Everyone needs a mentor as they try and grasp what their path in life could entail. Kristine Szeto was lucky to grow up with hers.
“My mother and my grandmother have been people that I look up to, people that have showed me the qualities of what it means to be a strong woman,” Szeto said in an interview with the Journal of Commerce.
Szeto, director of M&E preconstruction with EllisDon Corporation, recently received the Outstanding Woman in Construction award at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association awards of excellence.
“There’s a lot of really strong female leaders in this industry,” Szeto said about the award, “it was unexpected but I appreciated it for sure.”
Being a force of positive change isn’t just part of her professional life but something she always carries with her.
“As a teenager, the biggest thing I wanted was to help people. So, I was considering careers as either a doctor or an engineer,” she said.
“I decided to go the engineering route, but I ended up in construction which was not entirely planned.”
Szeto said her natural altruism has found a meaningful home in construction.
“It’s an industry where you can make a really great impact on and touch so many different groups of people,” Szeto said.
“From building new hospitals or expanding current hospitals, working on infrastructure, new commercial buildings, residential towers – it’s an industry that touches anyone and everyone.”
Szeto doesn’t just lead from within her company but seeks to be the mentor for others.
“I really enjoy supporting the young women who are just entering the industry,” she said.
“I informally mentor young women who are seeking guidance, are just needing some support or are just wanting to chat about a challenge that they’re currently going through,” she said.
She sometimes reaches out to young professionals to see if they need guidance or just a friendly chat. Sometimes they reach out to her.
“I’ll just listen and ask them what they’re going through,” said Szeto.
“If I can make a difference in even one individual career and life (then) all this stuff is worth it to me.”
With EllisDon she has spearheaded many initiatives focused on gender inclusivity.
As chair of the company’s gender equality group, she has seen engagement on issues of equity grow substantially.
“We started it from kind of nothing, no rules or guidelines. I’ve been able to have 60 active members from across the company,” she said.
In her role, Szeto pushes for fair practices and better conditions for everyone.
“We’re working on a proposal right now that will not only increase the amount of time that a birth mother will get for going on maternity leave but we’re also proposing to expand that to fathers and adoptive parents, foster parents,” she said, “anyone who is a new parent.”
The current industry standard of eight-weeks parental leave can cause financial difficulties and act as an impediment for people who want to start a family, said Szeto.
She plans on spending her entire professional career in construction. But, as she recalled, getting started was not without its prejudicial difficulties.
“I had a situation where I was perceived to not be good enough to do the work. I was called out for it because I was a woman,” Szeto said.
“I kind of turned that around and I said, ‘Well, I’m going to prove this individual wrong and I’m going to show him that I can do even better than the expectations he had for someone that was not a female.’”
She said while both men and women deal with microaggressions in the workplace, women generally deal with them more often.
“There’s no doubt that construction can be and is a tough industry.
“What we need to do as a company and as an industry is support those individuals’ rights.”
Szeto shared some advice for young women who may be anxious about joining the construction industry: “jump in.”
“This is a really, really great industry with lots of opportunities. To be quite honest, I didn’t see myself in construction because of some perceptions that I had, which, quite frankly, were wrong,” she said.
“There’s a lot of really good people in construction.”
Follow the author on Twitter @JOC_Evan.