Monica Fontaine / Construction Manager / Built  / 
Table of Women

story / Interview / October 29, 2018

Since being in grade four, I always wanted to work in construction. I thought the only job a women could do was become an architect. My grandfather, uncle and dad were all in the building game, in one way or another. Even with two older brothers, I would do all the renos around mum and dad’s house.

I went to an all girls catholic school, so teaching, nursing, accounting (maybe) were our options. I went into the careers office and was flicking through the material and under ‘Architecture’ there was ‘Building’. It was just called ‘Building’ back then, it wasn’t even called ‘Construction Management’. I was like ‘Can I just do a degree in building and not become an architect?’ Sweet!

I got into the graduate program at Walter Constructions. My project manager didn’t talk to me initially because he was furious that they had hired a woman. He didn’t need someone useless, he needed someone who could do the job. It was after four weeks that he turned around and said ‘I thought you were going to be shit because you’re a chick, but you’re actually pretty good.’ He turned out to be one of the best mentors I ever had.

When I started in 2001 it was completely different. The toilets and sheds were foul. There was pornography everywhere. You got treated like crap. My first Project Manager banned two guys from site because of their lewd behaviour towards me. After he kicked the second of the two off site, he pulled me into his office. I thought he was going to give me a big hug, but he tore shreds off me. ‘If you ever sit there and take that shit again, I will kick your arse myself. I shouldn’t be the one that has to stick up for you…’ It stuck with me. He was right. You shouldn’t just sit there and cop it (easier said than done sometimes).

I spent some time in London where I was a fully fledged contract administrator (Quantity Surveyor for them) and got a job with HBG, which were the second largest builder over there at the time. I spent three years there, then my liver said I needed to go home. London was a really different way of building. If I was at my desk after 5pm, my boss kicked me out. They were all out and seated at the pub by 5:30pm!

When I got back from London I moved to Kane. I was there for twelve years. I went from Contracts Administrator, to Contracts Manager, to Project Manager. Over that journey I started building hospitals. I built my first about eleven years ago. I loved that we could build something good for the community. You can see how much it means for them. I decided to specialise in hospitals and they’ve been my bread and butter for a while now.

When I came to Built they offered a very true career path. They said, you work hard and do all the things you say you can do, we’ll see you into a Construction Manager role. The whole idea was to bring health into the business. I was promoted almost exactly a year after starting here.

I think the future is really positive. We have this amazing network of women. You start to see networks growing, and as people come up in the years and are promoted within these networks, our stock and our value at the table becomes more and more valuable. Men are networking constantly, unconsciously and often we just don’t get invited to the table. So we need to create our own. That table of women, gives you access to a lot of men as well.

Some of the women I’ve grown up with on the Client side, they are now being promoted to positions of power as well. Often it’s like some of the men haven’t noticed that’s what is happening. All of a sudden it’s like ‘We need you to come to this interview, as there’s three women on the panel. And we need to show we have women here.’ I mean, where have you been? Did you not see that they were toiling away in the background?

Some challenges have been fairly obvious. Women often have to work twice as hard to get to exactly the same place as a man. And anyone that says we don’t is lying. The frustration of watching people who haven’t earned it, get promoted, and then seeing them on projects doing nothing.

If I hadn’t specialised, I wouldn’t have stood out as anything different or special. I’ve created value. I had all these clients and contacts. It left people with no choice. The challenge is we always have to come up with creative ways to make us stand out. It shouldn’t have to be like that. You want to say, ‘If you just do your job, you’ll be rewarded’ but it isn’t the truth.

I see what women bring to the table and others are also seeing it too. Projects with women are more successful. The dynamic is different. You get rid of that toxic masculinity. You create a better environment. More of our clients and consultants are women as well. As you have them sitting across the table, we need to reflect that.

Having my little girl was a challenge. Coming back full time. The way that I am, I knew I could never be part-time. That’s my problem, I am a recovering micro manager and am a work in progress. But honestly I love being at work and missed the action while on maternity leave. It got to the end of the day and I said to my husband, ‘I’m just not going to be happy if I’m not building my jobs.’ We ended up deciding together that he was to stay at home (to be honest he hated working). Being away from her is a challenge. At four, she lets me know how much it hurts not having me at home, but I have open and honest conversations with her. This is the reality. I’m your mum and I do my best. I am hoping one day in the future she will look back and be proud of what I did and tried to balance.

Most of the advice that my Mum used to give me is not appropriate for print. She lead by example rather than with words of wisdom. Being 1 of 5 kids my poor mum was stretched pretty far, but she did so much to get us where we needed to be. Even making the decision to move us from our primary school to another, just to ensure that she secured us entry into a really good secondary school. So early on in our lives she’d already started making decisions to help us succeed. Mum always reflects on the fact that she would have loved to be a builder like her dad, but that wasn’t an option when she was growing up.  I feel like I get to live out one of Mum’s dreams and I can see just how proud she is of me along every stage of my career. She always just wanted her girls to get every chance she didn’t and do what we wanted to do. I just hope I haven’t disappointed.

 

If you don’t know Monica – you should. She is a fantastic leader, advocate and empower-er of women in construction. Dedicated to changing the game for women and making her own path. Many will remember her wonderfully genuine NAWIC speech when she won the Crystal Vision award in 2017. A speech that rendered her the heart and soul of women in construction. Monica is witty, self-deprecating, challenging and downright one of the warmest people you will ever meet. Kinda like an old friend you never knew you had. We were so happy to finally meet up with her and undertake this interview and feel very proud to bring this to our audience. We wish Mon all the best at Built in her new role and hope that we meet again soon! J & D xx

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