Lilianne Dobbs of PCL Construction has been named part of the 2020 Women’s Leadership Initiative Championship Team.
Dobbs, PCL’s first female superintendent to celebrate 25 years with the company, is one of 17 inductees this year and the only one representing the construction industry.
“I’m proud and it’s nice to be recognized,” Dobbs said in an interview with the Daily Commercial News. “I’m not usually big on a lot of fanfare. I go to work every day, do my thing and go home and do my family life. The last two or three years I really came to realize that the women in the industry really have a place in supporting, pushing and bringing along new people into the industry — young women and young men — because right now a lot of people have misconceptions about construction and that needs to change. Part of my passion is trying to share that message and get it out there to young people.”
The championship team, selected and presented by the Toronto chapter of the Urban Land Institute, recognizes influential women in the Toronto region for their leadership and contributions to the city’s real estate, city building and land-use sector.
“Throughout her career, Dobbs has built herself into a dedicated leader and trailblazer for women in construction,” states the release. “She’s heavily involved with her local community, including the Carpenters’ Union, grade schools and summer camps. Despite her unpredictable site schedule, she never misses an opportunity to connect with young women to share her experiences and expertise.”
Dobbs got into construction after high school. Initially, her plan was to be a hairdresser.
“My dad is an iron worker and for a few years he had a female partner on the job,” recalled Dobbs. “He would often come home and say, ‘you should get into construction. You would like it.’ One day my dad took my brother down to the Labourers’ Union and said to me, ‘Are you coming?’ I said, ‘OK I guess I am.’ He asked the guy, ‘do you take girls?’ The guy said yes so I signed on.
“I became a labourer first because I thought I could make triple the money I was making elsewhere at that time and save up a lot of money during that year off,” she added. “A few months in I realized this is really fun, I really love this job.”
She took a carpentry apprenticeship and worked as a carpenter for about 10 years before being offered a position as superintendent at PCL.
“I’ve always known it’s unusual, but I never felt like I did not fit in,” said Dobbs, referring to the male-dominated construction industry. “If you go back 32 years it was even less common than today. I know even nowadays some people maybe still think it’s not a job for a woman.
“But even back then I went to work and I worked my butt off. I pulled my own weight every day and no one ever thought I wasn’t doing enough. I always felt like I fit in.”
There are a lot of misconceptions about the industry and she hopes to set the record straight by promoting it as a career of choice to young people.
“I let them know there are so many opportunities and sometimes it is more of a physical job than maybe they think they care for but it’s so rewarding,” said Dobbs. “At the end of the day when you do a physical task, whether it’s electrician, a bricklayer, plumber, carpenter, it’s so rewarding. If we drive downtown I can point to several buildings I worked on. I was part of something huge. I want to let them know it’s actually very good pay, a great career, there is room to grow and you can take it in lots of different directions. If you don’t want to continue working physically all your life there are so many things you can do with a trade.
“You get paid to work and learn during your first four or five years depending on your apprenticeship,” she said. “You don’t come out five years later owing $100,000 or $150,000, you come out having made that or more.”
She said she is starting to see more interest in the trades.
“I think people are starting to open up their eyes a little bit, but we’ve lost and continue to lose so many people to retirement,” she added, “There is just so much opportunity and I want to promote that.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.