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Women in Construction

Construction Blueprints Podcast: Season 1 – Episode 5

June 20, 2023

An informative podcast series that brings you the latest perspectives from the construction industry.

As industry leaders we need to think proactively about how women within construction can feel supported and encouraged to build their long-term careers. Creating a more diverse and inclusive construction workforce takes time but there are actions we can take now to inspire the next generation. The industry has a great number of career and educational pathways that lead to success.

In this episode of Construction Blueprints, Jennifer Cate, Midwest Construction Broking Leader, is joined by Manuela Spyrka, Canadian Construction Broking Leader, and Jessica Rasulo, Northeast Construction Practice Growth Leader, to discuss why representation and diversity in construction are so important. Hear what actions organizations can take to help nurture an inclusive workplace culture.

Episode 5: Women in Construction

Transcript for this episode:

MANUELA SPYRKA: And I just find it really, really incredible to see how much has changed, how the makeup in our industry from a construction underwriting standpoint, risk management standpoint, even here in the brokerage world, how that has shifted to be female-led more and more.

SPEAKER: Welcome to the WTW Podcast Construction Blueprints, where we discuss the latest risk management and insurance trends as well as issues facing the construction industry. We'll speak with a variety of construction leaders and experts on global topics, who can help provide you a blueprint for building your industry knowledge.

Culture is really important to allow women to feel part of the industry and to have a voice. That’s going to encourage a lot of younger women to enter the construction industry.”

Manuela Spyrka | Canadian Construction Broking Leader

JENNIFER CATE: Hello, and welcome to our WTW Construction Blueprints Podcast. I am Jennifer Cate, the Midwest Construction Broking Leader and your host for today's podcast. I'm delighted to be joined by Manuela Spyrka, WTW's Canadian Construction Broking Leader and Jessica Rasulo, WTW's Northeast Construction Practice Growth Leader.

In this episode, we will explore the exciting career path that women are leading in the world of construction, and how our presence in this industry is driving positive cultural changes and opening doors for the next generation of women in construction. Ladies, I'd like to start today by having each of you talk about your personal career journeys, how you got to where you are now. And maybe some of your goals for the future. Manuela, would you like to start?

MANUELA SPYRKA: Yes. Thanks, Jen, for the introduction. So happy to be here today this morning. I have been with WTW since 2018 in Canada here in Calgary. Happy to represent the Canadian perspective on this podcast. I started off my career in insurance a long, long time ago just straight out of high school.

And have started looking at construction as a field, as an industry because it looked very exciting. When you look at the different types of projects that you come across, the types of requirements that are needed to clarify with your clients from a contract standpoint, and how to risk-transfer appropriately. And so have journeyed along in construction since about 2015.

And I just find it really, really incredible to see how much has changed, how the makeup in our industry from a construction underwriting standpoint, risk management standpoint, even here in the brokerage world how that has shifted to be female-led more and more. And so it's been super exciting to be part of this industry and with an insurance background as well. Jessica.

JESSICA RASULO: I actually started 24 years ago, and I was a temporary receptionist for a summer job while I was in colleague. I had no intentions of going into insurance, certainly never considered in a million years that I might wind up in construction. But it was absolutely a very lucky and happy accident that I did.

I've been with WTW-- well, WTW and it's predecessor companies that entire time in a series of developing roles within construction. And one of the things that I really love about our organization and I think is just a great example of the company we are, about 10 years into my career was the first time that I really had an itch feeling like I might have to do something different.

And Joe who was the head of the New York region at that time. I was lucky enough to work closely with him, and he actually kind of-- he felt that and recognized it and luckily appreciated my value and asked if I'd be interested in interviewing for our regional chief financial officer role, which happened to be open at that time, which was amazing.

I got to basically dabble in a different career without actually leaving my job. I got to elevate myself up within the organization in a way that usually people have to leave. And it also let me realize pretty rapidly that I actually love clients, and I'm a client person, and it's silly to ever take me away from them.

I love construction. It's absolutely the most fascinating thing, and I'm excited to talk about that more. And when it came down to it, I actually really like insurance. So a corporate role was not right for me. Then I was able to kind of climb that jungle gym that people talk about and move back into construction when they needed me here in an elevated role.

