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  • Writer's pictureJason Khoury

Women Who Build West Michigan: Kaylee Dillard


Kaylee Dillard

In this interview, Kaylee Dillard, a project manager in Wolverine Building Group’s multi-family division, shares her experiences as a woman in the male-dominated construction industry. She discusses the rewards of witnessing projects evolve from concept to completion and the diverse opportunities available beyond physical labor roles.

Kaylee also openly addresses the challenges she's faced, such as lack of respect and feeling out of place on job sites, and how she's overcome them through self-advocacy and support systems. She highlights the unique strengths women bring to this industry, like strong communication and emotional intelligence, and encourages young women to fearlessly pursue construction careers, whether through college or trade schools.


You are a Project Manager, what does that mean?

As a Project Manager, my day-to-day responsibilities involve a combination of office work and job site visits. I am in the office about four days out of the week, and then the other day I'm out on job sites.


What does a day in your life look like?

In the office, I spend time sending and responding to emails, attending meetings, communicating with subcontractors and owners, reviewing drawings, creating budgets, scheduling and working on multiple different projects each day. On job site days, I oversee the construction projects firsthand and attend progress meetings. Every day is different, which is what I love about my job. One day I'm working on one project, the next I'm working on another.


What drew you to the construction industry?

My educational background was a key factor. I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering and management from Purdue University, but I initially considered civil engineering. I was drawn to construction because it gave me that flexibility to go out to job sites instead of just being in the office. Also, it allowed me to really show off what I am best at, organization, communication and time management.  I also recognized the opportunity to stand out as a woman in a male-dominated field. I knew that doing this was unique. It made me stand out, which helped when I started applying for internships and a full-time job.


What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the construction industry?

Witnessing a project's progression from concept to completion. Seeing tangible results and knowing I contributed to creating something that people can live in is deeply satisfying.

My favorite part is during pre-construction where there's little to no design, only a concept. As time goes by, you are putting the last touches on the building. You get to look back years later and think, wow, that original design turned into this, and I was a part of it!


What would you say to someone who is unfamiliar with the industry about considering a career in construction?

There are a variety of opportunities within the construction industry, beyond physical labor.  Employers are always looking for more physical laborers, but the industry needs architects, managers, HR, accounting and more across various sectors like roads, bridges, buildings and residential or commercial projects.

Prior knowledge is not a prerequisite - I personally did not know anything about construction. To those just starting out, my advice would be to try and be comfortable being uncomfortable and embrace learning on the job.


Can you share a story or experience that highlights the challenges you faced as a woman in a male-dominated field?

One of the significant challenges I faced early in my career was a lack of respect and support. It was hardest for me when colleagues and trade partners would not listen to me, I would assume they were thinking, “Hey, she doesn't know what she's talking about."

I also felt out of place on job sites because people would stare. I had to overcome these challenges by learning and growing from experience, proving to others that I’m a hard worker and by having a support system at home and within the company. Now, I’m thriving, it just took some time for people to get used to the idea of me working in this field.


Is it becoming easier to be a woman in this industry? How can the industry better support and encourage more women to enter and thrive in this field?

In the past five years, there has been a positive change in how women are represented in our industry. When I first started it wasn't as common to see females in my role as a project manager, and it’s becoming more common today. While acknowledging room for improvement, I believe the industry is becoming more accommodating. There's a lot more opportunities, programs and events tailored toward women.

To better support and encourage women, the construction industry could continue promoting inclusivity, creating mentorship programs and addressing gender biases.


As a woman in a leadership role in the construction industry, how do you hope to pave the way for future generations?

By leading by example. By excelling in my role as a project manager, I have demonstrated that women can thrive in traditionally male-dominated positions. My presence and success in the field will hopefully encourage other women to pursue careers in construction, challenging gender stereotypes and proving that we possess the skills and capabilities to succeed in this industry.

Women bring several unique strengths to the construction industry, including strong communication skills, emotional intelligence and organizational abilities. I also think females have a good idea of how to read a room. We have a solid perspective on understanding how different people communicate in different ways and we can tailor towards that. Women also tend to be more expressive with their emotions, which can be beneficial in the industry.


Can you speak to the importance of having a diverse workforce, including more women, in the construction industry?

Having diversity through age, gender, background and ethnicity brings different ideas. A unique team contributes varied perspectives, preventing stagnation and promoting innovation.

To create a more inclusive environment, construction companies can prioritize equitable hiring practices, provide diversity and sensitivity training and implement policies that empower women, both on job sites and in office settings. A welcoming and respectful culture benefits the entire industry and the quality of projects.


What is one thing you would like to say when it comes to Women in Construction – specifically to our young women here in West Michigan.

My message to young women in West Michigan interested in construction is one of encouragement and opportunity. There are alternative paths beyond traditional college degrees - if college isn’t for you, there are trade schools for occupations like electricians, plumbers, framers and so on.

Pursue your interests in construction fearlessly, as the industry is becoming increasingly accommodating and supportive of women's participation.


 

About Wolverine Building Group


Wolverine Building Group

Founded in 1939, Wolverine Building Group is one of Michigan’s most trusted and experienced construction companies. With 180+ employees, Wolverine specializes in industrial, multi-unit residential, healthcare, office, restaurant and recreational construction. Wolverine is nationally recognized as a leader in design-build and construction management. For more information, visit their site below.



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