On this 21st episode of the Construction Industry Podcast, I spoke with Coty Fournier, on the topic of the challenges and opportunities that women face in the construction industry.
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Coty shared with me how she got started in the sector and her amazingly successful journey through our male-dominated construction industry.
If you are a woman, I guarantee you will be inspired by this interview.
As a man, my conversation with her made me more aware of the challenges that women face in construction and more appreciative of the unique value that they can bring.
Coty Fournier Bio
Coty began her distinctive construction management career as a field engineer with Turner Construction Company in 1991, where she excelled in several project superintendence, cost projection, scheduling and preconstruction management roles, and joined their national training team at famed Turner Camp by age 27. She was then tapped to serve as national manager of construction administration for Blockbuster Entertainment, during the height of their growth and acquisition by Viacom, leading construction contract approval and audited cost control for 350+ new store openings per year across North America.
Coty was later recruited by Miller Construction Company – a prestigious, privately held design-build and general contracting firm located in South Florida – to establish penetration into new markets and lead revenue generation as senior vice president of business development, where she ultimately purchased a minority stock position at the firm while serving on their board of directors. She also went on to co-found a consulting firm that provided program management and owner’s representation services for hospital expansion and renovation projects, and similar services for related healthcare providers across Florida; their clients included the prestigious Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Jupiter Medical Center, Broward Health and Hyatt’s ACLF division. She is currently the co-founder and chairman of Jobsite123.com and one of the U.S. commercial construction industry’s most prominent visionaries, providing frequent addresses for chapters of the ABC, AGC, NAWIC, ASPE and other national industry organizations, and guest lectures to 100’s of aspiring construction professionals at the top U.S. construction management schools every year.
Coty’s distinctive career has garnered her numerous industry awards and recognition, such as The Business Journal’s Business Woman of the Year, Fast Track Magazine’s Top 40 under 40, and The Movers & Shakers Award. Fournier is a NAWIC scholarship recipient and a summa cum laude graduate of Michigan State University with a B.S. in Building Construction Management.
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Entire episode transcription
Cesar Abeid: Good morning, Coty. How are you?
Coty Fournier: Good morning, Cesar. I’m doing very well. And yourself?
Cesar Abeid: Oh, I’m doing great. I’m sorry about my voice. I’m a little under the weather. So I sound like I have a radio voice when I really don’t.
Coty Fournier: Yes, it’s very distinguished.
Cesar Abeid: So I called you down in Florida hoping that you would have this southern accent and it turns out you’re Canadian.
Coty Fournier: It turns out I am Canadian. That is correct.
Cesar Abeid: What’s up with that?
Coty Fournier: But, you know, there’s a lot of Canadians living in South Florida so I’m in good company.
Cesar Abeid: I know and there’s a lot of – you see here in the summary. You see a lot of Florida plates and I’m sure there are a lot of Ontario plates down there in the winter.
Coty Fournier: Right.
Cesar Abeid: It’s the great thing about North America, right? You don’t have to go very far.
Coty Fournier: That’s right. That’s right. Well thank you very much for having me on the podcast this morning.
Cesar Abeid: No problem. Thank you for participating. So when I decided to do an episode on women in construction and I came across you and your profile and what you’ve been doing in the last 20 years or so, I thought you were the perfect person to have on the show.
So let’s start talking about your career a little bit. So you begin your career at Turner Construction which is one of the world’s largest general contractors and you’re probably one of the few women working there as a field engineer. Can you tell us a little bit more on how you got started there and what was it like for you and how did your career progress within the company?
Coty Fournier: Sure. I began my career with Turner Construction back in 1991 as a field engineer and I think you’re right. I probably was one of a very few women that were working as field engineers for Turner at that time. There may indeed be more 20 years later but at that time, I don’t remember any other. They were in my close proximity so clearly, I was blazing some new trails there. But I got my job at Turner after graduating from Michigan State with a degree in building and construction management which of course is a pretty common way of entering the commercial construction arena. I began as a field engineer hired out of the Detroit, Michigan office and I was quickly transferred and placed into the Miami office which is how I came to live in South Florida.
And I served as a field engineer for about the first year of my career there which again is a very common way of entering into the entry level ranking position into Turner Construction, which as you said, was I believe probably the largest general contractor in the world at the time and I’m sure they’re now probably still in the top five or so of the largest CCs in the world.
My first division there was field engineer assigned to about a $40 million mid-rise luxury condominium project at an island called Fisher Island off the coast of Miami, Florida and so that’s really where I started my career as a complete rookie with clean boots and a clean hard hat and out there on the job site with all of the skepticism and ritual that comes with that. And as you can imagine, being a 22-year-old, very inexperienced, very green woman doing that, it was right for [Indiscernible], that’s for sure.
Cesar Abeid: Those are just the ones you heard.
Coty Fournier: And those are the ones that I would either hear or see or – yes, observed, written about me on the walls on the job site for sure. But I did that for about a year and just to give the listeners a feel for what my career path was like for that first five years or so at Turner. Again, I started as a field engineer which was very common and then I progressed from being a field engineer to what was called a cost engineer inside the Turner Corporation.