So that's been a phenomenal journey. And I would say 24 years in, I'm hopefully a little bit past the halfway mark. And the way I define success now is to be a part of the leadership that makes WTW a company that I'm proud to retire from one day.

JENNIFER CATE: Absolutely. I 100% agree with both of you, having been in this industry myself for 20 plus years, did not expect to be in insurance, and certainly did not expect to go the route of construction. If you talk to the 20 plus year ago junior of myself, would not have thought I'd be where I am today doing what I'm doing. But I love it. I love our industry, and not just where it is right now, but where it's taking us and the women in the business professional world.

So ladies, I love that we are very passionate about our careers in this construction industry and what's actually attracted us to this industry. So what kind of advice would you give to young women who are looking into making their career choices and potentially considering insurance and/or construction as their paths? Jessica, you want to start.

JESSICA RASULO: Sure. Well, I would say, actually, I think both insurance and construction offer phenomenal career opportunities, and they're are two things that are always going to be needed, right? In order for society to continue in order for society to move forward, we need construction, whether it's infrastructure, whether it's new housing. Whatever it is, we're reliant upon it.

I mean, obviously, after we-- insurance isn't going away. So they're reliable, steady careers, which also allow for a lot of fun. I personally think that construction is the place to be. And insurance, it's place to be in general to kind of through why insurance and why construction. Why construction and insurance and why construction? In insurance, it's one of the few places-- well, all businesses encounter risk as a matter of existing.

Construction is one of the few businesses where the operation is the risk, which means we get to partner with our clients in a very different way than most other industries. And we're really engaged in their operation. And it's tangible, right? We get to actually see what we're a part of. And that kind of segues into why construction? I mean, I live and work in New York City. I live in Jersey City but across the river.

I've been here my whole life, and I can walk around and tell stories about my city that I'm very much a part of. I look at that skyline and I know that I make up a meaningful part of the fabric of the city that I love. And what's cooler than that? And I'm twice removed because I'm doing the insurance for it. But those people building the building, I just think about what that's like.

You sit-in a room with people one day, and there is an idea. And then you come to work each day, and nothing might look that much different from day to day to day. But three years later, you leave, and there's a building. And you built it. Just the emotion of that is kind of overwhelming to me. So that's the why insurance and why construction.

And from an advice perspective, there's a lot of things that are still difficult being a woman. I do think it's getting better, but there are realities of things that are difficult in the workplace. But there are also kind of positives that you could take from it. And I think you definitely need to focus on that. And for me, I've always said one is that the differentiation, right?

I mean, if you go into a room and there's seven men-- and my analogy is a little bit outdated because COVID killed the tie industry, but we'll use it because it's clear-- there are seven men. And afterwards, they're trying to remember who said what. And it's like, oh, it was the one with the purple tie, it was the one with the white tie, the one with the polka dot tie. It was the woman.

They're going to remember you, which means that you spend a little bit of time prepping, and you make sure you know what you're talking about, and you say one thing. It only needs to be one thing. But you say one thing, and you stand out. And you will be remembered. So I think that's something that can help certainly kind of promote leaps and bounds, especially early in your career.

JENNIFER CATE: Absolutely. Jessica, I love that tie analogy. Thank you for that. Manuela, what's your take on that?

MANUELA SPYRKA: Two advices that I would give to young women is find allies, find individuals that you find interesting, intriguing, that are in an industry, in the construction industry, or insurance that you can get their ear and just talk to them, right? It's about mentoring, it's about asking questions that you internally feel like, should I ask this question actually? And find those individuals that will take the time to really help you understand, further your career. That's the first thing.

The other part is network. Try to find opportunities where you can learn, whether it's a webinar, a seminar, and in-life person event. And talk to people. I mean, that sounds daunting as a young person, but try to get the courage to at least find one person that you can make a connection with. And again, you don't know where that's going to take you, and whether that perhaps can take you as far as your career. And so be bold in that aspect.

JENNIFER CATE: Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely.

