Throughout 2019 Women’s History Month, we’re reminded of the incredible accomplishments of females in our past and present days. For women in construction, while the path to career success has been far from an easy road, the payoffs are well worth it. However, for many female entering the construction industry, the hurdles can still be overwhelming.
To help encourage more women to construction, it’s essential we listen to the ones already in it. Recently, we spoke to the following eight women in construction to learn more about the jobs they love and advice they’d give to others entering the industry:
- Kathleen Barber, Training Director, San Mateo Electrical JATC
- Hannah Metcalf, Project Manager, Emery Sapp & Sons, Inc.
- Karyn Steenkamp, Vice President, Design & Construction, Caesars Entertainment
- Rachel Treanor, Director of Business Development and Marketing, Crossland Construction Company, Inc.
- Syn Dee Chua, Project Coordinator, George J. Igel & Co., Inc.
- Samantha Andre, Vice President and Assistant Project Manager, Hein
- Talia Haerr, Pre-Construction Manager, Cupertino Electric
- Grace McGregor Kramer, Director of Strategy and Operations, McGregor Industries
- Heather Cassady, Project Manager, Turner Construction Company
Read below to hear advice from these inspiring women in construction.
What makes you most proud about working in construction?
Hannah: I feel very proud to work in the heavy civil construction industry because the community directly benefits in their everyday lives from the work we do.
Constructing roads and bridges to drive on, storm drains to collect rainwater, water lines to provide access to drinking water and sanitary sewer to dispose of waste, all improve the quality of life for the general public.
Karyn: I love the challenge of working within the constraints of budget and schedule while delivering a product we can all be proud of. I also pride myself and my team on communicating and ensuring our operations teams can do their job with our ultimate goal to be as invisible as possible. I always make it a goal to create a calmness within the organized chaos that construction projects often tend to be. We deal with many older buildings that have had numerous additions over 50-60 years at times. We never know exactly what we are going to find, and my current goals include determining the most effective way to perform a forensic investigation and compiling of historical data to try to get ahead of these unknowns.
Kathleen: Though the skilled construction trades have at times been resistant to women working out in the field, but women are making a good living there. The women receive equal pay; there is no disparity in wages. That is what makes me proud. That despite initial hesitancy in accepting women, at least in the electrical sector, there is now a full embrace of women entering the construction life.
I love being a part of the creative process behind construction.
From conception to occupancy, every aspect of the design, planning and building process is critical to the other. I am proud to work at Crossland Construction because we are Real Builders, and our core values are those built on responsibility and owning the process and the results. We self-perform a variety of the work ourselves, and this differentiates us in the market.
Syn Dee: The sense of accomplishment being able to witness a project go from plans to reality while being fully aware that it takes a huge team of construction professionals with diverse skills, talent and experience for it to happen. No project can be built by one person alone!
Talia: I love seeing the built solutions we provide to customers. They come to us with a request–whether it is a new building, addition or remodel, and we create a product that satisfies their needs. It is very rewarding to be part of this process.
Grace: Construction is an industry where the results are very real and tangible.
You literally build something that will stand the test of time, while also creating a lot of good, well-paid jobs
. It isn’t the most glamorous of industries, but it is one with a huge lasting impact.
Heather: Companies should provide opportunities such as additional training and mentoring/coaching for women to grow within their career. By providing these career paths it encourages other women and youth to join the industry.
What can companies do today to encourage and support more women in construction?
Hannah: Companies can encourage and support women in the construction industry by being intentional in creating an inclusive culture. This can be achieved in a number of ways, such as providing education on unintentional gender bias, creating internal mentorship programs and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. Companies also need to take an active role at increasing the number of women that enter the construction industry, such as implementing outreach programs geared toward women, in high schools and/or colleges, to encourage an interest in construction and the potential career opportunities available.
Karyn: I believe the best way we can encourage and support women in construction is by giving them an opportunity. I am a firm believer in hiring the best, most qualified person for a position, and I do not support the practice of hiring someone to fill a “quota.” This can create a negative backlash. The best way to overcome that is to become our new hires biggest cheerleaders, ensuring people see our shining stars. I have found my team is already sitting right around 50/50 for the male/female ratio. This was not intentional, and I believe it shows that women are just as qualified.
Going beyond this topic, having a diverse workforce in all aspects also adds a great deal to create the most innovative team and processes.
