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Breaking Ceilings, Building Tomorrow

Started by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) in 1998, WIC Week, or Women in Construction Week, emphasizes the strength and knowledge of women in shaping the construction landscape. This week-long celebration is marked by local chapters organizing events such as presentations to high school classes, job site tours, luncheons, and virtual events.

This year’s theme, “Keys to the Future,” emphasizes the crucial role women play in shaping the future of the construction industry. As we delve into Women in Construction Week (March 3-9, 2024), we turn our focus to our partners at Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, a steadfast advocate for empowering women in construction.

In the dynamic world of construction, Whiting-Turner stands out not only for its exceptional projects but also for its unwavering commitment to fostering diversity and empowerment. This commitment is vividly reflected in the collaborative efforts of two remarkable women, each contributing their expertise to the expansive growth at The Forest at Duke.

Jade Woodard
Project Manager
The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
(Photo by Lauren Young)

Building Excellence On Site

Jade Woodard is a powerhouse in construction management. As a Project Manager working closely with lead John Austin, Jade oversees the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection aspects of the work site for The Terraces. Since joining Whiting-Turner in 2017, her trajectory has been marked by significant roles, including Assistant Project Manager for the Small House Health Center in Phase One of our expansion.

Jade openly acknowledges the challenges of navigating the male-dominated field of construction but credits the leadership at Whiting-Turner for their consistent support, which has played a pivotal role in steering her career upwards. She cites one of the company’s employee resource groups, the Women of Whiting-Turner (WOW), as evidence of Whiting-Turner’s proactive efforts to address equity challenges in the workplace.

WOW, which has both local and regional chapters across the United States, celebrates its members and promotes career advancement by organizing events, panel discussions, and job site tours. These initiatives create a platform for women to share experiences and insights, fostering a supportive community. WOW not only helps Whiting-Turner recognize the annual WIC Week but continues to shine the spotlight on advancing women within the construction industry daily.

Jade has attended many of the local WOW chapter’s events, including panel discussions with executive level women who discussed their paths from entry level positions, like field engineers, to glass ceiling-shattering roles in Whiting-Turner’s leadership. For Jade and many others, hearing from these women—who often have upwards of 25-30 years’ experience in the field—offers reassurance and paves a sturdy path toward career advancement within the company.

In another recent WOW opportunity, members took a job site tour with Hope Renovations, a 501(c)3 organization that promotes gender equity, prepares underemployed women and gender expansive individuals for construction careers, and helps older adults age in place. “Opportunities like this provide training and encouragement for women to get into trades work,” Jade explains. She further shares that James Larkin, Whiting-Turner’s Site Superintendent for The Terraces expansion project, has taken initiative to help the local WOW group make connections with engineers and training opportunities for career development.

Changing Dynamics in the Construction Workforce

Jade recognizes a positive shift in the construction workforce, particularly on The Terraces project. During Phase One production, she says, there were already quite a few women plumbers, painters, and tile workers. Now even more women are taking up roles in plumbing, painting, and electrical, signaling a growing trend towards inclusivity. Lead Project Manager John Austin anticipates this trend will only intensify as construction progresses.

Jade encourages women interested in construction to recognize their qualifications and not underestimate their capabilities. “A lot of times women feel that because they’re not in positions of power or don’t see people who look like them [who are], they don’t think those roles are for them,” she says. “As women we [often] feel like we’re underqualified to do our jobs when in reality we’re qualified and well-prepared. Just because you’re not an expert on something doesn’t mean you can’t do what you need to do to move things in a positive direction.”

Her short advice? “Girl, you got it!”

Trina Agnello, PE
Structural Engineer
Stewart Inc.
(Photo by Lauren Young)

A Structural Engineer’s Odyssey

Trina Agnello, a seasoned Structural Engineer with Stewart Inc., holds over two decades of experience. Her expertise spans diverse ventures, including healthcare, retail, fire stations, and residential and commercial buildings. Having served as both a project engineer and project manager, she understands the complex nature of planning and building secure steel, wood, and masonry buildings, even in hurricane-prone regions, where deep foundation design is crucial.

For Trina, construction is more than a profession; it’s a puzzle to solve. Guided by a terrific high school counselor who recognized her aptitude for science and math, Trina embarked on a journey fueled by curiosity and passion.

Embarking on her career journey required Trina to immerse herself in an array of classes, exploring the worlds of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Mastery of these subjects was essential for her role, given the nuanced understanding required in construction. Trina explains, for example, “Concrete is very acidic, and the reinforcement is very basic. There is a chemical reaction happening in the concrete, and the balance of water and sand to neutralize and contain that reaction is just one of many things happening simultaneously.”

Trina’s advice for women contemplating a construction career is rooted in practical exploration. From job shadowing and internships to reaching out to professionals on platforms like LinkedIn, she emphasizes the importance of asking questions, particularly about what someone does in their specific role to see if it might spark further interest. “You’ll never know if you don’t ask,” she wisely advises.

Guardian of Structural Integrity

As the Structural Engineer for The Terraces expansion project at The Forest, Trina is the backbone of the construction. From foundational elements to columns, retaining walls, and beams, her meticulous work shapes the entire skeleton of the building. “Everything you see on site now is foundational,” she says, adding with a proud smile, “It’s me.”

Her expertise extends beyond the fundamentals; she understands well the intricate dance of materials, noting that steel and aluminum can’t coexist without a separator to prevent corrosion. Reflecting on historical ingenuity, Trina marvels, “How the Romans figured it out, I have no idea!”

Yet, with great responsibility comes constant pressure. Trina acknowledges the weight of her role, emphasizing, “I’m responsible for not only the people living [in the building] but all of the workers, too.” This burden persists until the completion of a project, only to be replaced by new challenges as Trina transitions to the next task in her pipeline. Even with the roof in place, her commitment to excellence propels her forward, with other projects awaiting her meticulous attention.

Collaborating closely with Whiting-Turner, Trina ensures that her exhaustive hours of detailed, thoughtful, and precisely measured work culminate in success through the skilled hands of the construction team. Her dedication to her craft, coupled with a deep understanding of the scientific intricacies, underscores her pivotal role in the construction process.

The Forest at Duke honors the legacy of women in construction and feels immense gratitude toward its construction partner, Whiting-Turner, for standing as a beacon of empowerment for this incredible group of skilled workers. Jade Woodard and Trina Agnello, along with their colleagues, are crafting foundations, shaping futures, and unlocking the “Keys to the Future” for women in the construction industry.

Lauren Young, Communications & Engagement Coordinator

Header image: The Terraces construction site, as seen from the fifth floor landing of
the Small House Health Center on March 8, 2024. (Photo by Jaqueria Brogdon, Health Center
Lead Activities Care Partner)
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