Being a cost engineer is simply a term that was used for people that they felt had some management potential or executive level management potential. They would often put younger recruits such as myself into these positions that they called cost engineer and that allowed us to be assigned to a variety of projects and our job was to create these quarterly cost reports; and these cost reports were essentially a tracking of the actual costs from the job and the projection of the fee or the profit that Turner would be making on each of those projects. And then therefore communicating that expected fee or expected profit up to Turner’s headquarters in New York.
So as you can imagine, that was a tremendous amount of responsibility to be having at a very young age with very, very little experience but it was great for me because in that particular position, you would get exposed to all these different project teams and all the different mid-level managers and senior level managers at the office that I worked for which again was the Miami office. So I’m very appreciative of that 18 months or so, that I spent at Turner in that position as a cost engineer. I often refer to that as one of the key pivotal positions that really made an impact throughout my career.
So I did that for, like I said, about 18 months or so and then I went back into the field as an assistant superintendent which of course would have also been a common career track within Turner which places a tremendous emphasis on field experience. So I became an assistant superintendent on a – out of $12 million renovation of a high tech, P3 biomed lab for culture technologies in South Florida and that of course was an excellent experience like out in the field, particularly in that very unique, highly specialized niche of the biomedical lab facilities.
Cesar Abeid: Yes, [Indiscernible] which is …
Coty Fournier: Yes.
Cesar Abeid: Yes.
Coty Fournier: Yes, and it was a really unique project. I mean it was – culture technologies had these very high-end, of course very high-end research R and D in a graded facility where they were doing early experiments on HIV and all kinds of other various medical research projects. And it was just a really interesting, intricate great experience, heavy on [Indiscernible] which is good also and again heavy on biomedical lab work.
So it was a great experience for me and then after that, I went back into the office at Turner as an assistant estimator.
Cesar Abeid: OK.
Coty Fournier: So for the listeners today, one of the key points to pick up is this bouncing around that I did within the Turner ranks from the field to the office, to the field back to the office and that becomes an important point which I’m sure we will discuss more as the interview progresses today. But I went back into the office as an estimator and spent time in the estimating department doing typical estimating behaviors and activities which of course is an excellent part of career development for any commercial construction professional.
Cesar Abeid: Right.
Coty Fournier: And then I went back out in the field again as an assistant superintendent again on one of the projects that I had worked on as an estimator.
So my point being again is this bouncing back and forth between the field and the office and the field and the office and back to the field and therefore developing relationships with people who work in both sides of that coin, if you will.
Cesar Abeid: Now, can you speak a little bit about being a woman during your time there? Can you talk about maybe a little bit about some of the challenges and maybe opportunities that you had precisely for being a woman?
Coty Fournier: Yes, for sure. I get asked that question a lot on various different forms as I go around the country. I speak very frequently at numerous industry organizations and building construction management schools at some of the top universities and inevitably once I show up and they realize I’m a woman, some form of that question often arises.
Cesar Abeid: Yes.
Coty Fournier: And people will just ask me. It’s kind of like the elephant in the room and people will just ask me. Was it a big disadvantage for you being a woman out there? And to be honest with you, Cesar, I often have to chuckle a little under my breath as I’m answering because in many ways I find the question to be so obvious that it is just – it is a huge disadvantage to be a woman in that environment.
So sometimes again, I have to chuckle because I think [Indiscernible] isn’t it obvious that it would be a disadvantage. I think the disadvantages for women in that environment are tremendous and significant. It doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing but the disadvantages are severe and they are the ones that you would get. It’s very difficult certainly to be the only woman in those environments which I always was and it’s difficult to overcome sometimes the combined discrimination of being a woman, number one, and being young and inexperienced.
So just being young and inexperienced whether you’re a man or a woman is a huge disadvantage out in the field and out in those positions and then when you add being a woman on top of it, then it clearly becomes a strong disadvantage. So I certainly faced a lot of those types of situations where you just would have to give everyone around you a chance. You have to give them time and a chance to adjust literally to your presence being there.
Because at times, it can be so disruptive and people don’t sometimes know how to behave. They think they need to behave differently, et cetera, just because you’re around and so one of the things that I noticed is that I sometimes just had to have my own level of patience and understanding to give people a chance to adjust. But clearly, yes, there were lots of things that happened that were difficult, some more than others; but I never experienced anything to a degree where it made me jaded enough to leave or to stop pursuing the challenge.
Cesar Abeid: Right.
Coty Fournier: So obviously I stayed with it but some of the challenges were just disrespect in terms of – not necessarily sexual harassment or anything like that but just disrespect in terms of maybe devaluing your contribution or undervaluing your input or things like that that you would slowly over time have to earn your way towards a different reaction and a different level of acceptance from them.
