Getting Personal

Shattering Stereotypes: Tori Staples’ Path into A Male-Dominated Field

Why did you pursue a career in a traditionally male-dominated field? When did you first know you wanted to pursue this field? 

Growing up, I was always helping my dad around the house with various projects. I loved being hands-on and always had so much fun building from scratch.

When I was eight years old, I found a book of floorplans on the living room shelf and spent the next decade immersed in the hobby of pouring over that book and other plans I found online for hundreds of hours. For a while, I was convinced I wanted to be an architect. I quickly realized that designing was not my thing, and I was much more interested in the part of building my own home like my parents had done. I don’t think I ever gave the career path another thought after this realization. I honestly don’t remember what I looked at next as a career interest, as nothing was particularly strong.

I did not know that I wanted to pursue a career in construction until my freshman year at the University of Maine.

Throughout my K-12 school years, I always tried to do what I thought I was supposed to, which resulted in going to college with no certainty of what I wanted to do with my life. I took inspiration from my older brother and pursued engineering – I always excelled at and enjoyed the hands-on engineering-related projects in my science classes, so that seemed like the right path. It was a starting point, at the very least.

I enrolled at UMaine as an Engineering Undeclared major and hoped for the best. My general engineering course had presentations from each major, and nothing spoke to me until the School of Engineering Technology presented. Construction Engineering Technology felt like an instant connection, and I declared as a CET major that same day. How I would be perceived in the construction industry or the fact that it is a “male-dominated” field never crossed my mind in making this decision.

What is the biggest challenge of being a woman in the construction industry?

I think the biggest challenge is being perceived as different and treated as such. I have never viewed myself as any different from my male colleagues, and yet there seems to be an unspoken rule that being a woman in construction
warrants different treatment until you’ve proven to be ‘one of the guys.’

Over the years, nearly every job site I’ve worked on has come with what I’ll call a fog in front of me. It would take an average of two weeks for that fog to clear as the crews adjusted to my female presence. I’ve asked about this in good nature, and the response is always the same: We didn’t know how we were supposed to treat you. I believe this will remain a challenge until women make a strong presence in all corners of the construction industry.

What do you find most rewarding about construction?

The opportunity for daily problem solving. I’ve always been the kind of person to seek answers and solutions or to find a better way of doing something, and working for a GC allows me the ability to do this all the time. I also thoroughly enjoy the daily interactions and life-long connections that are made from being on-site and immersed in the project.

What does a typical day look like as a Project Engineer?

A typical day for me in Skowhegan at this stage of the project primarily involves document control on Procore and assisting the superintendents with the day-to-day operations of the job site.

Each morning, I attend the daily foreman meeting to understand what’s happening on-site and where. In the job office, my job duties include providing site orientations, creating weekly reports, and filing subcontractor and owner paperwork submissions.

In the field, I take photos, work on the daily report, and assist with ensuring subs are complying with our safety requirements. I’ve been assisting with winter conditions regularly and will be starting more QC efforts as the building gets closed in and more disciplines get started.

I had minimal experience in commercial construction before coming to Landry/French, so I have been committing significant efforts to learning and working through issues on-site/in the plans with the superintendent/PM and subcontractors as they arise.

Tell us about other roles you’ve held in construction before Landry/French.

While at the University of Maine, I took three internships, all of which had me living in a motel for the summer. My first two internships were as a consultant inspector for MaineDOT highway, and I worked from Whiting, Maine, to Bar Harbor and way up north to Presque Isle/Caribou. My third internship was as an assistant superintendent on a new school construction in the County.

After graduating from UMaine, I worked for MaineDOT bridge as an Assistant Transportation Engineer for two years. I was based out of the Bangor office and was on site inspecting projects across the northeastern half of the state, including a small bridge replacement in Stonington, and the 1,825-foot international bridge replacement in Madawaska. I enjoyed this line of work while I was there, but learned that it was not an environment where I was able to thrive in. Being hands-off was a requirement, and that is simply against my nature.

What tips or advice would you offer other women considering entering the construction industry?

Don’t allow stereotypes or fear to deter you from pursuing your field of interest. Don’t allow yourself to wonder if you have what it takes. If the construction industry is where you want to be, the most important thing you can do is be yourself, and you’ll be just fine.