At Brooks Resources, we’re always happy when there’s a chance to celebrate the talented women in our field, so imagine how we feel during March, which marks both Women’s History Month and Women in Construction Week (March 3-9). 

One outstanding female construction professional we’ve gotten to know over the past few years is Kristen O’Riordan of SunWest Builders. Kristen is the project manager for the live/work townhomes at Discovery West’s Discovery Corner area. Considering that women make up only 1.25% of the construction workforce while accounting for 47% of the total workforce* we were eager to learn how Kristin got her start in the industry. Here she shares her story with us and the role mentorship, passion and perseverance have played in her career.

What drew you to project management in the construction industry?

I found myself drawn to the hands-on aspect of construction after interning at architectural firms during college. The appeal of being actively involved in the building process, rather than confined to a cubicle, became apparent to me. This realization prompted me to switch my major to Engineering, with a focus on construction management. Following graduation, I had the opportunity to work for a small construction management company specializing in a variety of projects, including large office Tenant Improvements (TIs) and facility management for tech companies.

Working under the supervision of the company’s female owner, Megan, played a pivotal role in shaping my career path. Observing her leadership and learning from her expertise helped inspire my interest in project management in the construction industry. 

What does a normal day working in project management at SunWest look like for you? 

My typical day involves a mix of office work and onsite activities. This includes estimating commercial Tenant Improvements and single-family homes, reviewing drawings, drafting subcontracts, and tracking project financials, alongside conducting onsite reviews where I walk job sites, inspect construction details, review material selections, and meet with clients to ensure their needs are met. This blend of tasks keeps me engaged and allows me to oversee projects from start to finish.

Are there any special considerations when working with live/work concepts?

Mixed-use buildings combine residential and commercial spaces, so there are several considerations to keep in mind. The project involves navigating both residential and commercial building codes, adding an extra layer of complexity. Additionally, careful attention must be paid to scheduling and building access, as the mixing of two different functions within one space requires coordination to ensure smooth operations. There is also the addition of tenant improvement build-outs, which often occur later in the project, that need to be managed and incorporated into the overall construction plan. Juggling these various factors requires thorough planning and attention to detail to ensure the successful execution of live/work projects.

What are the biggest obstacles or challenges you’ve had to overcome while working in a male-dominated industry?

There were times where I was disregarded or ignored due to my youth and gender, leading to moments of self-doubt. However, I learned to assert myself and speak up until I earned the recognition I felt I deserved. There have also been times when I wasn’t able to change someone’s view, and it’s unfortunate, but I learned to stay true to myself and move past it. Over time, I’ve created positive relationships and grown more confident, embracing each experience as an opportunity for personal development.

What advice would you give to a woman interested in starting a role in an industry that’s mostly male-dominated?

My advice to women interested in starting a role in a male-dominated industry would be that if it’s something you’re passionate about, go for it. Don’t allow the gender disparity to deter you. Instead, embrace the challenge, trust in your abilities, and seek support from women’s groups within the industry, where you can find camaraderie and encouragement.

Because SunWest actually has 60% female project managers, how does working alongside so many women help you in your role?

Working alongside so many women at SunWest has been immensely beneficial for me in my role. Seeing women in senior positions and project coordinator roles handling projects of various complexities has helped me develop a greater sense of confidence. Knowing that they’ve likely encountered and overcome similar obstacles creates a unique bond and sense of solidarity. I find it inspiring to observe how other female project managers interact with clients and tackle challenges, providing valuable learning opportunities and insights that contribute to my professional growth.


*2023 Labor Force Statistics Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 

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