McKinstry’s Jen Eckert on Empowering Women in Construction

“Women in Construction Week is a great reminder for me to appreciate the glass ceilings smashed, the barriers knocked down and the challenges women before me had to overcome, while simultaneously assessing if I’m doing my part to make things better for those that will come after me.”

Jen Eckert is director of preconstruction across the PNW for our Mechanical New Construction teams and has been with McKinstry since 2018. Learn more about Jen’s role and the work she leads:

Learn More About Jen’s Experience

What is your role at McKinstry/ how did you get there?

I am the director of preconstruction across the PNW for the Mechanical New Construction teams. I started as a sales engineer learning the construction business and how we pursue work. From there, I was promoted to an account executive where I was running preconstruction on a project in Bellevue, WA, and was asked if I would prefer to focus more on sales or a newly forming team around preconstruction. I loved being hands on and getting to see how we actually design, price and develop projects so I decided to join the new team as a preconstruction manager. Two years after making that decision, the leader of the preconstruction team transitioned to a new role at McKinstry. I successfully interviewed for the position and started the director role in January 2022.

What attracted you to work in the construction industry?

My original background and “first career” as I like to call it was in industrial manufacturing. After about 10 years in that industry, I was looking for a change and a new challenge. Being in the Seattle area, I naturally explored the tech industry as well as a few other markets, but ultimately none of them excited me. Then through a mutual friend, I got connected with Joan Smith who introduced me to McKinstry and the world of construction. I had never even thought of construction until then, but after just two conversations I felt an immediate draw to be a part of this industry. Looking back, I think there were two distinct factors that attracted me. First, the people. From the first day I walked into McKinstry to interview, I could feel a difference in the culture and vibe of the people working here, and I knew I wanted to be a part of a company like this. Second, by contrast to my previous company, the construction industry and McKinstry in particular felt deeply connected and intertwined to the local community. From the ways companies partnered to support different charities, to the tangible impact of being able to see our city’s skyline change as we worked together to build and better our community, the construction community offered a job that tied to a more intrinsic value and sense of purpose for me.

What does success look like in your role?

Sometimes I feel like it must look like a chicken running around with their head cut off — but in all seriousness success looks like building trusted internal and external partnerships and never having to tell a client or internal stakeholder “no.” When I stepped into the director role, the preconstruction team was tasked with not just supporting the Seattle market, but also the broader PNW. This required me and my team to adapt to regional market differences as well as regional leaders and project executives. We joke internally that we have to be like chameleons, able to adapt to changing demands and environments FAST! With this though comes a great sense of teamwork, and I think that is another critical part of what success in my role looks like. My team has the most collaborative, can-do attitude around. We trust each other, we challenge each other, we support each other and we make each other better – which ultimately leads to making the end product we deliver to our clients better so we can win more work!

So, success looks like getting asked by any of our regional Construction teams and now even our Engineering, National Design Build and Energy teams to support a budget or pursuit or project and saying “Yes, we can help you figure that out” and then doing it profitably.

What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

The most rewarding part of my work is hands down the people I get to work with. I cannot say enough great things about the folks on my team and how much fun they bring daily to our work. The leaders I get to work with and learn from within our construction team are incredibly supportive and collaborative. In addition, I also have the privilege of interacting with many people all across McKinstry which means I learn something new daily about our amazing company and what we do.

What does “Women in Construction Week” mean to you?

To me, “Women in Construction Week” is an opportunity to take pause and think about how far our industry and our company have come, and it is also an opportunity to see where we still have areas to improve in the future. It is a great reminder for me to appreciate the glass ceilings smashed, the barriers knocked down and the challenges women before me had to overcome, while simultaneously assessing if I’m doing my part to make things better for those that will come after me.

What do you hope to see for women in the construction industry in the future?

I hope to see more women leaders. I hope to see the conversation around equal pay disappear because everyone is compensated fairly based on their skills and performance. I hope to never hear another story about women being poorly treated on jobsites — or anyone being poorly treated on a jobsite for that matter. I hope to see more women in the trades and more young girls who grow up and WANT to get into the construction industry as a profession, because they see how valuable designing and creating things is to our community and they know that they can build a life for themselves and their families with a career in construction.

What change do you hope to inspire through your work at McKinstry?

I hope to model how you can work hard and do a good job while also having work/life balance. The construction industry can be challenging and it (like any job) will suck up all your time if you let it. But I truly believe that for each of us to bring our best self to work each day, we need a mental and physical break. Time away to recharge, to think about something else. This doesn’t mean there won’t be weeks you have to put in those extra hours, but it does mean knowing that when that week is done you can turn your phone off for the weekend and unplug for a few days.

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