Jordie Mukai, project manager, SAH Inc.
Jordie Mukai can count on one well-manicured hand how many other women she has bumped into who share her role in the male-dominated construction industry. As a young project manager for Honolulu-based general construction company SAH Inc., Mukai knows she faces gender- and age-based stereotypes. Yet she handles whatever she encounters with a shrug, confident that she’s in the field she loves.
“I like what I do,” says 27-year-old Mukai. “I like [taking something] and making it [what] the client wants, what it needs to be. Being a part of every step, seeing the beginning to the end.”
Mukai graduated from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa in 2012, maneuvering through STEM-heavy coursework in architecture and civil engineering. Though she dreamed of being an architect, she discovered she abhorred the abstract nature of the field and meandered into civil engineering, which vaulted her into construction management.
After working for Swanson Steel in Honolulu for several years, she found her way to SAH in April 2015. Transitioning from a big company that focused solely on steel to handling all aspects of a project presented a steep learning curve, but Mukai met the challenge head on, feeling like she had finally found her place in the industry.
Mukai approaches her role as a project manager as if she’s directing a film. There are dozens of roles and responsibilities involved, but the director has to see the big picture. Mukai coordinates subcontractors, ensures that the needs of the client are fulfilled, handles permitting and leases and makes sure all aspects of a project are running smoothly. She relishes those challenges and believes she produces her best work in the face of adversity. “I had so much that I had to observe, and I had to learn quickly,” Mukai says, thinking back to her training at SAH. “It was challenging, but I saw it as something good, like they’re giving me so much opportunity to learn about so much. I had to apply what I’d learned.”
As a young woman in the male-dominated construction field, there are times when Mukai’s youth or gender are quietly questioned or openly attacked. She realizes some men aren’t used to taking orders from a woman, and some push back just to see how she’ll respond. Though she could sit back and whine about the uphill battles she faces, instead she focuses on the positives—the ways she stands out as a project manager. As a leader, she empowers her coworkers with encouragement, acknowledges their skills and provides as much information as possible. She values everyone on the site and makes it known with clear communication. And thanks to her background in architecture, she can create detailed plans for a client—something not all project managers can do.
In the end, Mukai knows she’ll be judged not as a woman, but by the quality of her team’s work. “If you have a good attitude about things and you smile and you’re confident enough, I feel like that’ll get you anywhere,” Mukai says.
Mukai now speaks like a grizzled veteran, brimming with confidence derived from her successes. At SAH—founded by Ashlee Matsui and Shelton Higa in 2010—she juggles up to nine projects at a time, focusing on commercial projects. She is currently leading the renovation of the 70,000-square-foot Atlas Building on South King Street.
“Being a part of construction allows me to help shape and be a part of our community,” Mukai says. Though she has come a long way in her two years at SAH and feels much more comfortable as a project manager, Mukai understands that she’s still at the beginning of a continuous learning curve. She stresses the value of evolving, knowing that she has to adjust as the industry, jobs and expectations change.
“My grandpa always told me that knowledge is power,” Mukai says. “You can be young, looks will go, everything’s going to go, but your knowledge you retain. That’s what your value is. You have to keep learning or else you’re never going to keep up with the times and you’re never going to be the ultimate you want to be.”