Lisa Gabourie said she always wanted to work in construction, but when she started looking into it as a career, there weren’t many women role models – and that wasn’t so long ago.
“Women have historically been a smaller population within the construction industry,” said Gabourie, who earned a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering from San Diego State University in 2011.
“Women have been kind of an untapped resource for talent,” Gabourie said.
As women marked their place in the industry in March by celebrating Women in Construction Week, Gabourie – a project manager for McCarthy Building Companies in San Diego – is among those working to open the field to more women both as a role model as regional chair of the company’s Partnership for Women.
“I had zero ties to the construction industry. My mom was a teacher and my dad was an accountant,” Gabourie said. “I had no idea working for a general contractor like this was an option.”
She found her way at SDSU, initially planning to study civil engineering or structural engineering until SDSU offered a degree in construction engineering.
“It was a very small program back then,” Gabourie said, adding that there were 20 students in her major’s graduating class.
Among the projects Gabourie has worked on were construction of the Acute Care Pavilion at Rady’s Children’s Hospital and a new parking garage at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.
“I’ve had some awesome opportunities to work on a lot of massive health care facilities in California,” Gabourie said. “I’ve worked on some very, very large, very intricate, very detailed projects. Every day is different in the construction industry. You have no idea what you’re going to walk into from day to day. It definitely has a lot of career opportunities.”
McCarthy got her start working as an intern for McCarthy Building Companies while still a student at SDSU.
Gabourie said she found her role model in a senior project engineer with whom she was paired at McCarthy, Kristen Johnson, who has since moved to Colorado
“I was lucky enough to come in as one of the very few females to be paired with a very successful, strong female in the construction industry,” Gabourie said. “That’s what really shaped my career.”
Gabourie hopes to be a similar role model to women just starting out in construction.
“When there are newer women who come to our job site, I make sure they’re comfortable,” Gabourie said. “I want them to really think about where they want their career to go and what their goals are.”
Making women feel comfortable on the job gets to another of McCarthy’s initiatives to encourage women in construction – getting them clothing that fits properly like the safety vests worn on construction sites.
“My very first vest was the smallest one, men’s medium. I was just swimming in this giant vest,” Gabourie said.
While that may sound trivial, Gabourie said it can be hard to be taken seriously as a manager if you look like a child playing dress-up.
“We worked with our vest supplier. Now we have a vest that is specifically tailored for women,” Gabourie said. “There’s definitely been more awareness. The fact that there are women in construction, that wasn’t a thing when I started.”
Gabourie said the construction is attracting more women than when she started.
“We had more female interns this last summer than we’ve ever had. There were nine in Southern California alone,” Gabourie said. “The construction industry is a phenomenal career to be part of. If you have a passion for building and aspirations for that kind of thing, it is a wonderful industry.”