Written by Eliza LaJoie
Jennifer Pinck is a master of the art of simultaneous translation.
As a student of classics at the University of Massachusetts in the 1970s, Pinck became expert at moving between the modern world and the ancient worlds of Latin and Greek. She wasn’t sure how – or if – it was a skill she would use in her future career. But today, as a pioneer in the male-dominated, multi-stakeholder construction industry, Pinck says that her communication skills have driven her success. More than knowledge of building layouts or the composition of concrete, an ability to move between disparate perspectives and build consensus has helped her thrive, even when surrounded by people who seem to be speaking a completely different language.
Today, Pinck is an undisputed leader in the construction management industry – her eponymous firm has sustained exceptionally high growth rates, making it onto the Inner City 100 list of fast-growth firms four times since 2011. Pinck’s team specializes in “owner’s project management,” working on an owner’s behalf to ensure that all players, from architects to contractors, work smoothly together. Based in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, Pinck & Co. has overseen major projects throughout the region, and Pinck herself has worked on local mega-projects like the Big Dig and Boston Harbor clean-up.
But before she was an established industry leader, Pinck was one of many women facing the grueling experience of breaking into the construction industry. She began working on contractors’ teams and large commercial projects throughout New England and discovered that she was “enamored and fascinated by construction sites.” But as the only woman on each team she joined, she also encountered a great deal of hostility.
“I was ostracized, insulted and humiliated,” she said, recalling one long-term job where the other field engineers refused to speak to her for an entire year. Even when coworkers were not overtly hostile, Pinck said she was constantly made to feel as though she didn’t belong – new team members often assumed that she was only on the construction site because she was “someone’s daughter.”
The gender gap in construction is well-documented and persistent. The percentage of women among construction site workers has hovered below three percent for decades, according to a 2014 report by the National Women’s Law Center. This gap has persisted despite the fact that construction jobs offer high pay and that women in the industry actually face a smaller wage gap than their peers in other industries. Many women echo Pinck’s reports of hostile treatment: A US Department of Labor study found that nearly 90 percent of women in the construction industry said they had been sexually harassed, and 41 percent said they had felt mistreated by coworkers and supervisors because of their gender.
Pinck was able to persist thanks to her “thick skin and round shoulders,” recalling that “I let things roll off me.” But she never forgot the isolation and lack of professional mentors, and as she advanced into higher ranking industry roles, she worked to be a role model and mentor to younger people.
Today, Pinck leads a team of project managers who come from backgrounds in construction, architecture and consulting. 70 percent are women. She said that having a diverse staff allows her company to tap into not only employees’ hard skill sets, but more importantly, their unique interpersonal skills, like those Pinck herself had developed as a classics student. As project managers, her team must streamline collaboration between all players, and Pinck feels that women are often well prepared to thrive in this role. She hopes that her legacy will be increased recognition of how important these contributions are in the construction management industry.
“In 20 years, it would be nice to see in my profession that there was acknowledgement that women are incredibly good listeners, facilitators and consensus-builders, which is so important for complex projects,” she said.
Pinck has built a business focused on mission-driven projects and underserved neighborhoods in the Greater Boston and New England region, from schools, hospitals and community pools to veterans’ shelters and the Greater Boston Food Bank. And after three decades in the business, it is hard for Pinck to drive anywhere without keeping a mental tally of how many former project sites she passes. But while it is satisfying to be able to count so many tangible achievements, she is most excited to have supported the people and communities behind each project as they seek to overcome their own sets of obstacles.
“It’s really not about the buildings – it’s about the clients,” she said. “I like to work with underdogs, because that’s what I used to be.”