The construction industry has helped fuel Tampa Bay’s recent renaissance, with new skyscrapers and sprawling housing developments popping up faster than we can keep track. As the demand for workers grows, local builders are trying to attract more women to the male-dominated field.
A 2022 analysis from the Washington Post found that women made up 14.5% of Florida’s construction workforce. That’s one of the highest levels in the country, preceded only by Washington D.C. and Arizona.
Samira Kraziem works for Suffolk Construction, a national building services company with an office in Tampa. She discusses how she went from a receptionist to a senior project manager.
What drew you to this line of work in the first place?
I got into this sort of by accident. I was a psychology major. I was looking for a temporary job while I did my master’s. I landed a receptionist job at a small general contractor in Miami. They gave me so much opportunity to learn and grow and absorb different facets of it.
I just loved it so much that I ended up stopping my master’s program and instead continued to pursue my career in construction. I love the fact that you deal with so many different types of people on a day-to-day basis. I love constantly being challenged and working in a fast paced environment.
How did you take your career to the next level?
Once I realized this was the field I wanted to be in, I started researching different construction companies. In 2015 I accepted an admin position with Suffolk for a mixed-use project in Miami. Once I got my foot in the door I never looked back.
I think the biggest challenge for me was coming in as a psychology major, I had very little exposure to the technical side of things. It was very daunting at first.
I was itching for experience so I would ask for more and more work. I would come in at 2 in the morning just to see what it was like to pour concrete or install rebar. Sometimes I was working 16-hour days. But I wanted to do whatever it took to learn all the different components.
What does your day-to-day look like now as a senior project manager?
The day-to-day sort of changes over the life cycle of the project. I oversee all the trade departments on site. I’m also the direct point of contact for the owner. I’m putting out fires, managing all the different skills, coordinating with the design time. There’s a lot of different moving parts and pieces and I make sure it all runs smoothly.
What are some projects have you worked on?
One of my favorites was the Asher building in downtown Tampa. It was awesome to be a part of this redevelopment of the Water Street area. It was one of the largest developments going on in the region at the time. There were so many projects going on in such close proximity.
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Before that I was fortunate to be a part of Winter Haven Hospital’s emergency expansion. It was an active emergency unit so we had to be very mindful of the safety of all the patients. Definitely very logistically challenging but a great experience.
I was also a project engineer for Arabelle Riverwalk, an apartment on the Hillsborough River.
Have you ever faced obstacles because of your gender?
Going into the field it’s not something I thought too much about, I was just so caught up in the excitement of learning the technical side of things.
Being in it now and moving up the ranks, I’m having to sit at the roundtable a lot more in a room full of men. It’s certainly caused me to grow thicker skin. It’s taught me to be more assertive and to stand my ground.
As a woman you need to do that to get through your day. I think that things are changing but it is still a male-dominated industry.
What can construction companies do to better attract and retain women?
Suffolk has done a really good job of making women feel supported. They offer things like flexible time off which is really great for women who have families and kids.
We also have a group called “women build”. It’s essentially an in-house mentorship program. Senior women in the company who have more tenure help out some of the up and coming talent. We have team bonding events with that group. Everyone gets together for things like bowling night. Having that family-like environment within the company is important and helps women feel welcome.
What advice do you have for women who are interested in entering the field but might be deterred by the gender disparities?
I don’t think it’s always a bad thing to be in the minority. If you’re someone who loves challenge and wants something different than a 9-5 just sitting at a desk, it’s definitely something you should consider.