With only up to 11% of the workforce in the construction industry worldwide, female representation is almost insignificant.
With only up to 11% of the workforce in the construction industry worldwide, female representation is almost insignificant. It sends a clear message that women do not see the construction industry as a place where they can develop and make a lasting career. Even with the construction industry taking a massive hit in the last few years when it comes to the labor force and the lack of construction workers,women still do not feel comfortable joining this field. Why is that?
Well, the answer is quite straight-forward: stereotypes and preconceptions are deeply embedded in our brains, and when we think about construction, what image do we visualise? Do we see a woman operating the excavator or do we see a man ? Centuries of construction industry history have created this stereotype that there is no space for women in construction. Changing this deep-rooted mentality willtake time and prove to be difficult to achieve. On the bright side, things have already begun to move in the right direction and we now hold that 11% of the market. A more diverse construction industry, with a larger female workforce, would do wonders. The difference between the sexes also brings out differences in ideas, enabling diverse teams to move forward and bring new projects to the table. New solutions and perspectives will appear, moving development further. Even if we are in the “Roaring 20s”, with wonderful new technologies on the rise, there are still areas that we must work on!
Already, there are daring individuals that took up the mantle and started paving the way to the future: a future where the construction industry has a strong female workforce, a future that is bright, colorful, innovative and forward-thinking! This is why we present to you the “Women in Construction” - the faces of the present, that will affect the future of many women reading this article. They are not the first that entered the construction industry, but they have made strides in increasing the rate and fighting the barriers! We interviewed a group of thirteen ladies, both in executive office positions and on-site ones, with the guys, getting their hands dirty on a daily basis. Read the full interview with Women in Construction to learn about the present situation of the female professionals in construction. Here are our findings in a neat summary, please enjoy it!
Even if it was by accident, by chance, by fate or by their own stubborn will, each of these women in construction has a history to tell, stories that are worth listening to and sharing.
Take for example Jamie McMillan. She has been working across Canada as a journeyman ironworker in the construction industry since 2002. In an effort to expand her knowledge and increase her opportunities, she recently began a secondary journey as a boilermaker. She is a lady with a mission and a vision, founder of KickAss Careers - a skilled trades advocacy group whose mission is to engage, educate and encourage youth to consider careers in mechanical, industrial, technology & construction (MITC) industries. She inherited her approach to work from her father, who worked in the mining industry and let her learn and play along, teaching her the trade. Her parents had renovated houses and she picked up some basic knowledge of mechanics along the way. She never thought she would work in construction but that was her true calling: leading by example and helping others along the way!
Pamela Evans - also known as “The Digger Lady”, has a somewhat similar story to Jamie’s. Her dad is a digger driver and she was a wee lass of only 6 years old when she was taught by him how to operate the excavator. By the age of 12, she could, on her own, fully operate the heavy machinery. In the UK, the license to operate the excavator is at the age of 21, so she had some time to wait until she would be legally allowed to operate the machine. She did it on weekends though, helping out her dad along the way. When she turned 21, she became the “youngest person in the country to get the license and the first female in the N-W of England that got the license” - back in 2001.
Some thought they would never get there, even if they had a long-term family relationship with the business: "I am third generation construction. I went to business school thinking I was going to work in the financial industry in a large city, in a big office overlooking the city. Little did I know that the construction company my dad was working for needed someone to help with the union payroll for a large shutdown. I offered to help them get through the rush and ended up spending 23-1/2 years there. I recently moved from the Midwest to Florida and started my career at SUFFOLK" says Shelly Peterson (Project Executive at Suffolk Construction). You never know what life has in store for you, but what you should do is listen to your passion, to your heart!
For most of these outstanding ladies, the main goal was to follow their passion and show that they can do the job, but also to make sure that they pave the way for future generations. Katrina Dowding (Executive VP at Skanska - the 5th largest construction company in the world) wanted to have a challenging position, a role that would have a lasting heritage: “Interesting work with a lasting legacy which played to my A-level choices and strengths”. They mention that they had, each of them, a story of passion for the industry since they were small. That passion went with them and molded their careers. They had great encouragement from their families, many also having fathers and brothers in the business, and they were told that construction IS an option for them as well! They were able to learn from their families, but what about the little girls out there that want to pursue the construction industry and have no nearby support?
While the reasons why they like their jobs may vary, they share a common belief: they know that by being there, the next generation of women will have it easier in joining the construction industry. Luz Eneida Muniz does this so that people can get home safe to the ones they love. She thinks about the people and their life - every life matters in her eyes! She makes sure that people on the construction site stay injury-free, so they can go back to their own homes after every workday. Thinking about family, especially for women and even more for mothers, comes naturally, so Nicolle Wilkinson words may resonate not only with Luz Eneida but also with all the other working mothers out there. She is happy first, because she does not need to commute anymore and can stay home in her own bed with her family each night and second, because she loves what she does.
