Waugh draws women to the construction industry

Fishbeck’s marketing operations director leads by example, collaboration.
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What once was just a marketing job opportunity for Jenny Waugh now has turned into a career-long fascination with the construction industry.

Jenny Waugh. Courtesy 616 Media

Waugh has made her presence felt for 20 years in the male-dominated industry. Only 11% of the construction workforce nationwide is female, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

She is the marketing operations director for Fishbeck, an engineering, environmental sciences, architecture and construction management consulting firm in Grand Rapids.

Waugh oversees business development, sales and marketing, and public relations for the firm. She is responsible for brand development and management, strategic planning, community relational and charitable giving, media relations and event planning for particular projects.

Waugh’s path to construction was by way of the health care and financial services industries. She briefly worked at Spectrum Health before joining Rockford Construction as its marketing manager. Waugh said it was her female boss who became her mentor and helped to guide her as she entered a new industry. 

“There is just something about construction that once you get into the industry, it’s like no other, so I’m always going to stay in this industry,” she said. “When I had the opportunity to leave my last position and come to Fishbeck — it’s a little bit different, we’re more of an engineering and architecture firm than a straight-up construction company. It’s been so interesting to see the whole side of the industry from the design (perspective) and how important engineering is to the whole process, and then moving into construction. I feel like this has been the whole circle of that AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry, now I’ve got to see all the parts. I see behind the scenes before our project starts, like the environmental work and the site work, and then the design of a beautiful building and the construction of it. It has been fun.”

She said the industry has changed since she started 20 years ago as the roles of women have evolved from secretarial positions to executive and on-site construction roles.

“You would find women in the construction industry or AEC, but it would be more like accounting positions, marketing positions, finance, administrative assistant — in that secretarial role,” she said. “You wouldn’t find women in the field. You wouldn’t find construction superintendents or project managers or property managers as much as you would in what you could maybe call support positions. You didn’t find as many women on the board level or in the executive positions as you do now.”

Waugh said women bring more diversity to the table; diversity of thought, creativity and a different point of view to a project or a neighborhood or a development.

“If you have too many people in … an industry that all think the same or come from the same background, then your buildings are going to be the same and your projects are going to be the same and the impact on the communities will be the same,” she said. “You need variety, you need creativity, you need different viewpoints to really bring a new perspective to a project and I think that is what women in the field can do. We will think about something different than a man will, and we can bring a new perspective. That is how I think we can have the biggest impact. We can be that change agent in the board room, out in the field, on the construction project or even in the design room because we are going to think about things from a different perspective. It is just natural.”

Waugh said there is a concentrated effort in Grand Rapids to get more women involved in construction. That, she said, is evident in the new West Michigan Construction Institute that opened earlier this year, and Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink’s effort to create a space where people can pursue a career in the trades or AEC positions. Waugh said she wants to help and be a mentor to other women who are just entering the industry so they can be successful.

She is intentional about introducing women to the construction industry.

Outside of her work at Fishbeck, Waugh is involved in the community and is on various local and national boards that support the construction industry. She is the chairperson of the Algoma Township Planning Commission. She also serves on the panel’s site plan review committee.

She is a board member and public relations director for the American Institute of Architects, Grand Rapids. She also co-chairs its annual gala committee. Waugh is the committee chair and a member of the American Council of Engineering Companies Ohio Chapter’s communication committee.

Waugh also is a board member and sits on the construction awards committee of the Associated Builders and Contractors. She chairs the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual fundraiser and serves on the leadership programming council. 

She is on the Women of Habitat Kent Council for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. The Women of Habitat Kent Council was recently launched to get more women involved in building houses and learning new skills.

Waugh was previously a board member and chair of the women build committee and board development for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. She also was a board member.

“Every time we do a women-build house event, I would organize 15 friends and family to come work at the house. They’re like, ‘No, Jen. I can’t possibly build a house. I’ll just push a broom and clean up.’ And I say, ‘No, you’re going to come and you’re going to learn how to use the saw and you’re going to learn some skills,’ and they walk away feeling empowered because they’ve made a difference for the new homeowner. I just love that.”

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