Cesar Abeid: I’m not a woman obviously but I am an immigrant and I had to learn English here and I can relate a little bit to what you’re saying and I have the utmost respect for people like you who take responsibility for your results even if the environment around you is not the most positive. You still make the best of it and look at you now. You’re giving talks and writing books and it’s just I applaud you. It’s fantastic.
Coty Fournier: Oh, thank you. I think that if I could find the bright side, if I could look for the silver lining in that obvious storm cloud, if there was maybe one advantage to being a woman or being an advantage to being that really difficult combination of being a woman and young and inexperienced, I think that what I was able to do is I took those very obvious disadvantages that were kind of worn out on my sleeve, right? There’s nowhere to hide them. There’s nowhere to hide that you’re a woman. There’s nowhere to hide that you’re young. There’s nowhere to hide that you’re inexperienced.
Cesar Abeid: Right.
Coty Fournier: So they’re all there and it’s out on your sleeve for everyone to view but what I did is rather than trying to hide that or create a charade around it, a false charade around it, what I did is I embraced it and I utilized it as an opportunity to behave differently than everyone else.
So my behavior particularly on the job site and around subcontractor coordination was just to say, “Hey, I’m here. I’m new. I hardly know anything. Teach me.” And so it was much more. I think I was able to just utilize that, the end and the truth of it without any embarrassment or shame, staying in the truth of it and ask for help.
And because I asked for help and was open and was humble and rightfully so to be humble because I really was green and I really did not have very much experience, so it was the right posture to be humble and I utilized that humility to get help from people that were around me. And I think that’s how I earned respect fully overtime was by admitting when I didn’t know things, asking questions when I needed help and being humble enough to say, “I don’t know what I don’t know.”
Cesar Abeid: I agree 100 percent with what you’re saying and I can relate to this too, again not for being a woman but for not being from here. And I even joke with my – I take that to the extreme sometimes because I – let’s say I do something that’s kind of out of the ordinary or kind of odd. I just say I’m foreign so this is perfectly acceptable.
Coty Fournier: Blame it on that.
Cesar Abeid: Right.
Coty Fournier: Yes. Well, I probably had a few moments like that where I was like, “Hey, I’m a girl and new. What do you know?”
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: It helped me out but that kind of honesty, right? It goes a long way.
Cesar Abeid: Yes and keep it humorous. I’m a big fan of humor and it lightens the – clears the air, lightens the environment and it creates collaboration. I think makes collaboration easier when all are laughing about something.
Coty Fournier: That’s right and if you don’t take it all too seriously – because obviously as you can imagine, I mean construction job sites particularly – I’m not talking about like say a home building project but in the world that I come from, very large complex, commercial, industrial projects. And unless you [Indiscernible] it, that is like a collective psychology of a construction job site is like a very unique scientific experiment. I mean the things that go on there, honestly, it’s like another planet and you have to be able to fit in and understand how those rules work and how everybody behaves and much of it revolves around the two extremes of anger and humor.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: There’s either a lot of anger and frustration, anxiety, stress going on or there’s this fun humor element where everybody is trying to reduce their blood pressure and get through it. So you have to have some ability to participate in the humor and not take it personally which obviously much of the humor was directed towards me but I didn’t react defensively to it. I would just join in, let it happen and then through that, you can find some acceptance. Does that make sense?
Cesar Abeid: That makes perfect sense and I’m sure the audience is nodding their heads right now especially when you talk about the construction site culture being its own monster. That’s not exactly the words that you used but it’s true. You drive through the gates and you put on your hat and your boots and it’s something else.
Coty Fournier: Yeah. You’ve been like transported.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: To this entirely different society which is clearly male-dominated, clearly sink or swim dominated, clearly not for the young, clearly not for the faint-hearted, clearly not for women. So sometimes I look back at it, Cesar. I have to say the challenges that I face at this chapter of my career and the many exciting things that I’ve embarked upon, people often ask me, “Wow, Coty Fournier, how did you have the courage to try X thing or to do this or to do that?” And I always say, “Oh my goodness. Compared to surviving the field at Turner, it’s all easy. Everything is downhill compared to that.”
And I really mean that with sincerity because it just was such a difficult environment to get my feet underneath me that having survived it at all and learned anything at all is very confidence building.
Cesar Abeid: OK. Cool. Well, I could just talk to you about this for an hour. But let’s shift gears a little bit here. I think that’s a good point to move a little forward here and talk about your experience after Turner. Now here at our company here at Remontech, we provide basically construction camera services to projects and we deal heavily with the owner. I ran the numbers once and I think over 90 percent of our business historically has been from construction project owners.
Coty Fournier: OK.
Cesar Abeid: And after Turner, you moved to the owner side of the equation, right? So you were working for Blockbuster in the 90s. So what was that experience like for you? And I’m assuming you’re one of the few women there as well, right?
Coty Fournier: I was for sure, yes, because I joined Blockbuster Entertainment’s corporate design and construction team in the late 90s and just to put that in perspective because obviously the business model of Blockbuster has changed drastically since then. But at the time, Blockbuster was a huge retail giant and owned 5000 to 6000 stores across North America and internationally. So it was a huge, growing retail conglomerate and so I was fortunate enough to be there at the height of this boom.