JESSICA RASULO: I second that asking questions for sure. Sorry, I was going to say. And that's actually a life lesson that I find that I have learned over and over and over and over again, even at considered to be an expert level that I still get nervous asking a question. And what I realized over and over again is if it doesn't make sense to me, it doesn't make sense to you, there's a good chance it just doesn't make sense.

So ask the question and you're adding value. And again, a really easy way to add a ton of value early in your career because you're going to hear and see what it says, and everybody else is going to hear and see what they think it's supposed to say. So ask questions and you'll help the industry as a whole.


JENNIFER CATE: Certainly. Certainly. One of the things that I like to advise younger generations that are coming into this role is to think of it as no one tells me no. And that's not a boasting no one tells me no. But it's more of a have the confidence to believe that there's a yes out there. And so even if you get the nos, that you're going to get a yes.

And I see that a lot walking into these rooms now, not just in the boardrooms, but also on project sites and in safety meetings. The women that are in the room are asking the questions, and they're not getting the nos. They're getting the yeses, because they're having the confidence to ask those questions. So it's a great thing to see. Now--

JESSICA RASULO: I was going to say right there, I would pause to say just think about one of the questions you just recently asked. Why don't we have women in construction network? And can I start one? And what was the answer?

JENNIFER CATE: Yes, absolutely. And I'm glad that you said that, Jessica. As we end up this podcast, I'm going to ask you to touch on our women in construction network. So thank you for bringing that up. So thinking about that next generation of talent, ladies, I know it's important that those of us who are in the industry now, and have that support that we do within our management of our companies, know how to invest in educating and promoting the career path of construction for women.

So what are some of the things that you think that industry leaders and organizations can do to support the younger generations? And how do they go about getting the interest?

JESSICA RASULO: I mean, I think we start with showing up at career days in elementary school with our hard hats on, right? Let people know. And what I think is some of it is, go dressed like this with your hard hat. Change the view of what it means to be in construction. I think that's it. If you wait till high school or colleague, it's too late. So from the excitement perspective, it's that. And then you bring an extra hard and you let the kids try them on, right? They'll remember that, and that's going to breed excitement for getting into our industry.

JENNIFER CATE: Yeah, I love that. Manuela, what do you think?

MANUELA SPYRKA: I mean, I think it circles back to policies. And not just from a discrimination standpoint, but inclusion and diversity. How are companies, whether that's on the trade side, the general contracting side, even into engineering and all other elements and aspects of construction, what kind of policies do they have in place?

Is management taking an effective role in enforcing some of these policies where discrimination or harassment is tolerated? It really needs to come from the top down, and it needs to be a culture at the company level through and through. I mean, can you enforce targets that encourage more and more women representation, both at site and also offsite?

That's a tougher one. I mean, you start to see that in the public company space, where there are some targets that companies have to adhere by. Can that be replicated in the construction industry? I think you could. It's going to take some time to get there. So I mean, there is definitely a lot that can be done, but certainly policies are really, really important.

Culture is really, really important to allow women to feel part of it, to have a voice, to have a seat at the table, to be heard and listened to. And so I think that's going to encourage more and more younger women to enter our industry and also construction.

JENNIFER CATE: Absolutely.

JESSICA RASULO: I think logistically on job sites, hygiene is incredibly important. And just the reality of that that's going to have a huge start to get a more equitable place.


JENNIFER CATE: Absolutely. Yeah. So that goes hand-in-hand with nurturing that workplace environment, right? Where everyone that's there feels comfortable to be themselves, to be your true self and for women to have that power to make decisions and drive cultural changes that are needed in the construction industry, right?

And I know with those of us on the call, we've seen those changes. We've seen some of those happen. So Jessica, what do you think some of the biggest changes you've seen and positive shifts that you've noticed in recent years that have actually given you confidence in this industry moving in the right direction for women?

JESSICA RASULO: So I'll say just two things is one, when I started my career, it was almost always a room where it was me and a bunch of men who are significantly older than me. I was the woman. I was the token woman. I'm now one of the older people in the room, and I'm also surrounded by powerful leading women. And that's both within our organization and on the industry at large at both the client side and the carrier side.

