My experience has been both rewarding and challenging. I have worked on projects in Boston, New York City, New Jersey and will soon be able to add Silicon Valley to the list. It is rewarding to be able to see my projects when I visit Boston, New York City and New Jersey.
I have faced many challenges in my career. As a woman, I am challenged and questioned at every turn. I have to earn respect. Every. Single. Day. Yet, there is no project I oversaw that didn’t end with me earning my colleagues’ respect.
Years ago, I was reviewing my subcontractors’ labor rates and had asked several of these subcontractors to revise their rates according to the established contractual requirements. One subcontractor, Mr. X, felt I had unreasonably reduced his rate, and wasted no time going for the obligatory threatening to sue jargon. When this tactic didn’t work, he gave me the old “do you know who I am missy?” speech. As if his political clout would faze me. It did not. I knew what the contract stated, and when the facts are on your side, you don’t argue semantics.
Mr. X subsequently revised his rates. No lawsuit was ever filed.
So here I was, 26 years old and managing a $176 million construction project. This was one of many daily interactions with subcontractors, clients, colleagues and employees. My authority was challenged daily. My knowledge was questioned daily. I had to prove myself every single day.
My first supervisor’s teachings resonated with me. He taught me to take the time to study the entire job, and know it better than anyone else. He told me, “Jaz, your preparation must be impeccable. You have no room for error.” As such, the first thing I did whenever I was brought on board a project was to review all the contract documents: plans, specifications, the contract and all subcontracts. In the case of the $176 million project, I spent nearly 2 weeks working late nights to absorb all the information.
I never did lose an argument or negotiation.
Preparation and mental toughness were instilled to me by my mentors. In business, I made it the central nervous system from which everything flows from.
My business partner and I call this: N.B.C.
Never Be Cold
Mr. X is an inevitability for anyone, but especially women. NBC was the key ingredient to confronting the bullies I encountered, and it guided me when others made me want to second guess my decision-making.
You will be second-guessed, when you speak up many will roll their eyes and others will look right past you as if you and the wall behind you were one and the same. Being a leader and a trailblazer means you work past that, and outwork everyone else.
Strive to be great. Listen. Speak-up. Be confident, outwork and outperform your peers and NEVER BE COLD.
What are your thoughts around “imposter syndrome”, and what are some barriers that you face when trying to build credibility in a male dominated field?
On Saturday, March 10, 2018, I gave an 8-minute lightning talk on how my professional efforts helped other women and myself overcome challenges.
The venue: MIT lecture hall.
The audience: MIT alumna (CEOs, doctors, professors and producers).
I frequently speak in front of audiences. I have done interviews on Fox, ABC and Univision. In fact, when you hand me a microphone, I ham it up. The week leading up to the 2018 MIT Women’s unConference was different. I was overcome with nerves. As I was preparing to share how, “Preparation and mental toughness were instilled to me by my mentors...”, my mental toughness was not there.
I focused my talk on the concept N.B.C.: Never Be Cold. The central thesis being, how preparation is critical to success on all levels. I was preparing to tell the audience to, “Be strong, speak up and be the smartest person in the room when it comes to your area of expertise.”
As I practiced my talk over and over, the nerves became greater. Why?
These were the smartest women on the planet.
At dinner the night before my talk, I was catching up with an old, brilliant friend. She reminded me, “And you’re one of them, Jaz.” I am an MIT alum. I have the resume, but I was still rattled. It wasn’t until I was standing at the podium that I felt my confidence come back. I believed in the purpose of my words, the advice, the experiences and what I had accomplished. It was in reciting those words that I realized that I was akin to the women that were now before me, intently listening to my every word.
The trending phrase for what I felt is called, imposter syndrome. Both men and women feel it, but it is more prevalent in women and people of color. How do you overcome Imposter Syndrome? Remind yourself, “YOU belong here.”
I sometimes meet students who are thinking about a career in Civil engineering, and I sometimes meet young Latinx who have doubts about whether it is the right career for them. What would you tell a young latinx who is having doubts about starting their career in civil engineering?
I tell every student I meet to explore the careers they are interested in via internships, externship or shadowing experiences. Take advantage of the summers in high school and college to explore careers. In high school, find a local civil engineering firm and ask if you can meet with a civil engineer to learn about their career. Ask lots of questions. In college, you should do an internship every summer in the field(s) you are interested.
Exploring careers is the only way you will learn whether or not a career is the right choice for you.
What advice do you have for young professionals who have no idea what area of civil engineering they want to subject area to concentrate on?
See previous response. Explore the different fields of civil engineering via work experiences.