So I was a part of the corporate design and construction team and yes, the only woman for sure and there was about a hundred members of our construction teams scattered across North America and Canada. So I had about a 100-person team again scattered around in these varieties of locations across the country and then through those teams of construction managers that were on the grounds in these various regions, we would be in charge of designing, constructing and opening stores. Honestly, as fast as we could get them open. I mean that literally was the charge. That was the responsibility that we had.
When I accepted that job, my boss sat me down and said, “Coty, I know you come from the general contracting side of things. I know you come from the big, bad world of Turner and you’re used to these big, $40, $50, $60 million jobs. But here, with your $300,000 [Indiscernible] fast and our job is to get the stores open. So Coty, keep that in mind. You are not in the store construction business. You are in the store opening business.”
Cesar Abeid: Interesting.
Coty Fournier: So that was a big transition. You’re correct to note that in my career. That was a big transition from the general contracting arena over to the owner side of the equation, right? The corporate real estate owner side of the equation where again, they are not necessarily in the business of constructing stores. They see that as just a step in the process to get the store open so they can generate revenue.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah, and it’s yet a different culture, another completely different culture because some of our clients were owners. They were not even engineers or technicians at all. Some of them are politicians or investors. They have no idea, right?
Coty Fournier: Entrepreneurs.
Cesar Abeid: Entrepreneurs.
Coty Fournier: They’re entrepreneurs.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: They have their businesses to run so in this particular case, I’m working for Blockbuster. They are in the business of video store rentals and music store rentals at the time. So that’s the business they’re in. So my job was to take the $60 million or $70 million budget that was given to me every year and open as many stores as I could as fast as I can open them.
Why? Because that’s how they make money. They make money when the store is open. They do not make money when the store is closed.
Cesar Abeid: Right.
Coty Fournier: So that was a huge transition so it was an excellent, excellent opportunity for me because again I have this foundation in the general contracting arena but my foundation was with the world’s largest general contractor, average project size probably an excess of $25 million and in excess of two years per project.
So, that’s one extreme on the construction scale and then I got this well-roundedness because now I’m switching over to the owner’s side of the equation. I’m switching over to very small projects, managed on three to four-week time schedules but listen to this pace, Cesar Abeid. We opened a store somewhere in North America every 14 hours.
So that is the pace of which all of this 100-person construction team which I was just one person and being a part of that team. But that’s the well-oiled machine that I was a part of and that’s the level of productivity. We open 300 to 400 stores a year.
Cesar Abeid: That’s insane. That’s just …
Coty Fournier: That’s a huge, huge pace. It’s a huge, huge pace. But do you see the interesting dichotomy, how opposite it was going from what I was doing to Turner to what I was doing in Blockbuster? And by the way, the reason I got the job at Blockbuster amongst all the people that they interviewed – and mind you, I was only 27 when they hired me to do that job. I’m a woman and 27 years old. But the reason they were attracted to me to do that job was because of the experience that I had being a cost engineer at Turner. Remember previously in the interview, I told you that was one of the most pivotal career moves …
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: … I ever made with being a cost engineer at Turner? So for anybody who’s listening, if you ever get an opportunity to work for Turner and be a cost engineer, do it. And they wanted that experience because what was happening is Blockbuster was being sold to Viacom so it was being absorbed by Wall Street essentially. It was going to become a blue chip stock and they probably traded and so they wanted somebody who could come in and not just help with construction administration but also be able to be answerable and accountable to the new owners of the company which were Viacom because they were going to start auditing cost control and everything that we did. And so they needed somebody who understood and spoke the language of auditing costs.
So it was key in my hiring with that and then I worked there for a few years. I would have probably stayed there much longer to be honest with you but part of Blockbuster being acquired by Viacom included a corporate relocation to Dallas, Texas and I could not move to Dallas. I needed to stay in South Florida. So that was my reason for transitioning out of Blockbuster. No other reason than that.
Cesar Abeid: Wow. Yeah, because I can see how if you’re not managing this right, opening a store every 14 hours, things could get out of hand real quick.
Coty Fournier: Yeah. I mean you don’t want to blow too much of your $60 million, $70 million budget.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: If they’re expecting you to open 350 stores, you kind of can do the math and figure out approximately on average how much you can spend on each one.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah, yeah.
Coty Fournier: So it became a real numbers management game. So again, it was a combination of construction knowledge, a field coordination knowledge, team management knowledge but also got a firm grasp on the money side of the equation.
Cesar Abeid: So from there, it seems like you took a leap of faith. Like, I was looking at your bio. It looks like you took a leap of faith from the operations side of the construction industry over to the business development and marketing arena. And do you want to talk a little bit about that transition, how difficult it was for you and some of your insights there?
