Women in Construction: Brittani Trimmer

 

Can you tell us about your journey into the construction industry? What inspired you to pursue a career in this field?

BKT: When I moved to a new middle school, I was placed into a basic algebra class. Within the first few weeks, I was sent to the back of the classroom until Thanksgiving (like 8 weeks!) for teaching other students about the class materials. I spent the first week in the back of the class teaching myself the next 6-8 weeks’ worth of materials. In my boredom, I overheard the teacher explaining to a student about careers that would use algebra.

The librarian at the time knew me well and knew I really didn’t enjoy reading.  However, the next morning, I spent homeroom knee deep in the card catalog for books about architecture and buildings. I spent the rest of my time in the back of the classroom scouring the books. In high school, I took as many drafting and architecture classes I could, including some independent studies. I taught Revit my last 2 years during the drafting class and entered local architecture competitions (placing 3rd my first year and 1st place my senior year).  I ended up in a 5-year architecture program at NJIT.

Unfortunately, going into my fourth year I realized I couldn’t afford to finish my 5-year education.  Through a lot of work, I got a loan to cover that 4th year.  My college advisor and internship mentors partnered with me to make the best of that last year and ensuring I was prepared to go into the workforce a year early.  Most architecture students think the 4-year BS of Architecture program is the kiss of death. But a PM I was working with in my internship (for a construction-based company) showed me that I could be successful with the 4-year degree in the construction industry. In my designs, I was always thinking about how it would be built and not about “concepts” like other designers. I was also always drawn to the field aspects of my internship and spending time with our subcontractors.

Ultimately, I ended up at HCC right out of college and haven’t turned back since.

What roles have you held within the construction industry, and what are your current responsibilities?

BKT: I started in the industry as a CAD intern at Rutgers-Newark facilities management department. While there I shifted focus onto a big renovation project now known as the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hall. I was there during demolition through drywall of the upper floors. I spent 99% of my last semester roaming the halls of the building trying to understand construction.
I started at HCC in 2015 after graduation as an assistant project manager. I worked my way from an APM I to an APM II that ran a few projects, even with some more field-focused roles. When it was time to become a PM, I decided that there was another way I could impact our company and started our VDC department as our VDC manager for a few years. Through that role I started coaching our APM team. I am now the Operations/VDC manager where I get to coach both the APM and project coordinator teams. I oversee our training programs, college relations, and process improvements. I spend a lot of time dealing with technology,  ensuring we have best practices in place, and our teams have the necessary resources and knowledge to get projects done on time, on budget, and with award-winning quality.

Have you encountered any challenges or barriers as a woman working in construction, and if so, how have you overcome them?

BKT: There are people that challenge you because you are either young or a woman. In general, the industry embraces all we do and appreciate the women they work with. One time, as I was starting my VDC career, I was talking to an engineer of a subcontractor about their system. I was asking a lot of questions because I was trying to truly understand what his constraints were but also how the other building systems could work with him.  I meant nothing by it but just curiosity. The engineer went on a soap box about me being young and female and how I “just don’t get it.”  The subcontractor was appalled because he knew where I was coming from. The subcontractor defended me without me even having to say a word. One of the most meaningful things was a follow up email the subcontractor sent me saying that he would love to talk more about the building system and mentor me any time. In general, the few tiffs about being female I have encountered, have gone just like that. 99.9% of the workers in this industry respect you because you are you (gender and age aside). And for the 0.1% that don’t, either your work speaks for itself or the army of supporters around will speak for you.

What do you find most rewarding about your work in construction?

BKT: I love seeing spaces I’ve been a part of constructing being used.  The heart of why I’m in this industry is because I believe the build environment has a huge impact on people.  So when I go into a hotel I built and see people enjoying coffee in the lobby together, I know that I’ve had an impact on their lives.

In your experience, how has the construction industry evolved in terms of gender diversity and inclusion?

BKT: As an intern, I was one of two females in my office (myself and a PM). When I started at HCC almost 10 years ago, there were a decent about of women in our office, but on a jobsite I was often the only woman in the trailer.  Now, as the operations manager, my entire team is women. It’s an honor to be able to mentor them and be a role model of what it means to be a strong woman in the industry.

Are there any particular projects or achievements in your career that you're especially proud of?

BKT: The project I am most proud of is the Landis Homes Learning & Wellness Center and associated Crossings apartments in Lititz, PA.  This project was really complicated with certain elements. I learned what it meant to be a team player more on that project than any other.  I felt like RLPS Architects and I got to know each other really well.  They became partners in the project rather than an us v. them.  I spent a lot of time in their office and on the jobsite problem-solving and making sure we could meet the client’s expectations. During that project I learned a lot about the kind of leader I wanted to be within HCC but also what kind of teammate I wanted to be on any project.

What advice would you give to other women who are considering a career in construction?

BKT: Just be authentically you. The naysayers are a fraction of a percentage of the industry. 99.99% of the industry has your back.

How do you think the construction industry can continue to attract and retain more women in various roles?

BKT: I remember in my career when the industry officially hit 1 million women.  It was a huge milestone. Women are in the industry and active. I think the way we keep attracting and maintaining women is for those of us in the industry being present and willing to mentor and guide each other.

What do you think are some misconceptions about women working in construction, and how would you address them?

BKT: We are too emotional for our jobs. We all think through things differently. I often share the analogy that women’s brains are like the web browser with hundreds of tabs open. We are always flipping back and forth between the tabs we need mentally. While men’s brains are more like a filing cabinet where they open the drawer and the necessary file. They process that issue and then put that file away and close the drawer. Both ways of thinking have their advantages and together they make for a powerful team. When it comes to our emotions – we often care so deeply about what we do. However that may look on the outside, know that it’s because we want what is best for our client.

Can you share a memorable moment or experience from your time working in construction that highlights the positive impact women can have in this field?

BKT: There is a female architect that I love to work beside. We’ve built several hotels together and she’s been a great mentor to me.  At one of the hotels we built together, we got to sit together during the grand opening.  At our table we had the two of us, the owner of the project (also female), and the principal architect and his wife (who also worked in the industry). As we stood to be recognized, it was an honor to stand among a table of women that completed that hotel together. The project by no means was easy, but standing among them made me realize how important it was for us all to build each other up, challenge each other, but also to stand tall.

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