Today we’re having a conversation with Whitney Peterson, a woman who has excelled as a Perlo project manager on any size project and with a wide variety of clients and market sectors. While her path to her current role wasn’t planned, predictable or straight, she has made a great impact to our teams and our company as a whole and is well respected and valued here at Perlo.
Read on to learn more about her path to construction.
Tell us how you got started in construction?
Construction has always intrigued me, and my Dad owns an excavation company in Maui, Hawaii, where I’m from. I’ve always been a more creative person. I graduated from Whitworth University with a degree in Journalism and Communications with the aspirations of becoming a broadcast journalist or a social media manager. I was immersed in the construction industry at a young age and spent a lot of time hanging out with my dad “checking jobs” as he called it. Being a construction project manager was certainly not the career path I thought I would take, but I really enjoy it!
After graduating college, I moved to Oregon to coach volleyball for Clackamas High School and took that time to look for a full-time job. While on a flight to Maui to visit my family, I met a woman who connected me with a local temp agency. The temp agency connected me with Perlo, where I had two interviews and was hired on as the Subcontractor Coordinator.
What roles have you had with Perlo?
I was the Subcontractor Coordinator for about a year, before I was promoted to the Special Projects Group (SPG) as a Project Manager. I remember Gayland (Looney, Perlo Co-owner) telling me, ‘you have a lot of potential and are being underutilized in this role. You’re personable, you work hard, and you’re organized. You also have good communication skills, and that’s what you need to excel as a PM. You have what it takes, and I think you’d excel at that position and should give it a shot’. So that’s what I did, and I haven’t looked back since!
SPG was really fun, and just a great learning experience. When I started, it was just me, Senior Manager Elissa Looney, Project Manager Kathleen Buono and our Assistant Project Manager, Andrea Babb. Elissa and I shared an office for a little while because we didn’t have enough space in our old office. Sharing an office with Elissa was such a great learning experience for me, it allowed me to listen to conversations she had with Subcontractors and Owners.
My first project in my new role was adding shelves in a client’s break room to now running large scale industrial projects. My trajectory here at Perlo has been really fast paced from maintenance jobs, to larger tenant improvements, to concrete tilt-ups.
What do you learn in SPG?
SPG is all about working in a fast-paced environment. You have to know how to problem solve and do so quickly. I truly think that being in SPG made the transition to running larger projects fairly smooth. When I moved to larger projects, I felt like I had more time to get things done. There are challenges to each project type, but the organizational skills I learned through SPG while managing multiple projects with short timelines taught me to be disciplined and focused.
I also learned to be a really good communicator. The projects are smaller but they’re often in occupied spaces, so you really have to set expectations about what work is happening and when. We’re juggling construction with people in office settings, so you have to think about things like paint odor, the sound of drywall nailing, etc. When you’re running new construction it’s more about Owner communication, and utility and jurisdiction coordination.
There’s also more of a customer service feel in SPG because the projects are quick and you’re usually working with the end-users. I also really loved the connection we had with our superintendents. We have a dedicated group of superintendents that specialize in the smaller projects, so we work with the same teams repeatedly. I love working with all superintendents, and SPG had a great family feel.
Have you had any challenges as a woman in construction?
In the Perlo office setting, no. When I’m visiting my jobsites, subcontractors and field employees often don’t recognize me as the Project Manager. They don’t know that I’m the one actually managing the project from the PM side. There’s a stereotype of what a PM looks like and I’m definitely not that. That said, I don’t feel like there’s blatant discrimination, just bias. I feel very valued here at Perlo. People come to me for opinions about things and I’ve been involved in different groups, like the training and leadership group. I’ve also helped with some operational projects, like rolling out the Project Manager training module for tenant improvements
What’s it like to be a new mom in construction?
I’m still figuring that out! I’ve been back from maternity leave for about a month, now, with my first child. I was certainly nervous about it, as there aren’t many female PM’s that are also moms, and of the few that are, their kids are older. I’m figuring out how to organize my time, dealing with daycare drop offs and pickups and teething fevers, and all that. It’s different. I think there’s positives and negatives about it.
Being a PM sometimes lends itself to more flexibility, though. We aren’t micro-managed, so as long as you’re working hard and putting in the time, you’ll do well. I was always a person who came in early, left late and worked through lunch and I can’t do that anymore. So, I’m trying to figure out how to be more efficient at what I’m doing. That’s what I’m focused on. I don’t think I have any magic answers for others right now, I’m definitely still learning how to juggle both.
I will say that I want to be a trailblazer in this area. I want moms to know we can do this job and have a family. We’re strong, motivated people. An important reason why I want to continue working is that I want to show my daughter that if you want to be or do something – you can. It takes hard work and discipline, but if you work hard, you can overcome anything. I want to show her that I can do this job and be a parent.
What do you like the most about construction?
I like the problem-solving aspect of it. I also like the organization and scheduling aspects; I like that planning is required. I like taking a big project, creating a schedule and problem solving the issues that you face during construction. I also like the communication between owners and subcontractors; we’re creating relationships.
Working with repeat clients is super fun. I’ve worked with a company out of California for several projects. Seeing something built from start to finish…you can be proud when you see a building coming to life and know that you helped make that happen. It makes all the challenges in between worth it.
What do you think is the biggest challenge about your role?
Every day is a new challenge, but that’s what I like about it. I’m a competitive person and that’s why this job suits me really well. I like to compete with myself and try to overcome obstacles. I did have to adjust my “perfectionist” mindset to know that you’re going to have problems, whether big or small, its how you manage those problems that matters.
I will say that it can be stressful at times and managing stress is one of the biggest challenges. But the longer you’re in the position, the better you become at managing that stress. You start to understand what problems are worth stressing about and which aren’t. Most problems can be overcome easily, but some are more challenging. And they’re all opportunities to learn and be better.
What had been your most challenging project to date?
The Cipole Road Industrial Park. It was my first concrete tilt up and it included three buildings. There was a lot of wet weather construction concerns, as well as public street improvements with multiple jurisdictions involved. That took a lot of organization and coordination between groups.
Although this project was a challenge, the project was an overall success with a happy client who is looking to do more work in the future.
What advice would you have for someone who is interested in construction?
You have to be a great communicator; you have to know that you’re going to work really hard. This job is time consuming, and you truly do need to be disciplined and organized. But it’s also a really rewarding job. As hard as it is, it’s rewarding. When you solve problems or see the final product, that’s a great feeling.
Is there anything else you want to share?
Related to women in construction I want to say: construction is not just an industry for men. Women excel at this job and are just as capable as men at this job. I encourage you to investigate it as a career choice. It’s such a great industry to be in and Women have so many qualities that will allow them to succeed in this industry, so make sure to consider it.
Many thanks to Whitney for being open to sharing her story with us. If you’d like to find out more about our open positions, visit our Careers page or contact us here. Not ready for a permanent position? We’re open to information interviews! Get in touch to find out more.