Coty Fournier: Sure. As I was just saying, when I left Blockbuster due to their corporate relocation to Dallas, I ended up being recruited by Miller Construction Company which is a privately-owned, family-owned, pretty prestigious design/builder and general contractor in the South Florida area and they were interested in bringing me on board as vice president of business development for their company because they had an intention and a desire to grow sales and to expand their portfolio of expertise in certain niche markets.
And I was connected with them through an executive recruiter at the time and although I had absolutely no experience in what I just said – because we’ve been talking about my career and nowhere did we talk about business development. We only talked about operation and here’s this company that wants to hire me for basically what would be considered to be a strategic planning role and a business development role to help stabilize revenues in their company and grow revenues in their company and I had no experience doing that.
So your question is correct. It’s a very unique and challenging transition for me because to be honest with you, I took that position somewhat reluctantly. I took it on face that the owners of the company really believes in me and know that I had the right behavior, the right personality, the right behavioral skill sets to be able to make that transition.
So even though they knew I did not have any direct experience doing that, they rolled the dice on me because they thought I was the right person to be able to grasp it over time. For my self, it was a very difficult transition. It took me about a year, a year and a half just to get my feet underneath me in terms of figuring out how you behave and what the tasks are for that type of a role because they’re very different than the operational behavior. So it took me a little while and I appreciate you asking that question because I hope all of the – everyone who’s listening today take heed of that.
There are many people that have aspirations in the construction industry to migrate away from operations into some sort of business development or strategic planning role. And I just caution it because it is a very difficult transition and it’s one where it really takes some mentoring and conversations with people like my self who could maybe help you through that transition because it’s not an easy one. It’s not a natural one. You’re kind of going from living in your left brain to moving in and to living in your right brain.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah, yeah.
Coty Fournier: If you follow me.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah, I know. I follow you.
Coty Fournier: And so it was a big change.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah. We’re a very small business so I have to do all of this ourselves, both the operations, the projects and business development and they’re very different hats and you get your – if you keep that metaphor, your head gets in the shape of this one hat and then you try to put the other one on and it doesn’t quite fit and …
Coty Fournier: Right.
Cesar Abeid: How was being a woman in this new role there? Was it easier for you than working at Turner, for example?
Coty Fournier: I thought it was equally hard.
Cesar Abeid: Really? OK.
Coty Fournier: Yes, some people I think maybe misinterpret being a woman in a business development role. I think some people misinterpret that as being an advantage. I never saw it as being an advantage. If anything, I felt it to be the continued disadvantage because if there is any immediate stereotypical reaction to being a woman in a business development role, the stereotypical reaction will be, “Oh, that person is in that role because they have a marketing background. Not because they have a construction background.” Do you follow me?
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: And I didn’t have a marketing background. I clearly had a pure construction field operations background but my point is, the stereotypical reaction was the opposite. So what often takes me a while as I was developing relationships, I had to learn to be patient and understanding.
Oftentimes, I would have to overcome that initial stereotypical reaction and get past that and get to the point where they would then understand and trust that I’m actually having a construction level conversation with them about whether or not our firm would be the best general contractor or best design builder for your project. But I’m coming at it from a construction knowledge standpoint and not a marketing knowledge standpoint.
So for me, that I felt was a continued disadvantage being a woman but slowly, but surely, I just figured my way through it and get my feet underneath me and ended up doing very well. I was in that position for about seven years. I was promoted to senior vice president and was appointed to the board. I purchased a small minority stock position in the company and I really, really enjoyed that chapter of my life and ended up excelling in the business development strategic planning much to my own surprise because again, as I said, my confidence level was a little bit low when I went into that position but I supported myself.
Cesar Abeid: OK, which takes us to JobSite123.com kind of. Can you explain to the listeners what the site is and the features and benefits for the construction community?
Coty Fournier: Sure. JobSite123 is, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, instead of just being a search engine for companies related to the commercial construction industry, it’s like a search and qualify engine for the commercial construction industry. And what it does is we have millions of dollars of technology that have been built into the system that allow any kind of company related to the commercial construction industry, whatsoever. So contractors, material suppliers, any sort of professional service that works in and around the commercial construction industry. They can go into our system for free and build an extremely comprehensive qualifications profile for their company, not unlike a prequalification form and a contractor would fill out in order to try to get out a bid list of a GC or something like that.
So our profiles don’t just have name, address, telephone number and things like that, that you can find in any public record. Instead it is maintained with a username and password by the company and it has again all of these features within the profiles that’s completely free, that allow each of those companies to showcase on the web all of their standard qualification information, so everything from their project history to their volume capacity, to their insurance coverage, to testimonials from their previous clients.
They have referral network ability where one company can connect their profile to another company like LinkedIn or Facebook and therefore drive traffic to one another’s profiles and then everyone’s profiles has its own unique URL and it’s all individually indexed by Google.
So it’s a completely free process for companies to showcase and promote themselves inside JobSite123 and then conversely a completely free process for any user to go into JobSite123.com and search for companies or resources that they need.
Cesar Abeid: OK. And this is your company, correct?
