Women in Construction USA Speaker Q&A: Noopur Jain, Regional Delivery Manager @ California High-Speed Rail Authority

September 20, 2019 | Daisy Bernard


Noopur Jain, Regional Delivery Manager @ California High-Speed Rail Authority is helping to write history, and she couldn’t be happier to be supporting Women in Construction USA this month.

Noopur is part of a project planning, building and designing 800 miles of High Speed Rail through California and manages the development, engineering and administration of all projects from inception through completion in the Southern Region and part of the Central Region of the statewide California High-Speed Rail program. She also manages a team of consultant partners working on the project.

1. Please tell us a bit about how you got into your role.

It is the strong desire to reach the equitable heights and beyondthat lead me to my current position. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Civil Engineering and then a Master of Science (M.S.) in Structural Engineering was an attempt to showcase the “Yes I can” attitude for STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math. I joined the engineering and construction industry, avoiding the academic field, to feel empowered and comfortable being the only female in the class, on the team, or in the meeting room.

Early challenges obtaining Professional Engineering (P.E.) and Structural Engineering (S.E.) licenses in multiple states across the USA made me aware of myself as an immigrant improving her use of the English language while becoming a licensed professional in a new country. Travelling to multiple states, working on Design-Build projects across nation with a toddler at home, and later travellingfor weeks with a preschooler and a baby at home were some sacrifices made (supported by my husband) to reach the heights I aspired to. Work-life balance was very challenging, but there was the satisfaction of accomplishment with immense awareness that things happen for a reason.

There is always a cause (reason) behind every effect (result). The cause-effect relationship is influenced by the catalysts along the way. I assumed my current role, as the Regional Delivery Manager for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, through a series of causes and effects in my career, supported by catalysts - my “support system” - made up of society, cultural values, professional industry standards, and my parents, husband, children, family, friends and colleagues.

I am grateful for all the reasons, causes and catalysts who helped me through the journey thus far. It would be impossible to be here now without them, working with a team of professionals across the state, leading the effort to build the nation’s first high-speed rail system and largest transportation program in the history of the United States.

2. What does an average day at work look like for you?

If you consider “work” as only work, then a typical day is 8am to 5pm. But as a Professional Engineer (P.E.), manager, supervisor, leader, wife, mother and many more roles that we all play on a given day, my work is integrated with my life, not balanced or separated. A typical day starts around 4am with meditation, study of the self, and planning for the day – It’s critical for me to prioritize my tasks for all three: work, life and the soul. As the Regional Delivery Manager for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, I am responsible for the delivery of all project sections in Southern California region within scope, on time and within budget working with an integrated team of state employees, consultant partners and third-party stakeholders. As a leader in my region, it is critical to integrate various types of individuals in one team working together as valued and trusting partners. I believe that understanding and being “aware” of diverse social, cultural and professional backgrounds is critical to success in the workplace. Also, being adaptive, flexible and staying positive towards constant “change” is important for me to keep myself and my team motivated while working on the most dynamic and largest transportation program (High-Speed Rail) in the history of United States in a pioneering State like California.

3. A most memorable moment/highlight from your career?

There are many memorable moments that I cherish throughout my career as a Structural/Bridge engineer and a leader with a “Can Do” attitude. The most humbling experience was when I was chosen as one of the 2017 “Top 20 under 40” by the publication Engineering News-Record (ENR), first within State of California and then at the national level. http://digital.bnpmedia.com/publication/?i=449228&p=28#{%22page%22:24,%22issue_id%22:449228} .

Being selected by a private firm for a team dedicated to work on Design-Build projects, without prior Design-Build experience, was a defining and encouraging moment. It reinforced my confidence when my abilities were trusted and I was empowered to take risks and be comfortable working with unknowns.

I also allow myself to feel proud of taking on the challenge to obtain the Structural Engineering (S.E.) license twice – first in Illinois, and later in California. The amount of studies to take this exam twice could have earned me a PhD.

4. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome or learn from it?

There were many challenges faced all along as a woman in a male dominated world (not just construction industry). A specific conversation that changed my perspective about the outside world and taught me to “accept things as is”, happened with my division head at a previous firm. He made me realize that how important it is to accept ourselves as being different. Despite all my extra efforts at work, going out of my comfort zone and taking on additional responsibilities, I was not seeing signs of appreciation from my team, promotion was not even a consideration. Not knowing how to continue to grow in my career and what else to do, I decided to have a candid conversation and get some guidance from my division head. The division head told me that the team members unconsciously do not like the fact that a younger woman of color who immigrated to the United States advanced so quickly on the project. It was a self-realization moment for me. I am often amused about this experience now, but the fact is that I am a complex individual with many differences packaged in one – generation, gender and diversity. Being “aware” of myself as a confident, strong, and high-performing personality against all odds was critical in understanding how I was being perceived. It made me realize that my team members, including my immediate supervisor, were “naturally” biased without being aware of it as well. And I needed to accept this fact as a constant that might not change much, if at all, throughout my career.

5. What are the traits of a great leader?

Great leaders always think strategically keeping the team’s focus on the goal, the result, and the mission of the organization they work for. Their attention and focus is on the outcome, and not being sidelined along the way. Complete dedication is the key to success! Flexibility is very important – being able to adapt or understand the working style of every individual is critical to build strong teams. No single leadership style fits all, it should be customized to align with the needs and styles of the individuals and the teams you work with. A great leader must have extreme equanimity at all levels, in all situations and with everyone.

6. As council chair for WTS, you dedicate a lot of time to improving industry diversity. Why does the industry need organizations and events like this? And how can they help people?

Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) is a professional organization with the mission to attract, retain and advance women in transportation.  It is organizations like WTS, which are needed to provide opportunities for networking and leadership development in an environment that women can trust in a still male dominated industry. I moved across the nation from overseas initially to Ohio, then Texas and Washington, and now I’m in California. It was the networking opportunities offered through volunteering at WTS, that nurtured professional relationships and friends very quickly in new places.  It was the WTS Executive Leadership program that made me a better and powerful leader. WTS is a platform to support each other and empower and pave the way for future generations of girls and women leaders.  

While we have a balance at universities and the professional entry level now, but there is not always a balance in senior level and leadership roles. Organizations like WTS are essential to create awareness throughout the industry and address key issues concerning women in leadership roles. WTS also has men as members and as part of the conversation, which is great because they represent 50% of the population, are still the dominant part of our industry and without men promoting women, the advancement of women is impossible.

7. What is one constructive change our readers can make to promote diversity and inclusion in the construction sector?

Be aware of others’ and your own biases and try to watch out for unconscious biases that surface in everything you do, say or think. Be flexible and adaptive to the constantly changing environments around you. You do not hold the responsibility to change the entire world, but you can change yourselfandreach out to more people through organizations and industry to create awareness.

8. Can you share any tips from your session at Women in Construction USA?

Keep in mind as you continue reaching toward your goals the industry will shift by itself. Accept the truth, integrate the facts in everything you do, say or think. The landscape for acceptance and gains could be very different ahead as you get closer to the ‘corner office’.

Noopur Jain will be joining us for our sold out Women in Construction USA event on September 18-19 at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. Get more information about the event and other speakers here.