Women Run Design: Jean de Castro believes that any woman can build her future

March 22, 2020



Gabrielle De La Cruz

“I’m actually a lawyer by profession,” are not the words you would expect to hear when you ask a CEO of a structural engineering firm how she got into the industry. Jean de Castro then happily shared a funny story that their family always jokes about. “When we were growing up, my dad said ‘you can be whoever you want to be’, in the hopes that someone will become an engineer and follow his footsteps. For my younger sister, the fourth child, he was like ‘you can be any engineer you want to be’. We always look back to this because it reminds us of all the choices we made.”

Being the only child who didn’t go abroad, she was the one who took over ESCA Incorporated. “Since I was an Oblation scholar at the University of the Philippines, I always felt like I’m gonna stay here. When my dad needed help, I felt like it was high time to join him. I guess he kind of got stuck with me,” de Castro recalls. “Maybe our family thought that one of my brothers would lead the company one day. But here I am, a woman, and not even an engineer.” 

In 2011, ESCA was commissioned to inspect the Lopez Building and Technical Services Building of the Meralco headquarters for structural retrofitting. The project covered a floor area of approximately 41,340sqm for the main edifice and 16,420sqm for the annex.

From law books to structural drawings

Given that the culture of law is highly cerebral, using by-the-book and logical reasoning, Jean de Castro worked her way through the engineering industry following a parallel path. As a law firm Senior Associate, she was eager to exceptionally get the job done, even just by herself. She believes that possessing this characteristic enabled her to think straight and work her way up. “I would like to believe that I was able to employ the same strategy; only this time, I had to apply mathematical and scientific principles.” She shared that she thought of going back to school and studying engineering, but was never able to do so. Through the years, she learned how to deal with developing economical solutions to technical problems. She juggled through reading law books to unrolling structural drawings; shifting from the jurisdictional to the structural viewpoint; and listening to the sound of machines and metals the way she used to listen to court orders and gavels. “In law, we practice justice. In engineering, we practice precision. I would like to believe the two are similar because they both lead to what is rightful.” 

Jean de Castro - ESCA

When asked how she leads and manages ESCA, de Castro answers: “I always say that I bring heart into a male-dominated company.” She shares how she listens to people instead of merely instructing them what to do. “I know that I grew in this industry by listening to what they have to say. They studied this, and it’s their expertise, not mine. For me, the best way to honor that is to let them raise their voices. It’s also important to have a mix of perspectives, and it’s important to have men and women work together.” Her words, laced with sincerity and humility, illustrate the wisdom of a woman who knows the responsibilities she bears in her company and the grace she carries as an advocate of empowering women in the workplace. 

“Bring more women in the workplace”

“Right now, we’re only at thirty percent when it comes to women in the workplace, and I think that’s a sad number. I want to keep bringing in women in our company to provide a platform where they can let their voices be heard,” says De Castro. She shares that there are still pockets that demonstrate that the lines have not been blurred yet, and how women are often forced to sacrifice their careers because of “the so-called gender roles”. “Our society forced us into believing that women often stay at home. I don’t think that should be the case. I don’t think women are given enough opportunity to put themselves out there, and that is the very reason why I want our company to be a platform for them,” she declares, adding her observations whenever women work on-site. “Dedication to work, attention to detail, and care and concern are what make working with women wonderful. Most people would probably think that women engineers don’t perform heavy work, but they do. I was surprised to see how ladies are eager to perform welding, sometimes even pour concrete.” 

It was clear how Jean de Castro is more than hopeful for the place of women in their industry. She talked about her ideas of conducting surveys, studying the rights of women, connecting with other female-led companies, and many others. “We add a certain texture that makes this industry more alive.” She shared her belief that the second-generation is more female-dominated: “There are more opportunities, people are more open and exposed. I feel that even they can change how things work. The future is she! Hopefully, by then, the lines have blurred.”

Jean de Castro with ULI members
Jean de Castro is also a member of ULI Philippines.

Towards the end of the interview, it was apparent how Jean de Castro got through the changing lines in her life. Her future was seen to be within the walls of a judging court, but now she’s looking at building sketches and towering skylines while wearing a cap on-site. “I guess it’s safe to say that sometimes the sketch changes, and usually it’s for the better. I think we all bring a different skill set to the table, and it’s just a matter of what you love to do. Just do something that you are truly passionate about because, with that, you can conquer all the changes and all will be right for your taking.”

READ MORE: Women Run Design: Being female is not an excuse nor a limitation—Cathy Saldaña

Images courtesy of ESCA Incorporated

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