Coty Fournier: Yes, I’m one of the cofounders of the company and I’m currently the CEO and currently serve on the board but there are many people involved in the venture, many people dedicating much time and energy and effort towards essentially gifting this technology to the entire US commercial construction industry and then most recently, we have also partnered with Merit Contractors Association in Canada where you’re calling me from and we have just recently launched JobSite123.ca.
Cesar Abeid: Oh, OK.
Coty Fournier: Which is in its infant stages of developing a similar database of Canadian markets.
Cesar Abeid: Cool. It’s almost like a LinkedIn specifically for construction companies.
Coty Fournier: Specifically for construction companies but the most important part would be to think of it as instead of a generic profile like you might find inside a LinkedIn, think of it as the profile being perfectly custom-tailored to the types of qualification information that buyers of construction services need.
Cesar Abeid: OK. And they can do searches based on those criteria?
Coty Fournier: Yes and they can do it for free on both sides of the buy-sell equation.
Cesar Abeid: I see. Well, I’m going to add a link to – it’s pretty easy to remember but I’ll have a link on the show notes for this episode so people can just click there and check it out for themselves.
Coty Fournier: Sure. Thanks. So make sure you include a link to dot com for US listeners and a link to dot ca for Canadian listeners.
Cesar Abeid: For sure, yes. Now you have achieved an unusual amount of success in the commercial construction industry and also several executive level positions at a very young age in an industry that is clearly male-dominated. We talked about this a little bit. But can you share perhaps two or three of the best career strategies that you have utilized over the years and maybe for other women who are listening to the podcast today, what can you tell them?
Coty Fournier: OK. I see. Yes. As I was saying earlier, I do go around the country and speak on this topic often. So I have a couple of them off the top of my head that I can share.
Cesar Abeid: OK.
Coty Fournier: So let’s see. Number one, I would say keep this in mind. The trailer is not the same thing as the field and what I mean by that is that there is no substitution for real field experience in our industry. So if you don’t have it, find a way to get it, that kind of thing because to be clear, like let me define what I mean by real field experience. What I means is – field experience means exactly that, field experience; but not trailer experience and that’s where I think most people and often women get confused because they think, “Oh, well, I’m an assistant project manager or I’m a PD or I’m a this or that and I’m stationed out on the trailer, out in the field.” Do you see the distinction I’m trying to make?
Cesar Abeid: Yes.
Coty Fournier: Having a position inside the trailer should not be confused with a position in the field. So in my opinion, that leaves out like project managers, project engineers, project coordinators, administrative assistants, anything like that, that might happen to have you stationed in the trailer onsite but not in the field.
So real field experience is essential and that happens outside the trailer in your hard hat, in your dirty boots, out there running around. So we’re talking about being a field engineer, an assistant superintendent, a project superintendent or some equivalent to those three things.
So I’m referring to positions where you will be directly responsible for construction activities, quality control, scheduling, safety, subcontractor coordination 24/7. That’s what you’re doing.
So I kind of apologize sometimes when I share that with people because I kind of feel like I’m sorry to deliver that tough news to some who maybe have a false confidence that the experience that they’re having in the “trailer” onsite is somehow a legitimate field experience but that really isn’t. They won’t give you the credibility that you need to overcome one of the most common objections raised against women in the industry which is lack of actual field experience and to be honest with you, that is a fair objection.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: Because most women don’t have it. So it’s an opportunity to be one of the few women such as myself who do have what it takes. So you can eliminate that objection by asking for those types of field assignments and sticking with them until you are reasonably good, reasonably competent at it and then you will have been able to remove or overcome that very common objection. And I always tell people particularly women but even men as well, that if you’re intimidated to do those types of roles which would be completely understandable, don’t worry because you’re not alone.
Serious and sometimes even scary things happen out there and the weight and the pressure and the responsibility is hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. But it is easier to “man up” and face the job out there when you realize that everyone is intimidated at some level while they’re out there. It’s just that most people don’t admit it.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: So if you just go ahead and do it anyway. I always tell women that ask me, it will put some serious hair on your chest. It really will and it will give you the confidence to know that you can do anything else after that. So ultimately in my opinion, field experience is like a test of construction knowledge but courage really. It’s also a testament of your courage so it’s just as much about proving to yourself that you can excel out in the field, out in the real field as it is about proving it to anyone else. And once you do that, no matter what happens in your career next, I think you will end up pretty darn fearless as you move on and you can take that with you wherever you go.
Cesar Abeid: Right. Confidence, right?
Coty Fournier: Yes. So that’s the first thing I would say. The second – because you asked me for two or three. The second one I would say would be to beware of what I call the project manager myth and here’s the project manager myth in a nutshell.
Unless it is your ultimate career goal to become a successful project manager – which for some people that is, for someone, that is. But unless that’s your ultimate career goal, I say beware of what I call the project manager myth which is the idea that project management experience is the key to advancement in our industry or the key to reaching executive senior level management because that is not true. I’ve seen very few great project managers climb the corporate ladder much higher than that.
