Women in homebuilding: Claire Seymour builds skills and overcomes challenges with B.C. builder after travelling from Australia

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claire seymour
Claire Seymour (photo: Brice-Ferre)

Canadian Design and Construction Special Feature

Growing up in Australia with three older brothers and a father who was a design consultant for construction projects, Claire Seymour learned at a young age to be handy and that being outside, getting dirty and helping out were all okay. Today she is a construction manager with B.C. based Lacey Developments Ltd.

While in Australia, Seymour studied project and small business management. A boyfriend who was a Red Seal carpenter and master of all trades got her involved helping with a variety of his projects. When she arrived in Canada in 2006 on a 12-month work visa, a friend hooked her up with her current employer, who needed assistance for a few weeks working on an off-the-grid cabin.

“Erik (Lacey – president of Lacey Developments) realized that I knew how to use power tools and I guess he saw my potential. As Erik’s company started to grow I transitioned out of working on site as much and started helping him manage projects. I completed a construction management course and now I look after all of our new custom housing projects.”

Seymour says while it is likely many women in male dominated industries have stories about certain people not giving them a chance or not believing in them, her own experiences always made her even more determined to prove that she knew what she was talking about, knew what she was doing and that she could do the same or better than any guy.

“I found that once I proved myself to people, they were my biggest supporters from that moment forward – whether these people were co-workers or clients. Today I’m lucky enough to have the reputation I do so I don’t often experience that doubt from anyone.”

She says there have been times where she has been left second guessing herself and what she’s doing but there have also been times when she feels proud. Thankfully, she says, the better times outweigh the bad and “the way I see it, the bad give you that extra boost to keep going and do things better.”

Seymour says Erik and his wife Lesa have always been very supportive. “Erik has always let me try anything, and knew if I didn’t have it in me, I would tell him or ask for help. He gave me every chance and opportunity that he could – and probably more than I even know about.”

“Both of them treat their staff like members of their family and I think if you all have that mutual respect and ambition to succeed then success is inevtable. I always consider our clients to be part of this too. Even though they only work with you for several months.”

Seymour says construction is always evolving and since no two projects are alike, you have to take something from every job, every co-worker and every client. Every client gives her things to strive for and things to admire, she says, as do the people she works with on a continuous basis.

“Seeing other women succeeding always get me inspired, and I’m lucky enough to have many influential women around me – whether they are succeeding in career or family or physical training – it’s something to admire and inspire.”

Lesa Lacey, for instance, is currently CHBA (Canadian Home Builders’ Association) Fraser Valley president. “That to me is the epitome of a woman succeeding right there. I know there are quite a few very powerful women involved with the CHBA and that is awesome to see.”

She says she loves the variety of the work – that no two days are ever the same and no two homes are the same. Building homes in unique styles, working closely with clients and maintaining that contact even after they move into the home are all the best parts of the work.

Seymour says she hopes she brings some balance to the team through her focus on details and organizational skills. She says, since many times women are involved in making the decisions when it comes to a new home or renovation, she has the opportunity to connect with them in a different way.

“I think often a woman can feel overwhelmed dealing with technical aspects that she has no knowledge of and doesn’t understand. I believe they feel more comfortable knowing that as a woman, I can see that and guide them through that – while at the same time being able to answer all of her husband’s/boyfriend’s more technical questions and requests. I definitely think this is a totally different aspect to what it would be if there were a man in my place.”

That fits in with Seymour’s belief that no job should be for “her” or for “him” but more about who would bring something and add to that position. “Who can do the job and who can succeed in that position… if you can’t see yourself being an asset and promoting yourself and the company, then what’s the point?”

For Seymour, the long hours and learning the discipline required to take time off and away from work have been her biggest personal challenges.

As is the case for many in the industry, there have also been difficult financial times. Seymour says when the economy crashed in 2008, Lacey, along with the rest of the Fraser Valley, experienced tough times. “People weren’t renovating or building new homes and those who were had builders stretching themselves way too thin and underbidding to the point where it was creating financial strains.”

The company had to adapt and come together to learn the best way to progress forward and what had to be done differently. “I’m proud of all of those moments of turning the overwhelming moments into opportunities. It forced our team to come together and succeed together. Who we are as a team today is something to be proud of for sure.”

Her advice to anyone considering a career in the field is to work hard and believe in yourself. “We will all have our moments of weakness where we think we can’t do it but nobody ever succeeded without sacrifices and determination. Take the hard times and learn from them to better yourself and eventually everything will turn around.”

chba awards
CHBA – Fraser Valley Awards Gala Event

Lacey Developments has been recognized with several prestigious awards in the last few years – including 2017 CHBA Fraser Valley Residential Renovator of the Year, 2016 CHBA National Awards for Housing Excellence winner for Best Whole Home Renovation, 2014 National SAM Finalist and 2013 Georgie Finalist.

“I was heavily involved in all of these projects so it makes the celebrations just that little bit more special. My other success was getting my Canadian citizenship last year which I am super proud of.”

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