News & Politics

What It’s Like to Be a Woman Who Runs a Construction Site

Photograph by Lauren Bulbin

Michelle Cousté, 26, assistant superintendent at Clark Construction, is managing the build-out of Ashburn’s Metro station.

“I get here when the crews get in, at 6 am. I walk around, check on everything. Then I lead a 7 am meeting with every foreman on the job site. There are almost never women in that mix. It’s me talking to all men who are at least ten years older. Sometimes people don’t listen and I’ve had to pull out a more assertive voice. There’s two hard parts about that. One is it’s not my natural instinct to yell or be demanding. The other is choosing when to do it, so it’s not ‘she’s a diva’ or ‘she’s a hardass.’

This story is part of Washingtonian‘s feature “What It’s Like to Be a Woman in Washington.” For more:

“There was one subcontractor superintendent who used to call me ‘honey’ and ‘doll face’ and stuff like that. I’d say, ‘Come on, you know my name.’ I didn’t want to be too adamant because it’d sound like I’m insecure or being difficult. But I found a funny way of making him stop: I was early to a meeting. Another subcontractor superintendent was sitting next to me. The guy walks in and he goes, ‘How you doing, doll face?’ I turned to the guy next to me and said, ‘He asked you a question.’ The guy said, ‘Oh, no—I was asking you.’ I said, ‘Oh, how was I supposed to know you were asking me?’ It kind of embarrassed him, not in front of a lot of people but enough that he took it seriously.”

This article appears in the October 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She oversees the magazine’s real estate and home design coverage, and writes long-form feature stories. She was a 2020 Livingston Award finalist for her two-part investigation into a wrongful conviction stemming from a murder in rural Virginia.