So if you want to be a great project manager, then by all means be one but it might be tougher than you think to rise above being a project manager and breaking through the myth. So I think it’s helpful for people to understand particularly because they’re younger and coming into their careers that in order to be a great, great project manager, you are looking at an investment in your career probably somewhere between 10 to 20 years.
Cesar Abeid: Yes.
Coty Fournier: Depending on the size of the company that you work for. And at the end of those 10 to 20 years of investment in becoming a great project manager, here’s the rub. Here’s the root of the myth. What happens is you have become a project-focused person by nature, right? Because great project managers are project-focused people.
Cesar Abeid: Right.
Coty Fournier: They eat, breathe and sleep their jobs 24/7 and rightfully so. That’s how they should behave. So they’re kind of living in that left part of their brain, very hyper-focused and project-focused on their job and then here’s the trick about it, is to get higher than project management in the commercial construction industry meaning to reach VP of ops, to reach business development, to reach executive level management, to reach COO, CFO, CEO, any key roles like that, you have to stop being a project-focused person and you have to become a company-focused person. And that’s a very, very different set of skills because you’re now managing the world of people and ideas.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: And strategy versus managing projects and again it’s a very, very different skill set. So I think a lot of people unfortunately and women included buy in to this project manager myth which I go around the country talking a lot about and it’s not that I’m saying don’t become a project manager. What I’m saying is don’t make career choices that allow you to be pigeonholed into that position and don’t allow – don’t do it under the false impression that, “Oh wow, if I become a great project manager, then I’m qualified. I should get promoted above that and therefore I’m qualified. And why aren’t I getting promoted?” and so and so.
Well, that’s because being a great project manager essentially qualifies you to be a great project manager but it doesn’t qualify you for virtually anything higher than project management and I think that is a myth that is perpetuated throughout the industry. So I see this project manager myth as a huge opportunity for women in our industry because most men still believe in it and therefore they compete heavily with one another for assignments to the next big project.
So I think for some women who are paying attention to this, they have a chance to separate themselves from the crowd and pursue a variety of other different positions within the industry so that they get really good at a lot of things in the industry as opposed to being great at the one position where the supply always exceeds the demand. Do you follow me?
Cesar Abeid: Yup, yup.
Coty Fournier: And that’s – my prediction is that results in a company focus in your brain that will position you ahead of many of your peers who are remaining project-focused. Does that make sense?
Cesar Abeid: That makes a lot of sense. Yes. No, that’s very good.
Coty Fournier: Yeah.
Cesar Abeid: Now, do you have any other tips? I think I said two or three but that’s awesome.
Coty Fournier: One more I think I could add real quick is – I speak often heavily on this topic is I would say to the women up here, learn to play in the sandbox exactly the way the sandbox is. And we touched a little bit about this earlier when we talked about like a very unique collective psychology, right? About a commercial construction site and here’s my two cents. I think that success in that very unique environment requires you to learn its language and its rules and unfortunately, there’s very [Indiscernible] little that you can do to prepare yourself outside of going into it with a thick skin and a willingness to be honest about what you do not know. But it seems to certainly be a learn-as-you-go kind of thing.
However, if I could offer one piece of advice for the growing number of women who are choosing this career, I would say learn how to play in the sandbox with the other kids. So what I mean by that is – I think that like say coming up through the ranks of the commercial construction industry, it can feel like a professional equivalent of like becoming a Navy SEAL or something because our children’s sandbox is poorly sink or swim and very male-dominated but the truth is, it is that way for a lot of legitimate reasons.
So the point is, it’s not like they would change anytime soon so you need to learn how to number one, swim on your own while you’re out there; and number two, you need to learn how to earn respect from men if you’re going to succeed. So two quick tips that I will give on how to earn respect from men that I think some of them I have done well throughout the years and sometimes I have made mistakes. And so these are the things that I continue to work on.
But here are my two tips towards earning respect from men and surviving that sandbox. I would say number one, just recognize that the fact that you have to learn to swim on your own is not something to take personal. Meaning everyone has to do it, the men and the women alike. The lack of training in our industry does not discriminate. So everything requires this on-the-job training because no one else has figured out how to do it any other way.
And so it’s kind of important to realize that there’s a reason why the vast majority of all great superintendents and great project managers have gray hair and that’s because it takes that long. It takes that long to become really good at it and learn to swim on your own.
So just know that. It’s helpful to just know that swimming on your own is required. So work on it everyday without complaint and when you do that, something magical happens. When you do it without complaints and you carry forward with your head held high, then you attract the helping hands that you actually need.
You actually then attract people to want to come around you and want to help you and I think that’s particularly true for women again who would go out there without the charade, with the humility, understanding that they need to swim on their own and when you do that, it will attract the help which is largely male. You will attract the men that you need around you to help ensure that you are successful.
Cesar Abeid: Very good.
