Jessica Tomaselli’s plan for a career in interior design failed, so she tried her luck in a male-dominated industry: construction. Now, she’s leading by example as the industry makes strides to reach more women. | Business Observer

March is always a big month for women. Women’s History Month is recognized by the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, and International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8, has been celebrated around the world since 1911.

Lesser known, but increasingly important for economic growth at the micro and macro levels, Women in Construction Week has been observed since 1998, when it was established by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). This year, it took place from March 6 to 12.

With an ongoing labor shortage in construction and trades, there has never been a better time for women to join the field, yet only 10% of people working in construction are women. To help underscore the need for more women in construction, the Business Observer spoke with Jessica Tomaselli of Robins & Morton, a general contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. which has a significant presence in Orlando and Tampa Bay.

Tomaselli, 34, has already risen to the rank of senior project manager and is leading the $152 million renovation and expansion of St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, a project slated for completion next month. Lightly edited excerpts of our conversation with her follow.

Q: You studied interior design at university. Why didn’t you follow this career path?

“The industry as a whole is making huge strides to be more inclusive and ensure it hires women out of college now, but we need more women to get into the trades themselves. ” Jessica Tomaselli, Senior Project Manager at Robins & Morton

A: I’m the typical millennial victim of a stock market crash. Basically, right before I was about to graduate [from the University of Florida], there was a hiring freeze. Interior design at UF is a fairly small program. There were about 30 people in our class in 2009, but no one could find a job. I think one person ended up with a job right out of college.

Q: What attracted you to the construction industry?

A: At UF, the College of Design, Construction and Planning, which offers interior design, is literally across the street from the School of Construction Management. So I thought, ‘Well, if nobody’s able to get a job right out of college, I’ll make myself a more marketable designer,’ and so I got a master’s degree in construction. I ended up discovering that construction is actually where I wanted to be. There is so much more upward movement in construction and so much more opportunity. It ended up being obvious.

Q: The number of women in construction is increasing, but still lagging far behind other sectors of the economy. What can the construction industry do better to attract women?

A: The industry as a whole is making huge strides to be more inclusive and ensure it hires women right out of college now, but we need more women to participate themselves. to trades. We have an aging population of tradespeople, and not as many people are entering the trades as we would like. What will construction look like in 10 years if there is no one behind these trades people? I think women in trades would be a great move that the construction industry could focus on.

Q: Nearly a decade into your construction career, are you still experiencing challenges related to your gender?

A: I wouldn’t say there isn’t, but the industry has definitely changed. The St. Anthony’s project, in particular, has the most women I have ever worked with in leadership positions. Our structural engineer is a woman; our civil engineer is a woman; the managing partner of the architecture firm we work with is a woman, and several specialist contractors have women in management positions.

Q: What are you personally doing to encourage more women to consider a career in construction?

A: We had a nice young lady from Auburn University who joined us as an intern. [on the St. Anthony’s project], which I was thrilled with. We were lucky enough to spend a lot of time together on the job site…more than I would have spent with any other intern, so I could make sure she felt comfortable enough to pursue a career in construction. I was like, “Bring your friends!” Additionally, Tampa has a small chapter of NAWIC, and we invite women to join us for monthly meetings, social events, and networking events.