Cheryl Causebrook chose her Freelance Construction Consultant job for the variety; Monique Boedhai (Haul Truck and Small Excavator Operator) chose it because she loves the daily challenges and the people she meets along the way. Zuzanna Sulewska “The Crane Girl” chose it because it gives her a feeling of wonder, of doing something “WOW!” - it makes her “feel valued, independent”, it makes her “feel that she can do anything”. Shelby Goodwin feels that her job as Area Dispatcher at United Rentals is somewhere she would like to be, where she would like to stay, and mentions that “United has taken great strides towards inclusion, empowerment, and development of their people and their practices.” Pamela Evans “The Digger Lady” states that what makes her stay and do this job (excavations) is “the difference she can make with a machine”, the fact that she can “change the shape of spaces - creating brand new areas. Making a change!”
Having done these interviews, we have reached out to women worldwide and in diverse positions: from Vice Presidents to Construction Consultants to Excavator/Crane Operators. Each of them felt this disparity in the numbers but all have decided to put in hard work in order to do their jobs. They saw the work they did as a regular job and tasks that had to be done were performed accordingly.
Nicolle Wilkinson’s (Construction Manager and Licensed Architect) own story is a statement on its own: “For 25 years, I have been THE ONLY female construction manager on the US-Mexico border between San Diego and Tucson (that’s 400 miles by the way). I am one of only 2 female licensed architects in that same distance. I was one of only 12 female students in architecture school out of a class of 90. So yes, it has come to my attention that I’m a rarity. Women at my level of experience who have managed the size and complexity of projects I have are also very rare, which makes me a known entity in the industry when a firm or client needs a qualified project manager. It’s only in the past 6 years that there have been one or 2 female project engineers working for the contractor on my projects so that I have not been the sole female on the project site. It is satisfying to watch the opportunities these young women have today.”
Michaela Wain also points out a sad truth: “There are actually only 3% of women in construction sites and 2% of those are cleaners. So there definitely needs to be more exposure to help women get into the industry”. She has sad stories from the past but she sees improvement and looks toward the future: “I deal with 95% men on a daily basis and over the years I have noticed the change in attitude towards me from men. In the early days, I was spoken down to quite a lot and discriminated against. However, over recent years I have noticed people more accepting of a woman within such a male-dominated industry.”
Even the question in itself serves to underpin the issues in society now. All the people, no matter the race/sex/age, should contribute to the industries - be it construction or any other field. “Gender should not play a role….our ingenuity, personalities, hard work and skills equipped to do the job are what should determine our contribution” (Zoe Moss).
Pamela “The Digger Lady” loves talking about the changes that we can all make. "Changing the mindset. Encouraging your own children. Give it a go - take a leap of faith!" They have a lighter touch, they have precision and finesse when using heavy machinery. They are more productive, work much safer than their male counterparts as they do not feel the need for bravado! They do not have a “rude ego” and for them “it is not a competition”. For women it is work. Period. As Pamela puts it: “I am interested in doing my job and doing it well. To my standards!” Shelly Peterson shares her thoughts: “Women are organized, professional, compassionate, committed and multitask very well. While doing this full time, they are also taking care of their families and investing in their future,” and who are we to say that she is not 100% right?
But the important point is not to see yourself as a woman in construction, but rather, as a worker in construction. What we need now is equality , the idea that every human (no matter the race, sex, gender, color, political or religious orientation) should have the same chances to work in the construction industry (and not only this industry!). We need to be the change we wish to see in the world. We need to be brave, take the step and pave the way for future generations. Who else would do it, if not us?
When we asked our very own female workforce panel what advice they would give to the other women (and the younger generation) that consider a career in the construction industry field, I felt a unanimity in their tone of voice. Their strong advice was to “believe in yourself” - that every one of us is capable of greatness (Zoe Moss). We all just need to reach out to our self-belief and work on our self-confidence - this will lead us to greater outputs in our life. Take the challenge (never be afraid!) as you will never know what can happen until you will try it!
What women need to focus on is “not to be intimidated by the male-dominated industry” (Luz Eneida). Things will, of course, never be handed out to you on a platter. You will have to work hard and fight your way through (just like these ladies did), but it will be somewhat easier as they are already here - paving the way. All the ladies in our panel agreed that it is “a fantastic industry and there are so many exciting and diverse roles” (Katrina Dowding). What women should do is GO FOR IT! Trust your instincts and your intuition and make sure this is your true dream. If it is, you can fight for it and you will knock down the wall! You are strong enough to achieve what you dream of! “Be true to yourself, work hard, have confidence in your abilities, allow yourself to fail, invest in relationships” (Shelly Peterson).
Bottom line: We need a female force in the construction industry. A study found that companies with diverse teams (including women) were 21% more likely to be more profitable than the average. Also, they had a 27% likelihood of outperforming their peers on longer-term value creation.
As the construction industry faces a resource crisis, there is a growing space now for women to enter the field. And, as our panel stated, this is not a matter of equal representation, but it is also about the fact that the female construction workers can make a difference in the way construction is done.