Coty Fournier: And secondly, I would say that the best way to earn respect from men is to allow your work and your accomplishment to speak for you and avoid falling into their negative labels, like for example just speaking stereotypically. Men complain that women are too emotional, that women talk too much and that women sometimes create a presence that somehow makes men feel as if they have to behave differently when women are around.
And are these stereotypes always fair? I don’t know but what I think is important is to do your best not to play into them because they cause easy distractions from your actual performance. So that may sound in a way like I’m placing the burden of adjustment on women but that’s not my intention because if you think about it, whether you are a man or a woman, it’s not productive to be overly emotional at work, period. Unless your emotion is being productive, then it’s distracting.
Cesar Abeid: Right.
Coty Fournier: And number two, if you talk too much or you require everyone else to change their behavior to accommodate you, that is distracting and not productive.
Cesar Abeid: Yeah.
Coty Fournier: So the point is the sandbox already works and your job is you want to be accepted and you want to excel. You have to find a way to play in there exactly the way it is.
Cesar Abeid: Right. The way I see it, we have maybe 20, 30 years of – to be working in our careers. You can spend it all trying to change the industry or you can adapt a little bit and change your immediate surroundings. Try to do that. I think you have a better chance to succeed by – it’s a lot easier to adapt than it is to fundamentally change a whole industry.
Coty Fournier: That’s right.
Cesar Abeid: So if you learn how to play in the sandbox and just spend your time doing that and …
Coty Fournier: Right.
Cesar Abeid: And you can change – you end up changing it by the people you touch, right? Because they will change their minds and that’s quite a lot. Think about it.
Coty Fournier: That’s right. I mean I would like to think that somehow it has made a difference. That 20 years ago when I was going on to these job sites and working in the superintendent roles for Turner, for the most part, I was the first woman that most of those superintendents or subcontractor foremen had ever seen work on a job. It was the first time. So everyone has to have a first time with something. They have to be able to react. They have to be able to adjust and I would like to believe that 20 years later, maybe there have been a few more women after me and therefore their adjustment has been less and less and less over time.
And that’s all that you can hope and wish for because women do add a different perspective. Women do add different skill sets, different behaviors to a project management team and different is good.
Cesar Abeid: Wait.
Coty Fournier: Variety is good.
Cesar Abeid: Are you telling me that women and men are different?
Coty Fournier: I think so.
Cesar Abeid: You know how popular that notion is today? It’s not very popular but it’s true.
Coty Fournier: It’s very true but it isn’t a bad thing.
Cesar Abeid: No.
Coty Fournier: And I certainly probably have more male characteristics maybe than the average woman does. So clearly, I’m not off to the feminine extreme but there are certainly just truths to some stereotypical differences between men and women. I think our challenge in the industry is to embrace it and say, “OK. What is it that women do naturally? How is it that they behave naturally that is of value?” And then start employing that value into the project team. So if I’ve made any small amount of help or progress in that area, then I feel good about them.
Cesar Abeid: Very good. Now to wrap up here, I know you don’t want to give too much away but I know you’re writing a book. So can you tell us a little bit about it? And I think it’s coming on later this year, right?
Coty Fournier: Yes, it is and some of it touches on what we’ve talked about today. It’s not a book written uniquely for women. It’s written for men and women in the commercial construction industry and the book is called The Project Manager Myth plus 10 Strategies to Fast-Track Your Commercial Construction Career Straight to the Top.
So as we talked about earlier, we talked a little bit about the project manager myth and what some of my key aspects of that point are. But then I go on to give 10 strategies that I’ve deduced from my own success in the industry that I believe are transferable, learnable, employable by other people and that book will be coming out in the fall.
So if anyone is interested in getting more information about it, just connect with me on LinkedIn and then we will stay in contact and I will make sure you get information about the book when it comes out or you can email me at Coty@JobSite123.com.
Cesar Abeid: OK.
Coty Fournier: And then once the book comes out, it’s my intention to write a follow-up book that is targeted specifically towards women who are looking to achieve executive level success in the industry and I actually would like to do that book in conjunction with [Indiscernible] or some other appropriate organization in order to cross-promote some of those opportunities there. So if any of our listeners today can connect me with the right people to possibly make something like that happen, I would be interested.
Cesar Abeid: OK. I will have a link to your LinkedIn profile and to JobSite123.com on the show notes.
Now Coty, thank you so much for sharing your story and your tips and when I was doing my research for this episode, I encountered some stories of women that were facing difficulties in the industry and I’m sure your testimony, your story is an inspiration to a lot of people out there. So thank you again for your time.
Coty Fournier: You’re very welcome. Thank you for having me and for the contribution that you’re making to the industry.
Cesar Abeid: All right. So can I count on you again maybe when the book comes out? Can I have you again on the show?
Coty Fournier: Absolutely. Just give me a call.
Cesar Abeid: All right. Thank you, Coty. Have a wonderful day.
Coty Fournier: You too. Thank you.
Cesar Abeid: Bye.
- Construction Owners Association of America (COAA)
- Turner Construction
- Blockbuster Corporate
- Miller Construction Company
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