Skip to content

Company News

Charting Their Own Route: Three Young Professional Women’s Journeys to Construction 

The path to a career in the construction industry isn’t always a straight one. Some individuals head directly into construction management or engineering programs in college but that’s not the only way in. Others start their journeys in similar fields, and after some trial-and-error, find their road. And then there are those who embark on a completely different trek only to simply “fall” into the industry.

But however they arrive, a career in construction is a rewarding and meaningful choice where every employee has the ability to make an impact.

Skyline Construction’s Kristal Craven, Melany Reyes and Chloe Henkel are testaments to this fact. While the three Chicago-based operations team members’ paths to their current roles at Skyline have been unique, they all share a common thread of being young women who have infiltrated the construction industry and are making their voices heard.

The three professionals sat down with marketing manager Ross Houston to share their stories about how they came into the industry, and provide advice for the next generation of builders.

Ross Houston: First of all – Why construction?

Kristal Craven:  I love that every day in construction, a new challenge presents itself.  It’s the variation in my day. You have to think on your feet – safety, material, and procurement. We get to put our hands on a little bit of everything, while being empowered to solve problems in real time. Also, as a “people person”, I really enjoy the collaboration that goes into construction projects. We work with so many smart and talented people. It blows my mind.

Melany Reyes: I have always been a very visual person, and this is a results-driven industry – you put in the work and see your actual projects come to life. Like Kristal said, it is very collaborative. In high school, I was deciding between engineering, business, and arts schools. I talked to a couple of my high school teachers, asking for recommendations, and they suggested a career in construction. Now being in it, my passion for the industry just keeps growing.

Chloe Henkel: It started in college for me. I was studying civil engineering, which has many different avenues of focus. I was fortunate enough to have a great professor in my construction introductory class, who helped mentor and guide me into the industry. I liked all the moving pieces and components coming together in real-time.

RH: And after college comes the fun part – getting that first job in construction. Walk me through what that process looked like.

KC: My career path is a little non-traditional. I did not go to school for construction management, but this didn’t put me at a disadvantage because I learned everything I need to know on the jobsite and by interacting with my peers. I started my career in facilities management at Northwestern Healthcare as an assistant to the Director of Construction. Seeing the construction process from the client’s point of view helped me seamlessly transition into construction and better understand the needs of our customers.

MR: I went into college studying construction, so it was a very nice transition. They had career fairs to connect students with companies for summer internships. Everyone was eager to get started, and we were all looking at these companies trying to see what cool projects they build. Then, when you land your first full time job – it’s nerve-racking. You don’t know what to expect. You still feel very “green”.  But once you’re in the field, you’re so excited and eager to learn from everybody. There’s are so many opportunities and career paths in this field, and it’s about trying them all to figure yourself out.

CH: Throughout college, I did some internships on the engineering side, but Skyline was my first full-time job out of school. In college, we also had career fairs to meet many different companies. Personally though, I struggled with the approach many companies took to recruiting women into the field. I was once chased through a career fair because they wanted to put my name down that they talked to me – like I was a number working towards their female quota. I did a lot of interviews that also felt very surface level – where the company representatives were short and disinterested, leading me to infer that they interviewed me based on my gender. This dwindled my confidence. In the end, I applied to many jobs online, which is how I found Skyline. I had some great interviews here, and I actually felt like the Skyline team was interested in my credentials versus my gender. They welcomed me with open arms and have been acting the same way since, so I’m happy with my decision.

RH: And we’re happy to have you – we’re happy to have all three of you. Melany, like Chloe, you also had some early career challenges. Can you tell me a little about that?

MR: Like Chloe said, it all started in college where the construction programs are mostly male-dominated. In my class, there were just five women out of 220-something students. It sometimes felt hard to show my skills or be taken seriously. When you’re working in the field as a woman, and if you are presented alongside someone in your same role who is a male, the men tend to get more eye contact. At times, I get thought of as the “assistant” or “note-taker.”

For me, it’s about proving that women are just as talented as men – that we are capable of taking on big projects. It’s more about knowledge, what we have to offer, and our experience. It’s about building that confidence, learning and mastering skills, and showing that we are just as capable.

RH: That’s a perfect segway to the next question because I remember, Kristal, in leading up to this discussion, I asked you to think about how your perspective as a woman has helped you out, and your response – well, I’ll let you talk about it a little more.

KC: Yeah, this question really sparked my interest early on, and I felt compelled to answer this. I’m just going to address the “elephant in the room” and I hope this isn’t offensive, but my perspective is that that as women, our perspective is 100% always valuable. It’s not situational or debatable, in fact.

There isn’t one instance on a job – and I think Chloe and Melany will agree with me – where I felt that my opinion was unnecessary or irrelevant. I am a participating member of the team, and my input is valuable. Often in our roles, especially as project engineers and assistant project managers, we handle a lot of moving parts on a day-to-day basis. We know what’s going on, sometimes even more so than our project managers. We’re able to effectively communicate. We are empathetic, so we bring a level of compassion and nurturing to the jobsite. Any construction project is lucky to have female team members, especially on the General Contractor side.

MR: I agree with Kristal – women do bring a different – and often very personable –  perspective, whether it’s changing the communication style, simplifying things or being able to talk to different types of clients. Often, our clients are not males. Women welcome the opportunity to work with other women and bridge that gap.

RH: Chloe, earlier, you mentioned the impact that mentorship had on you in your career. Can you elaborate on that and how it’s been helpful?

CH: So, I mentioned my professor in college that got me into construction. He invited me to attend a study abroad trip for construction – that’s what really piqued my interest, and I became fully focused on construction in my studies. But I would also like to bring up specific Skyline mentorship. My project executive, Jim Smiley, encouraged me to get more involved in professional networking, and as a result Women in Construction has become an interest of mine.

KC: In my career, I’ve been lucky to have some amazing mentors – both male and female, all ages. Those people who take you under their wing and say, “Let me show you how to do this.” Or make the time and space for you. It’s important in this industry – especially female-to-female – to say, “Let me help you with that” or “Here’s how we could better navigate this.” I hope people see me as a resource to provide help and guidance, because I’ve been truly lucky to have those people in my life. At Skyline, we have a huge pool of resources. Pulling from any of them is like tapping into a wealth of knowledge, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

CH: I just want to add to your comment, Kristal, because you did a great job mentoring me when I joined Skyline, and I really appreciate it. At that time, there were far less women on the team than there are now, so really, you provided me a safe space.

MR: Having a mentor you can trust is crucial in the industry. When I first started, I was lucky enough to have a great mentor. She guided me through everything from projects not going as expected, to helping me grasp a difficult concept. She was there, not necessarily telling me the answers, but guiding me and encouraging me to keep working through it. And now at Skyline, I see the same traits in many of my colleagues. Everyone is helpful. That speaks to the Skyline culture. I feel comfortable going to any of the executives or project managers. If I have questions, I am taken seriously. I am treated equally. My questions don’t feel “stupid” – they feel valid and understood.

RH: Any final advice you’d like to share to those starting off their career in construction?

KC: Don’t focus on perfection.  Be hungry to learn, willing and open to accept the lessons that come up and own your mistakes. Take ownership and really dive in.

MR: Don’t be afraid to ask questions or make mistakes. This industry is very team focused, so use your resources. Keep that drive up and most importantly, have fun. It’s a great industry – we work with cool people. So just keep going, it’s all about the journey.