March 9, 2023 | Articles
From Drawing to Building: Laura Capraro’s Career in Construction
“It was definitely a unique transition, moving from a theatre arts background into architecture and eventually project management,” admits Hill Project Manager II Angela Bowman, whose tone humorously betrayed that she’d addressed the transition many times before. “But you also have to understand that I was involved in stage and production management. From set design to managing actors, a lot of groundwork for my current career was established in the theatre.” Indeed since she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts, Angela has moved on to a successful career in the construction industry. Complementing her background have been a drive to experience new, challenging work each day and the persistent resourcefulness to tackle this work.
Even with Angela’s resourcefulness and drive, learning how to draft CAD construction drawings without an architectural background was very difficult. “I used Google a lot at first,” she says. “I also tried to talk a lot with my colleagues at the architectural firm. I focused on to listening to and absorbing some of their expertise in the industry. That was really helpful.” And her research paid off. Eventually, Angela found that the architectural drawings were no longer providing her the challenge they had at first. Not to be content with this success, she asked for more and varied work. This led her to the management side of construction at her firm.
Angela came to enjoy the management field and in 2017, she brought her talents to Hill. She continues to enjoy the work, saying: “It’s been great to work with Hill as a project manager and owner’s representative consultant. Across projects and even within a single project, there are so many things to do and so much variety from day to day. I’m never bored.”
On her current projects, Angela supports the development of large-scale healthcare facilities for Allegheny Health Network. Within the last year she oversaw the completion of two ground-up cancer centers. Angela reported that these large, multimillion-dollar facilities were unlike anything she had ever worked on. Even in the face of daunting work in the medical industry, Angela found a way to thrive in a new and complex situation. Just like early in her career, she drew upon available resources and communicated effectively with colleagues and clients to successfully deliver award-winning work—one of the completed cancer centers was a finalist for an award from the Master Builders Association of Western Pennsylvania, Inc.
Not only are her projects the objects of praise, Angela’s own work has often been celebrated by clients and colleagues. A former client at Allegheny Health Network praised Angela when she, of her own initiative, reviewed lease documents prior to the completion of a small project. In her review, Angela discovered a step-by-step process outlining how the client could recovery tenant improvement allowance funds. She followed the steps and helped bring the matter to a quick end. The client spoke with sincerity his high praise for Angela’s diligence in facilitating this transaction, which on other projects often took up to a year to finalize. Other people with whom she works have noticed her diligence too.
An additional complexity in Angela’s career is her gender. Certainly the field of project management is composed of a male majority. In some cases, individuals who work with project management professionals seem to expect a male manager. “You can be viewed differently as a woman,” says Angela. “It requires some tenacity and confidence to go meet contractors and owners. Where they expect a man, a short woman shows up. You’ve got to deal with those real expectations and work diligently despite them.”
Communication remains critical. “You’ve got to understand and use your tone of voice in the right way,” Angela says. “A confident voice will go a long way in establishing a place for you in any business culture, especially if you are a woman.” In addition to her own communicative abilities, Angela mentions the valuable support of company leaders. She cites Senior Vice President and Regional Manager for Western Pennsylvania Vic Spinabelli and Senior Project Manager Therese Shearer as excellent advocates for her and other women at Hill.
Despite a positive culture with regards to gender at Hill and the benefits of that culture in relating to clients and contractors, Angela insists that women must be their own primary advocates. “Above all else, advocating for myself got me to where I am. I had to assert myself to ask for the help I needed. I was getting too comfortable with drafting CAD drawings, so I had to pitch my case to my boss so that I could take part in the management process. It’s so important that you give yourself the opportunity to be where you want to be—that includes discussing jobs, roles, and salaries with your coworkers.
“With that in mind, it should be a priority for senior management in this industry and other industries to facilitate formal and informal networking opportunities for all of their employees. Golf, for instance, is a very popular networking activity. It provides a great and fun platform for talking with other professionals and discussing what they do, how much they make to do it, and what they like about it. But it can be expensive to golf all the time—and the sport remains more popular among men. I would suggest the intentional creation of diverse networking opportunities that are attractive to people with different interests and talents.”
Communication, a drive for new experiences, advocacy from strong leadership, and strong self-advocacy have facilitated Angela’s great success in the field of project management. Even in the larger context of construction, which remains occupied primarily by men, Angela has propelled herself to a well-deserved position. For others, women or otherwise, in this industry or any other, an observation of Angela’s career can provide some salient tactics to achieve career success.
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