How to Succeed in the Construction Industry: A Perspective From a Female General Contractor

Sloane Brown, Swinerton’s operations manager for the Northeast market: 'I put 100% effort into everything I do and set high expectations for myself to always do excellent work.'
By Sloane Brown
July 27, 2023




1. Do you feel that there is a glass ceiling in the construction field?

No, in fact I see construction as a field with limitless opportunities for growth not only for women but really everyone. There are so many different subsections within the field and adjacent or overlapping industries where an individual’s unique skills can be applied that there seems to be a path for just about anyone with a true passion for what they do.

2. What is your experience/background in the construction industry?

I have a master of architecture degree from Parsons School of Design in New York City. After I graduated, I joined an interior architecture firm specializing in corporate interior renovations, and then once I decided I wanted to move back to my home state of California, I started looking at options in the construction industry based on my affinity for construction administration and time in the field coordinating with the GC and subcontractors. At that point, I joined Swinerton Builders in San Francisco, where I worked for almost six years before moving back to the East Coast to join Swinerton’s New York City office.

3. What positions have you held as you’ve moved up the ladder?

In my first job out of grad school with an interior architecture firm, BR Design, I was an entry-level architectural designer with a lot to learn. After a few years of gaining experience with drafting construction documents, putting together design concepts, specifying FF&E and assisting the project managers with construction administration, I became a project manager overseeing the construction administration process—initially for projects that I had also designed and drafted and then eventually for all of the projects in the firm as director of project management.

Once I decided to move into construction and join Swinerton, I took what some might see as a step down the ladder, starting as an assistant project manager. However, I was confident that this was a field that was better suited for my skills and passions but at the same time adjacent to the architecture and design fields, for which I still have a great passion and appreciation. Over the course of about five years, I progressed from an APM to a senior project manager in San Francisco before being promoted to operations manager (skipping the project executive rung) in Swinerton’s New York City office, which was opened in June of 2021.

4. How did you make yourself stand out and get noticed for a promotion?

I put 100% effort into everything I do and set high expectations for myself to always do excellent work. Whether or not I’ve been at an employee-owned company like Swinerton, I believe that I’ve always had an owner’s mentality and don’t just see my work as my 9-5 "job" but as a part of who I am. I am thoughtful, reliable, detailed and organized as well as calm under pressure. I want the best for everyone I work with and always try to support and inspire. I’m also extremely persevering and get the job done even when the going gets tough. I believe this grit and determination has set me apart over the years and has hopefully inspired others to be excellent in their careers as well.

5. Did you have an advancement strategy in mind when you started out?

When I first started out, I think I was still just trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do and if architecture was really the right field for me. I was more concerned with finding the right path than advancing quickly and then continued to follow the twists and turns of the path with the general strategy of finding my passion while increasing my experience, knowledge and earning potential. Once I joined Swinerton, paths and actionable items for growth were pretty clearly laid out, so I just continued to do my best work knowing that would translate to advancement in the company.

6. Do you think that process was different for you than for your male colleagues?

No, I don’t; however, my path was a bit unique for its time. I think even six or seven years ago it was less common to see people shifting from the architecture and design industry to construction, but now it seems very common, for both men and women. Maybe I just see that more now because I’m in it!

7. Why did you decide to work in this field?

I found that while I really enjoyed and appreciated the design side of architecture, it was just too much on the creative side of things for me. Once I shifted primarily into construction administration, I found that my passion for detail, organization and structure was put to better use. I also really enjoyed coordinating with the general contractors and subcontractors onsite to get the projects that my team was designing back in the office built in the real world. So, becoming a general contractor was the perfect path forward for me. I still get to work with architects and engineers and be part of the design process but from a more structured and functional perspective.

8. What is your best advice for women who are considering entering the construction industry?

My best advice is to be yourself—don’t try to act like a man or how you think a contractor should act and be willing to admit what you don’t know. It’s amazing to see how willing others are to help you, which builds stronger partnerships along the way. Follow your gut but also be open to multiple perspectives and opinions and don’t speak or act too quickly. There are always two (or more) sides to every story and different ways to look at things—listen, analyze and then act. Don’t let emotion get the best of you. (Both women and men can let their emotions get the best of them!)

9. What challenges/obstacles have you faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry?

I’ve faced the challenge, although not often, of not being taken seriously by subcontractors in the field based on my age and gender. This can be frustrating at first, but I just take the approach of showing them through my knowledge, experience, actions and rapport that we develop that they should not only take me seriously, but they should want to partner with me.

10. Have there been (possibly surprising) advantages?

While I believe that every achievement in my career has been merit-based (and not the result of trying to fill a gender quota), I also think that the rarity of being a woman in a male dominated field makes me stand out more and perhaps gives me an extra opportunity to shine. While I’m excited to see more and more women join the industry, I still do love seeing people’s reactions when I tell them that I’m a general contractor! They are often surprised and want to learn more.

by Sloane Brown
Sloane Brown is the operations manager for Swinerton's Northeast market.

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