Women in Construction: Interview with Megan Shepherd

Megan Shepherd is an Assistant Project Manager at KBE Building Corporation. She brings 10 years of construction industry experience to her role, and joined KBE in 2019. Megan graduated with a BS in Civil Engineering from Central Connecticut State University, where she was part of the first graduating class for the newly offered program. Megan started as an intern in the field and quickly realized how much she loved the challenges and problem-solving aspect of the industry. Her motivation and compassion towards other people led her to become a respected Assistant Project Manager in the field.

Tell me a little bit about your current role and the career path that led you to it?
I graduated from CCSU with a Civil Engineering degree, and ended up getting an internship with another construction management company. I fell in love with the field side of things. Even though it’s what I went to school for, I really couldn’t see my self sitting in front of a computer for 8-10 hours a day just doing design. So once I was exposed to the field, I really liked how every day brought something different. There is always an issue that needs to be resolved and I really like the challenges.

So, with KBE, I came in as an assistant project manager three years ago. I had been a project engineer with two previous firms, and I really wanted to take that next step as an assistant project manager.

Why do you like working for KBE?
What I like most about working at KBE is the people that I work with. I can work with any of them any day of the week. It helps when you go into work, especially on jobsites, you get really close to the team that you’re working with…and it really helps when you like them.

What is one characteristic that you believe every woman in construction should possess?
I don’t want to say you have to be thick-skinned to be in this industry as a woman, because you shouldn’t have to be, you should be able to work wherever you want and not be told otherwise. But I do believe that one characteristic everyone should possess is compassion towards other people. That’s not something that I think is solely for women, I think everybody needs to. Especially during these times, you never know what people are going through outside of work. And being kind doesn’t necessarily mean that people are going to walk all over you. If I can help somebody, then I’m going to help them. I believe that people who aren’t respected on a jobsite and bark orders tend to not get very far

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career thus far and how did you learn it?
Don’t let anybody tell you what you’re capable of. And I’ve learned it the hard way. I’ve worked with mostly men early on in my career, and I’ve had someone tell me before that I should just be happy being a project engineer and that I don’t have what it takes to be a project manager. And my response was "thank you, but no." I’ve never felt intimidated except for that moment in time. But that’s their opinion, and they’re allowed to have it. If anything, it motivated me more.

What project are you most proud of?
I don’t know if there is one in particular; each project has had its own challenges. I would say the first project I ever worked on, where I went in as an intern on a high school project. It was supposed to be the end of the job, but we ended up being there an extra year finishing our scope of work. And I think what makes me most proud of that job is how far I came. I mean, I was fresh out of school, and I had a PM tell me “I need you to put this RFI in” and I would think to myself “What is an RFI?” I had no idea what I was doing, I came from civil engineering. It was definitely a sink-or-swim moment…and I’m still here 10 years later.

Why do you enjoy what you do? What would make it better?
I love that it’s always different!

What would make it better? Overall, I am a mom, I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, and I think - and not just for women - that the industry in general should have an understanding that we have two jobs, and one of them is being a parent. This a very demanding field to be in as a parent. It's hard to balance but we make it work.

Do you have a mentor? Are you a mentor to someone else?
I worked with a female project manager form whom I actually left my first job and went to another company to follow her, because I really liked working with her. For a female, she came off as abrasive and aggressive, yet said the same things that a man would say where people wouldn’t think anything of it. But because it was coming from her, people took it as her being combative. In my opinion, I respected her for how she carried herself and how she held her own. I saw how hard she had to work to get the level of respect that she deserved.

That’s not really who I am though. I definitely believe that you catch more flies with honey. The biggest thing for me is that, if you respect someone and show them respect, the chances that they reciprocate are pretty high.

Because of my experience with this project manager I currently work with [our KBE HR team] and try to mentor new hires and project engineers. Send them my way – I’m always more than happy to sit with people! I think most people in this industry learn best by doing something as opposed to reading a manual. When you physically do something, it helps with muscle memory.

What books, blogs, podcasts, or other media resources would you recommend to other women in the industry?
I listen to true crime podcasts. That’s not something I necessarily think everyone needs to listen to, but it’s what I listen to on my drive down to work and on my way home. I think it’s very easy to get sucked into work in general and let it consume you, so it’s important to be able to unplug.

In terms of this industry, the resources I used were my coworkers. Even though it’s been 10 years since I’ve started, I’ve never been afraid to ask, “Can you explain this to me?” I like walking the site with anyone that I can, whether it’s the safety department or operations or the owner, to see something from their perspective because it’s something I could’ve walked by 100 times. I don’t think anyone should ever be ashamed to ask a question, it’s how you grow and learn.

What message do you have for other young women interested in following in your footsteps?
Again, don’t let anybody tell you what you’re capable of. It can be intimidating to start, stepping on a jobsite for the first time and there’s a hundred guys working there.  But my biggest thing is to respect people because they are going to respect you back. And I don’t think this is a gender thing. I think in any industry we should all respect each other. Whether it be an owner, a subcontractor, or someone from the city – no matter who it is, no matter what role in the project they play – if you treat someone like a human being, the chances are you’re going to get pretty far. It means a lot to me that people reach out to me knowing that I am dependable and can get them the information that they are looking for. I may not get it immediately, I may have to ask someone else, but in being that person that someone can come to, I know I’m doing my job successfully.

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