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Sponsored by Wentworth Institute of Technology

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If construction is a man’s world, someone forgot to tell Rose Conti

After 30 years climbing the ladder in a male-dominated industry, one trailblazer shares hard lessons from the hard-hat business.

When she was in high school in Roslindale, Rose Conti took an aptitude test that revealed a strong ability to read three-dimensional drawings. It was a perfect skill for Conti, who told her guidance counselor, a Catholic nun, that she wanted to work in the construction industry.

The nun just shook her head. “‘Women don’t work in construction,” Conti remembers being told. “‘You’re going to take typing classes.’”

So she did. She took a clerical position at a local insurance company—in its construction division. It was here that she first interacted with Lee Kennedy Company, a company of builders based in Quincy, and let them know she’d like to work for them. As soon as they saw her organizational skills and ambition, they hired her away from the insurance company’s clerical pool and set her off on a new course.

Thirty years and two children later, she can reflect on how she built a thriving career as a working mom in an industry not exactly known for welcoming, and promoting, ambitious women. And one of the biggest influences on her career rise? Returning to school to get two degrees: an associate’s in building construction and a bachelor’s in construction management, both from the College of Professional and Continuing Education at Wentworth Institute of Technology.

It’s a pattern schools like Wentworth are seeing more and more of—people returning to school later in life—to either develop a new skill set to launch a new career or to advance their existing one.

Today, as the director of interiors/special projects for Lee Kennedy Co., Conti leads a business unit that generated $140 million in 2016, and continues to grow.

And she hasn’t forgotten the role that Wentworth, which recently obtained official “university” status from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, played in her career. Today Conti remains an active alumna, grateful for the doors it opened for her and eager to mentor the next generation of industry leaders.

In a wide-ranging, candid conversation, Conti shared what she’s learned since she began her construction career back in 1983. Inside her reflections are lessons that could apply to so many industries today, from science to technology to politics, where women continue to break down barriers while confronting the harsh realities of old-school ways.

  1. Develop a thick skin. When I started, there were just no other women working in construction. In some cases, I wasn’t very well received by the older gentlemen who worked in the business, because they thought I was taking a job away from a man. One time, I just told them to ‘get over it,’ because I’m doing the work and their complaining wasn’t exactly helping. I used to take these things more to heart, and had a lot of sleepless nights, but I’ve learned to separate the personal from the professional. Developing a thick skin has helped me greatly, allowing me to let things roll off my back.
  2. Keep your promises. I always want to make sure we live up to our customer commitments and I hold myself and our team accountable to deliver on what we’ve promised. There are no boundaries, and it has to be a team effort. Sometimes I’m picking up slack for other team members, and other times they do that for me, but you have to do what you’ve promised the client.
  3. Never stop learning. I took classes in welding, carpentry, and masonry. I wanted to know how buildings got built because I knew I wanted to supervise, and I needed to know how things worked from the ground up. I was a much better student because the professors at Wentworth were peers I knew in the industry, so we could have real conversations that were relevant both for the courses and my actual work.
  4. Love what you do. Because you will have to make sacrifices. Fortunately the industry is much better today. When I put the kids to bed around 9 p.m., I’d do my homework. I’d be up past midnight, learning. You need to be very regimented. You really have to like what you’re doing and be passionate about it. You need to care because you’ll need that personal commitment on some of the projects. It takes sacrifice, but you need to do what you need to do.
  5. Pay it forward. I didn’t have any women mentors in the business when I started, and that was a challenge because I couldn’t discuss some emotional issues that I took home with me. Mentoring takes listening on both sides, and then getting to know each other well. I take my mentees to visit job sites and attend meetings with owners. I also help them understand how to negotiate salary, how to consider a job offer, how to get promoted. You need to build a toolkit to do these things the right way.


This interview was condensed and edited.

This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.