Kathleen: Women entering skilled construction trades need to know that they will be supported on all fronts. That they will receive equal work assignments, equal pay and equal consideration on what assignments are being distributed. Most women entering the skilled trades understand they are in the minority and their perspective on how to function in a male dominant world takes into consideration the stigma attached to being in the minority. Consequently, the women are prepared to work harder, faster and smarter. If companies would support their approach rather than detour them from their goals, that will be a great improvement.
Rachel: The link between diversity and a company’s financial performance is nothing new. Specifically, as gender diversity tends to be a plus for profits, companies are taking notice. Women in architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) careers continue to be a source of competitive advantages and are vital for growth. Therefore, companies should continue to discuss and implement best practices for creating equitable, diverse and inclusive environments in the workplace. The more companies can support and build a dynamic culture; one that is balanced, and encourages and supports women to participate and thrive, the more diverse and therefore profitable a company can become. At Crossland Construction, women occupy top roles in ownership, project management, estimating, accounting, marketing and business development.
Syn Dee: The most important thing companies can do is to create and provide a culture that is positive, supportive and encourages personal and company-wide success. Companies have to set and actively enforce a culture that encourages all employees to treat each other with care and respect and to support one another in a positive, constructive manner every single day. Once that culture is in place, a lot of the traditional beliefs and stereotypes commonly associated with the industry goes away. Women (and even men) will be more confident to take on greater responsibilities, to push the boundaries of their careers, and to never hesitate to ask questions or to seek help, knowing that they can rely upon colleagues who are supportive of them and their endeavors.
This culture of positivity and support will command attention and will attract talent–from not just women but men as well.
Samantha: We need to challenge their potential and encourage their involvement at the jobsite level.
We need to tell girls from a younger age that they can be in construction–whether that is in management or the trades, they can do it!
Grace: I think actively recruiting women is a start, as well as fostering an overall inclusive work environment for young working women. Creative family-friendly policies–for both mother and fathers–also will help retain women in the industry.
Heather: I’m most proud of seeing the buildings I’ve worked on completed and the impact they make on the Communities.
What advice would you give to other women starting in the industry?
Hannah: More than likely there will be a time where you are the only woman attending a training, in a meeting, or on a jobsite–early on in your career this can be intimidating and maybe make you feel out of place, just remember you do belong! On the flip side of that, it has been my experience that when I am at events that are mostly attended by men, people tend to remember who you are–use this to your advantage to network and make more industry connections.
Karyn: Always keep a positive attitude and ignore any negativity that might project your way. Believe in yourself and always remember that what you think of yourself is far more important than what others may think of you. Unfortunately, the world will always have naysayers, those who believe a woman is a “token female” and will not support or believe in you. Ignore those types and align yourself with those who see you for your strengths and promote you because of them. Embrace what makes you unique; it’s those qualities that each of us possesses that make the strongest teams.
Kathleen: My advice would be to stop and listen, watch and think of good questions. Nothing will come easy at first.
You can make a good impression by paying attention.
Rachel: Don’t be intimidated when you walk into a room and your audience does not look like you, talk like you, sound like you or think like you. Command the room anyways! Your perspectives matter and contribute toward moving the needle.
Syn Dee: Be bold. Be constantly curious. There is an endless amount of knowledge that’s out there in this vast industry–whether you work in the field or the office. Never hesitate to ask questions and seek help from those who are experienced and those who have a different skill set than you do. Join an industry-related group like the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) to stay up to date with the industry and learn from other professionals. Finally, always spare the time and effort to elevate those around you who can benefit from your help to make them successful in the industry.
Ladies, be confident in your abilities and own your place at the table. You are meant to be there.
Talia: This advice is two sided for me: 1. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground if you know you are correct or have a good solution. 2. Don’t think that just because there is a push for women in construction, you can skate through. Learn your work and do a great job at it. Don’t give anybody a reason to doubt your skills.
Grace: Construction is a technical industry, so, if you know your stuff, it’s easy in a way to prove yourself. Results matter, so at the end of the day, you can earn a seat at the table but showing your worth and your perspective.
Heather: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get out in the field as much as possible to see the products/materials that your company puts in place. I would also encourage you to get involved in an industry organization such as NAWIC to find a mentor and network within the industry.
More Resources and Advice from Women in Construction
There are ample resources for women looking to enter or excel in the construction industry. If you’re looking for a solid list of top resources and organizations to get involved in, check out our list here.