Women in Construction: A Talk with Kimberly Wood

07/14/2020

The world has realized the importance of having more women leaders, and the construction industry is no exception. We had the chance to meet with Kimberly Wood, Director of Corporate Risk Management at Perlo, a woman who has definitely made her mark in this industry. She shared her story about the challenges and victories along the way.

Kimberly Wood, Director of Corporate Risk Management at Perlo Construction

Can you tell us about your work history?

I’ve worked since I was 12, doing jobs like picking strawberries in the fields. I’ve never stopped working since. After getting married at an early age, we moved to Alaska where I worked in a variety of offices including a law firm and a property management company. At the property management company, I was their secretary and was responsible for balancing over 100 accounts.

My son and I then moved back to Oregon when I was about 25. I got a job with the state working for the Oregon Department of Justice. While I was there, I realized I’d rather be an attorney than a secretary. That’s when I decided to enroll in Willamette University’s undergraduate program so that I could start on the path to law school.

What was that like going back to school?

It was challenging, because I was doing all of this as a single parent. But I loved the challenge. It was great because both my son and I started school at the same time – he started kindergarten and I started college. A lot of times I’d take him to classes with me. My son would take notes just like me and then he’d proudly go up to the professor to hand in his notes. Everyone adored him. It was nice because the classes at Willamette were small and personal. But I still had to be a parent, so I didn’t study until after he went to bed at 9pm.

 

How did you wind up at Perlo?

I met Gayland Looney, one of the owners of Perlo, while working for Marion. Gayland joked with my boss at Marion “I’m going to steal her from you” while we were all riding the elevator together. After the recession hit in 2008, Gayland ended up hiring me. So, I guess he was serious!

Tell us about your position at Perlo?

As the Director of Corporate Risk Management, my role is to see what risk we as a company face for different projects and how we manage this risk. I look at ways to either reduce our risk, transfer our risk, or even eliminate our risk. I study levels of risk in different areas such as insurance and contracts. I study the language to determine who actually manages the risk – whether it’s us, the owners, the subcontractors, or some combination.

What’s it like being a woman in the construction industry?

I never really paid attention to the fact that I’m a woman in an industry that still tends to have more men. I’ve just focused on doing the best job I can – which is how I’ve approached work all of my life. But in the last few years, I’ve paid a bit more attention to it. For example, I’ve noticed there aren’t a lot of women in the Associated General Contractors-Oregon Chapter (AGC). I don’t like that. In my mind, women have just as much to contribute as men. Although I have seen more women get involved, there still aren’t many women in leadership positions at AGC. It would be good to see our trade associations put more women on their boards. Women offer an important perspective and should be at the table with men.

What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in construction?

I think construction is a fantastic industry and I feel so lucky to be a part of it. Because of the increased awareness of the need to have more women in the industry, now is a great time for women. A lot of construction companies are actively looking to recruit women so there are some great opportunities out there. At Perlo we have women in several positions – as carpenters, field safety operators, project managers, and more. Project management is a great avenue for women to “rise up in the ranks” and start to take on leadership roles. The construction industry definitely rewards hard work.

What or who inspired you as you grew in your career?

My mom was always a hard worker and she definitely pushed me to excel. Sometimes I rebelled against that by not getting straight A’s even though I could have. But her presence helped me cultivate an internal desire to keep doing better. No question that my mom was the person who pushed me to become the individual I am.

She inspired me to have an inquisitive mind. I love learning things – and then mastering them. The more difficult the challenge, the better. That’s why I enjoy poker so much. I’m a problem solver – and I love to win.

What changes do you think the construction industry needs to make to bring more women into the ranks?

That’s a great question. I think one thing that would help is making sure women get paid the same as men. Right now that’s not the case – and that has to change. In fact, the construction industry loses a lot of great women candidates, because these candidates often pursue careers in other industries that have more pay equity. Also, the construction industry needs to put more women in leadership roles, which of course goes hand-in-hand with better pay. It’s important that young women can look to women leaders in the industry and see that they could be a Senior VP, a CEO, or even own their own business. That would be really inspiring to young women.

What do you think the industry looks like for women in the future?

I do think we’ll see a more equal distribution of women and men, especially for project managers. I also think we’ll see more women in upper management. At Perlo I’ve seen lots of positive changes, but I think we’re at the leading edge of this movement. I’m still hearing complaints from my peers outside of Perlo that the construction industry is still an old boy’s network. I think the industry still needs to catch up in terms of recognizing women through leadership positions.

Any other thoughts to share?

I feel so lucky to be at a place like Perlo that does reward hard work, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman. I hope I can be a model for other young women. I’m focusing more on helping to mentor young women to grow and reach for the stars. Their growth helps me grow, particularly on a personal level. I’m excited to see what the future will hold for women in this industry.