Women in Construction: Spotlight on Jean Bjork
Happy Women in Construction Week! At Riskcast, we are proud to work with a ton of talented, smart, strong women in the construction industry, including several of our customers and team members. These are not just women in construction, but these are the women building your communities right in front of you! They are experts in architecture, design, engineering, project management, technology and so much more.
For the first part in a 3-part series, we interviewed one of our favorite customers: Jean Bjork, President of Bjork Construction Company Inc. which has a reputation for delivering effective and value-added commercial construction projects by harnessing solution-oriented thinking, technology, and skilled craftsmanship. We have worked with Bjork across 13 different jobs, and have onboarded 40 different foremen to use the platform. We asked Jean about her leadership style in a male-dominated industry, her advice for younger women in construction, and how she is continuing to build her business. Here is what she had to say:
RC: How did you get into the construction industry, and what do you love about it?
JB: I entered the trades as a welder. I worked as a welder at the shipyards, a sheet metal shop as well as a couple other companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Fast forward some years later when I married a carpenter and his side jobs ultimately jump-started Bjork Construction; he managed the field; I managed the business side of things and we both managed the projects. Initially, our business focused on custom residential construction, but as the years have passed, we have moved into commercial and industrial construction for Fortune 500 companies, cities and beyond.
I’m fortunate that I love what I do and the industry that I’m in. Construction is ever changing- it offers unlimited learning opportunities because there are always new and improved ways of doing things. The industry is rarely stagnant and provides an opportunity to see the tangible result of months, sometimes years, of building and planning.
RC: What are some challenges you've faced as a women business owner in a male-dominated market?
JB: The biggest challenges? Being taken seriously, listened to, and not talked over when trying to get business done. While many times the people presenting the challenges do so subconsciously, in many cases it is an ingrained societal bias. Example: A woman sitting on a company’s board of directors. Women are not always heard, and their convictions are often perceived differently than a man’s. A woman could say the exact same thing as a man, but she would be considered overbearing and indifferent while the man would be perceived as being in charge and to the point.
RC: What is your favorite part of your job?
JB: Planning is my favorite part of the business. Laying down goals and plans for the business and seeing them through to fruition. I also love the people that I work with, they are mostly optimistic, pro-active, and hardworking. It is a pleasure to work at Bjork Construction.
RC: What advice would you give your younger self?
JB: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t give up when life gets hard, have fun.
RC: What advice would you give other women starting out in this business?
JB: Do your homework. I am a big proponent of extensive planning to minimize risk when starting a new business. Also, partners are difficult. Don’t assume that partners share the same vision and ideas for your business. You will need to work that out ahead of time and remember to protect yourself and put everything in writing if you work with a partner. If you are a woman or minority, be sure to get officially certified as a women or minority owned company. It holds weight. Make it a point to join industry organizations where you can network and learn from other industry professionals.
RC: How has your perspective and lived experience as a woman influenced the way your lead, hire, promote, and build your team?
JB: As a woman, I understand the power of communication and listening. I also believe that women can better delegate intuitively. These traits have benefitted me immensely and have allowed me to share and receive knowledge via my clients, my employees, and others in business. This has helped me to run a successful company.
RC: Tell us a little-known fact about you:
JB: I am a big believer in paying it forward. Whether as a mentor, an employer, a patron, or a member of the community, paying it forward can open doors, facilitate progress, and establish and grow partnerships. It provides us the opportunity to better understand our fellow human and is generally guaranteed to put a smile on someone’s face.
RC: What is your biggest achievement and/or one major mistake you've made that you've learned from?
JB: I will start with the major mistake: not being more assertive when working with partners in ensuring that we take the time to do our due diligence and planning when forming a company – including having expectations spelled out as well as the right people in charge of the different aspects of the company. That foundation is vital – and in business, knowing how you want and need to structure these things can be the difference between long-term success or short term failure.
My greatest achievement was keeping my construction company afloat during the mortgage crisis, when everyone around me was throwing in the towel. I networked, got out in the world, signed with the union, and lead my company out of the hole that was the great recession. That was super challenging, but it helped me to learn how to pivot in business.
To learn more about Bjork Construction, visit http://www.bjorkconstruction.com/