When you look at our construction carrier partners here in the US, most of them are led by women right now. And on the client side, most of my powerful dynamic risk managers-- and this is risk managers who are in elevated risk management roles. AND some see C-suite risk management type roles, certainly leadership roles. And most of them are women.

Personally, I think one of the nicest things is that it's a lot rarer now that I walk into a meeting and I get the sense that it's assumed that I'm there to take notes. That happens a lot less often, and that's always been a peeve of mine. So I'm very glad that happens a lot less often.

JENNIFER CATE: Absolutely. And Manuela, what have you seen from that standpoint?

MANUELA SPYRKA: I mean, I would echo definitely Jessica's take as far as the change in makeup of the risk management community. Certainly up here in Canada, when you look at the larger general contractors, I mean, a lot of them are female-led, Palmetto, Acorn, Dragados. There's incredible women that have that seat at the table, that have the ear of the executives, right?

And really instilling change from how you look at risk, right? How you look at managing risk. And the role that is expanding, you look at ESG and all, those new things that are coming about, those are topics that these women are part of. And so it's incredible to see that change. It's incredible to see how far we've come. And even in the underwriting world, I mean, how many women construction underwriters are there? There are a lot.

And so the makeup definitely is shifting. What I would love to see is the makeup from a women's standpoint at the job site shifting more. And I think that's where, hopefully more and more change can happen that women feel like when you think of construction, the harassment and the heckling at women, I hope that goes away.

And again, it comes down to culture and instilling that this is not tolerated whatsoever so that women do feel like at the site that they can be part of a team. They have the respect. They have just as equal say. For me that's what I would love to see is the numbers go up and up and up from a women representation standpoint at the site. So yeah.

JENNIFER CATE: Yes. Absolutely. And I would echo that, having been on many construction sites over the years. I'm seeing more women presence. And I see a lot more of the support that they're giving each other. And so there's no longer the stigma of feeling like you have to be one of the guys or one of the women on the jobs sites.

And we're one of the women in the boardrooms, not only that we're given a seat at the table, but earned a seat at the table just as others that are sitting around us have. We've built our careers. And many of us have done so as we do our home life as well. I think sometimes there's that stigma that women need to stay at home and take care of the children in the home. And some of us are doing both.

The flexibility that's been provided by certain organizations, and definitely in the construction industry for women to do what needs to be done to work their careers and also not give up their personal lives has been quite the change that I've seen as well. And it's a fantastic movement that I think that we're seeing and it's growing. And again, as we support each other in this industry, it's not going to do anything more than just continue to grow for us, give us further opportunities.

JESSICA RASULO: I like calling that trust-backed accountability breeding flexibility, right? Because I think there's often a misconception that we're asking for flexibility, flexibility, flexibility. But we're asking for trust-backed accountability. That's it. Then we do with it what we will, and that provides that flexibility.

MANUELA SPYRKA: Yeah. I was just going to add, I think construction as an industry, when you look at the wages and the salaries that you can make in this as a tradesperson, I mean, up here in Canada, and I'm sure it's the same in the United States and perhaps elsewhere, the wages that you can garner from a job in construction is actually really, really great.

So how we view construction over the last five years and certainly in the last couple of years, the push from a PR standpoint is that this is a great industry. It's a great career. It's no longer well, I'd rather send my kids to university to become an engineer or a doctor or whatever else.

It's really encouraging and having the discourse that this is a field where you can make great money, you can have a great path, and see where it goes. I mean, there's so many different directions that a construction career can take you. So it's just even that from a reputation standpoint that has changed in the last few years that this is an incredible industry to be part of.

JENNIFER CATE: Absolutely. And speaking of being part of networking and building each other up, Jessica, we talked briefly earlier about the Women in Construction Network that WTW has started. Would you like to touch on that a little bit and your role in the program and its purpose, what we're planning on doing with that?

JESSICA RASULO: Sure. Thank you, Jennifer. The Women in Construction Network was Jennifer's brainchild. And she ran the idea by me and I said I'm in, let's do it. And then we kind of just started doing and asking permission as we went. And we basically have established that our organization there's a ton of women's network out there.

