“Construction is a man’s world”, they say, don’t they? Well, I for sure would beg to differ. My name’s Paloma Fernandez and I’m proud to be one of Webber’s first female Project Managers. The job isn’t always easy, but I’ve never been one to stray away from a challenge. In fact, I think it might be in my nature to seek out a good challenge. Growing up, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to live in four different countries- the US, Spain, Chile, and Canada, and through these experiences, I’ve learned that challenges are something to be welcomed rather than feared.
This could have been the reason why I chose engineering in the first place. Not only was I influenced by my father who worked in the industry, but the school of engineering was the hardest school to get into. I saw it as a test for myself to see if I could get in and, low and behold, I did! I was able to see my hard work and determination pay off in a big way. My quest only continued from there, and when I was in my last year of university, I earned a scholarship to study for a year in Chicago, USA. One thing led to the next, and I landed a job with Webber after completing my degree. Initially, the position was only going to be a year-long but as life, or in this case love, would have it, I will be celebrating my 8th year with Webber this September.
Not Your Average Day at the Office
When I first joined Webber, the company was going through a lot of changes. I started as a Project Engineer working in Dallas, Texas on a small team of 3, including me. I was assigned to a project that had me working among cattle ranches out of Dallas- an experience I’ll never forget. One day the cattle got loose on one of the ranches and we had to call the local traffic control to help us wrangle the cows back to their ranch. As someone who grew up in mostly urban areas, this was quite the eye-opening experience! Thankfully, no cows were harmed and all were returned home safely. After this project, I was quickly promoted to Project Manager. It’s not as common in the construction field to be promoted this quickly, but I believe I was on the right project at the right time. Webber was experiencing rapid growth at that time and I was very fortunate to have a Project Manager/mentor, who believed that I had what it took to succeed.
Breaking the Mold
This promotion was an incredible opportunity for me, but didn’t come without its challenges. The status quo in the construction field has always been that it’s a man’s world and promotions were only given to those that put in the time. So as a woman who was promoted quite early in her career, I didn’t fit the status quo. This was particularly evident when I would go to meetings and people would be expecting a Mr. Fernandez and assume I was his secretary. As a result, I felt I was breaking the mold and had to prove that not only a woman could do this work, but a young woman at that.
I think when facing such an obstacle, it can seem daunting and impossible at times. Changing others’ opinions and expectations of what is the ‘norm’ is never an easy task. On the other hand, however, it comes with great responsibility and can be quite an advantage at times, believe it or not! For instance, people would often expect me to know less than my male colleagues, which might seem frustrating at first, but I used this as motivation to work even harder and prove to them that I was just as good as anyone else on the job. Little by little, I was breaking stereotypes that had existed in the construction sector for hundreds of years, and that’s pretty cool!
A New Challenge: The IH35 Waco Project
Since 2018, my team and I have been working on the IH35 Waco Project, which is a $370M project, one of Webber’s biggest projects to date. To be honest, I was surprised to have been chosen for the project since my prior experience had only included projects one-fifth the size, but as you might have guessed it, I was ready to take on a new challenge! The beginning of the project was a learning experience for me because it required me to adapt very quickly in order to coordinate the logistics of such a large-scale project. Although the work was tough, it was incredibly rewarding to see the systems you put in place start working. This is an aspect of the job that I just love. In construction, you literally see your hard work pay off as the project develops and eventually comes to an end. You can look back and say, “Wow! Look at what my team and I accomplished together.” That’s what makes the hard days worth it.
The Future is Bright
Looking ahead, the construction field has a lot to look forward to. I think we’re at a point in time where the sector is going to change in two significant ways. One of the biggest changes we will see in the sector is the number of women in the field. In just the last 8 years here at Webber, the number of women has increased significantly and it will only continue to rise. Young girls are seeing more and more women in engineering and construction, and this representation matters when it comes to women pursuing degrees in science and technology careers. Personally, I’m looking forward to the time that we are no longer the minority.
The other way I see construction changing is in regards to technology. Up to now, I believe the construction sector hasn’t utilized technology to its greatest capacity. There is a lot of room for improvement and innovation when it comes to incorporating technology in the field. Additionally, given the current labor crisis, we are becoming increasingly dependent on technology to do get the work done with fewer people. As such, we will continue to see technology develop and become an even more integral part of our day-today work.