Laura McWilliams: Blazing Trails and Building Skyscrapers
Laura McWilliams began college with the goal of pursuing a degree in architecture, but she soon discovered that her passion leaned more towards a technical field than a creative one.
With a deep appreciation for the complexity and scale of construction projects, Laura changed course and obtained a degree in construction management from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, a top-ranked school for construction superintendents.
After graduating, Laura began her career with Balfour Beatty as an office engineer. Her first opportunity would be both life and career changing. As a member of the New Parkland Hospital project team, Laura experienced how teamwork and industry-leading operational excellence brought the dream of a 2.1-million-square-foot, 862-bed, LEED® Gold hospital to life for the Dallas-Fort Worth community. It would also ignite a passion in Laura to pursue one of the career paths less traditionally traveled for women in construction.
Transitioning from the Office to the Field
Laura credits her early career development to two of Parkland’s general superintendents, Sam Moses and Aaron Blair. By exposing Laura to on-site activities, these industry veterans helped her understand how construction drawings translate to real-world field applications. Their mentorship played a pivotal role in shaping her career trajectory.
“Hospital projects are highly complex, and all the details and moving parts made every day so exciting and busy,” Laura recalls. “I realized how much I enjoyed being in the field."
After completing the Parkland project, Laura decided to refocus her ambitions on becoming a superintendent—one of the least common career paths for women in construction. In fact, according to the National Association of Women in Construction, approximately 10% of construction workers are women, with only 1% representing the field (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Although Laura was cognizant of the industry’s widespread gender imbalance, she felt unwavering support from her mentors and colleagues at Balfour Beatty and never doubted her ability to succeed.
Since that time, Laura has contributed to iconic and highly complex projects such as the 50,000-square-foot First Baptist Medical Center, Park District and The Independent, a 58-story residential tower and Austin's tallest building. Most recently, Laura completed work on Victory Commons One in Dallas.
Developing a Team Environment
Although superintendents are responsible for ensuring quality work is executed safely and on schedule, they also play a vital role in building a thriving team culture that extends to Balfour Beatty’s trade partners. On every project, Laura strives to replicate the model team environment she experienced on the Parkland project by establishing strong and collaborative relationships, encouraging open communication and maintaining a positive outlook.
"I walk the job after the morning huddle to connect with the project team, ensure everyone is working safely and provide my teams with feedback and encouragement. This constant movement of walking the site benefits our team, safety, project quality and schedule," she says.
Laura has also observed that effective teambuilding extends beyond the jobsite. By facilitating opportunities for regular team lunches and outings such as bowling or baseball games, Laura helps build more personal and meaningful connections between colleagues.
"We spend our workdays together, sometimes including a weekend rotation, so providing a positive atmosphere and safe environment where people work well together is essential. It's easier to find solutions as a team in a positive and collaborative environment that supports diverse viewpoints," she maintains.
Leading as a Woman in the Field
As Laura has grown in her career, assuming greater levels of responsibility and leadership, she has witnessed the industry make tremendous strides to become more diverse and inclusive. And while there is still a great need to eliminate barriers and create opportunities, Laura believes technical proficiencies are the great equalizer. “If you’re good at your job, you earn respect—on or off the field.” When Laura encounters misconceptions or stereotypes, she reframes situations by establishing clear boundaries based on her position, without regard to gender.
To encourage more women to pursue careers in the field, Laura advises “Don't feel out of place on jobsites, and don't be afraid to ask questions. The more you learn, the better you're going to be. Providing different perspectives will make you an asset to any team."
To build momentum around diversity, equity and inclusion within Balfour Beatty, Laura has been a steadfast advocate for Connecting Women, an employee affinity group that connects teammates across all disciplines. In addition to serving as a professional network, Connecting Women provides a safe forum for practical discussions about common challenges women face in the industry and supports opportunities for professional development.
Although Laura has achieved tremendous success in her career to date, she has her sights set as high as the buildings she has brought to the Dallas skyline and will continue to raise the bar as a Relentless Ally within her teams, industry and community.