Sale, Project Executive on our Law Firms team, has dedicated more than 20 years to the construction industry, mostly at HITT, and credits her persistence for getting her where she is today.

Q: What drew you to the construction industry?

Bernadette: I had a few jobs after school and ended up working for a well-known real estate developer on warehouse projects. I started my career in industrial, and I lusted after the business when working on that project. I had stars in my eyes, and I was excited by the construction side of things. It was just so interesting, and it continues to be today.

Roxanne: I worked full time through college at a bank and was passed over for a promotion, so I reassessed my career path. At that time, my dad worked for HITT, and his project manager needed admin help, so I started as a construction assistant, and it turned into a career that I love.

Q:  How did you find your confidence in your career?

Roxanne: It takes a little time to find your footing – whether you’re male or female. I’ve been labeled a lot of things, and they’re not always who I truly am. It’s important to find your own voice, find who you are, and let that shine through.

Bernadette: I was so starstruck about the industry that I just dug into the job and didn’t care what anyone thought. I needed to know everything, and I was going to ask the tough questions.

Q: What benefits do women bring to the construction industry?

Bernadette: Diversity brings benefits to everything. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a person of color – whatever your experience is. When you get 10 people together with diverse backgrounds you’re going to brainstorm better; you’re going to have better ideas, and you’re going to have different viewpoints.

Roxanne: Having a variety of individuals on a team, including women, offers a better holistic view. You’re not just looking at constructability. You’re looking at profitability, how things intersect, specific details, and more perspectives ensure the success of a project.

Q: What’s a lesson you learned the hard way?

Roxanne:  We had a difficult job several years ago that went awry due to several factors. At the time, I was an inexperienced project manager and was left to finish the job with partners struggling and a very detail-oriented architect and client. I stuck it out, worked long hours to get it right, and it taught me to have strength and resilience no matter how bad things look. Ultimately, they’re still a client today because of that hard work and focus.

Bernadette: I remember being on a jobsite on a Saturday night and pushing the last dumpster out the door when I realized I ignored my intuition about an aspect of the project. From that day forward, I decided to speak up when I see something wrong. If you push something under the rug, it’s only going to grow bigger. Pitfalls can be avoided by addressing them when you see them. If you end up being wrong, all you did was ask a question. Trust your gut.

Q: What would you say to encourage women to take more risks?

Bernadette: As they say, “No risk, no reward.” You have to listen to what’s inside of you and be true to yourself. It’s important to take risks. I think we take risks every day, but don’t realize it.

Roxanne: I don’t look at things as a risk. You have to evaluate what’s in front of you and push yourself to make the best decision, not just the comfortable one. Risk is a part of life and our jobs.

Q: What are the best ways we can advocate for women in the construction workplace?

Bernadette:  The secret sauce is getting the word out to women that construction is an interesting, exciting industry that pays well.

Roxanne:  It’s important to show people that women are working in the field of construction in many different roles and get women excited about the construction process.

Did you know HITT is an industry leader when it comes to women in the construction workplace? At HITT, women comprise nearly 19% of the workforce – nearly double the national average of 10%. To learn more about opportunities at HITT and how to join the team, visit our Careers page.

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