So we need to make sure that it's providing value and that it's differentiated and that it's supportive to all. It's raise up individuals to raise up our company, which raises up our industry, right? And so what my kind of hypothesis on this is that I find that people tend to connect differently when you get them in a different space.

So we're focused on compelling content-driven sessions and non-traditional networking opportunities. And now I've kind of defined that as the best type of networking that I think is if you get outside and you move your body in nature. If you're a little bit uncomfortable without being afraid, that's great because what winds up happening is you show your vulnerability, you get some courage in yourself, and you connect in a totally different way.

Your creativity juices are flying, and you're now bonded with the people who are there with you. So that's kind of our thought. Stay tuned for some dates around our next kind of series of regional events, which we're going to do architecture tours in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.

Chicago, we're certainly going to do the river tour because that one's too good to pass up. But San Fran and New York, possibly some walking tours so that we get that kind of movement outside in the urban jungle. So we'll call that nature. And then we'll have some book clubs around some compelling books. And some events that are national events our conference in

JENNIFER CATE: Love it. Love it, ladies. Manuela, thank you so much for contributing to the episode today. Do you have any last comments that you'd like to make for our audience?

MANUELA SPYRKA: Thanks, Jen. This was such an incredible time with the two of you representing not only WTW, but also encouraging women to be part of this industry. Insurance as well. It's been an incredible career path for me, and I hope that others will have the same joy ride that I've had.

JENNIFER CATE: Fantastic. Jessica, thanks again for joining us as well. Do you have closing comments for the audience?

JESSICA RASULO: I just wanted to say thank you, and this was a lot of fun. And I look forward to partnering with the two of you and all of our listeners to continue to drive our industry to be a place that we're proud to spend our careers and retire from.

JENNIFER CATE: Absolutely. Thank you, everyone, who listened today. And thank you for joining the WTW Construction Blueprints Podcast. We'll talk to you on the next one.

SPEAKER: Thank you for joining this WTW Podcast featuring the latest thinking and perspectives on people, capital, climate and risk in the construction industry. For more information, visit

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Podcast host

Jennifer Cate
Midwest Construction Broking Leader

Jennifer has over 21 years of experience in the industry. She is the Midwest Construction Broking Leader for WTW’s National Project Insurance Practice handling marketing, account management and implementation of OCIPs, CCIPs and Project Programs across the Midwest/Atlantic South. Jennifer and her project team work closely with retail and production teams throughout the U.S. and Canada in the design, marketing, and placement of controlled insurance programs for commercial and residential construction risk exposures.

Podcast guests

Manuela Spyrka
Canadian Construction Broking Leader

Manuela has over 18 years of industry experience at both national and global brokerage level. In 2013 she shifted her career by focusing on construction specific risks. This allowed her to deepen her technical skills while gaining insight and working knowledge of the challenges the construction industry and her clients face. Manuela has had the pleasure of working with large general contractors, JV partnerships, residential developers, trade contractors, design build contractors and engineering firms on both the national and international level as well as owners in various different industry segments. She has worked on P3 projects, municipal and provincial construction projects, renewable energy construction projects, complex infrastructure projects, mining projects, housing and senior living facilities, residential development projects to name a few.

Jessica Rasulo
Northeast Construction Practice Growth Leader

With over 20 years of industry experience, Jessica has served in a variety of client-facing and management roles, including Client Advocate for National and Global Real Estate and Construction Accounts and Chief Financial Officer for the North East Region. She has extensive experience working with clients to strategize solutions to structure their Risk Management approach and efficiently address their total cost of risk with a specialization in navigating the complex NY construction landscape. Jessica currently serves as the WTW Northeast Construction Practice Growth Leader. In this role, she works with a diverse group of industry participants to identify unaddressed and emerging risks, and develops practice and product solutions. She is the Co-founder of our Cyber for Construction Specialty Practice and our newly formed Women in Construction Network. Jessica is actively involved in the education and mentoring of professionals new to the industry or looking to expand their knowledge.

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