Women in Construction: Diversity in an Evolving Industry
Progress is being made and more opportunities are being presented. In recent years, the number of women within the construction workforce continues to climb, as well as the percentage of women who make up construction industry, and new doors are opening.
According to the latest numbers from the National Association of Women in Construction, the number of women in construction has risen for six consecutive years and now more than one million women are in construction. Women make up 9.9% of the construction industry, and while this percentage still lags most other industries, where women are more heavily represented, it is still encouraging to see the growth of the percentage in recent years.
Much of this growth can be attributed to the growth of the industry and new opportunities. While construction as a whole changes, the industry is diversifying and opportunities for women are expanding.
“Women are coming into the construction industry more now than ever before, and they are coming with the desire to lead and make a difference,” said Jami Killinger, project manager.
At Gray, we are fortunate to have a wealth of experienced women who all help drive the success of the business. We spoke with some of them about the industry, some of the challenges, and advice they might have for women entering the construction workforce.
What led you to pursue a career in the industry?
Anne Gorham, executive vice president, general counsel – The construction industry is fascinating and touches every aspect of commerce and art; it involves creativity, technology, mechanics, finance, sales, business relationship building, risk mitigation, accounting, and management. Learning to balance all those aspects and ensure that one does not disproportionately influence or outweigh the others is a fun challenge.
Yukie Cooper, manager, business development – I wanted to do something that would bridge the U.S. and Japan and bring the two countries closer. Working for Gray has been a perfect opportunity for me to realize the goal, as I am able to liaison between our Japanese customers and our team through our construction projects and help them better understand one another in the bilingual/bi-cultural environment.
What are the challenges, if any, that you face as a woman in a male-dominated field?
Elizabeth Axtell Hunt, manager, project controls – The construction industry itself is challenging. I am most fortunate that I have not experienced challenges specific to being a female in a male-dominated industry in my experience thus far. I believe that is due to the changing environment of all organizations and specifically the proactive approach Gray, and many other companies, takes in order to support, respect, and provide endless opportunities for growth for women in the construction industry.
Allison Keeling, process engineer at Gray Solutions, a Gray company – I’m happy to see more and more women as I enter meetings and projects now, but it’s still not uncommon to walk into a room full of men. It was intimidating, at first, but I’m a pretty vocal person, so I try not to let intimidation stop me.
How do you think women are leading the charge on improving diversity in the construction workplace?
Jami Killinger, project manager – Women are now entering fields of studies once dominated by men that involve areas such structural, civil, and MEP trades, among others. With diversification beginning at the root level in education, it initiates and develops the need within the industry.
Sandi Smith, senior electrical designer at Spencer Bristol, a Gray company – Women are supporting each other. There are networks and organizations in the industry for support and advice for women. There are more and more women in leadership roles that are an inspiration, and those women are helping open the doors and raise the ceilings.
Throughout your time in the construction industry, what are some ways you feel it has changed?
AG – The advent of technology has increased the speed and accuracy of design and has mitigated costs and claims. I started in the profession when correctly folding or rolling drawings was one of the first things you learned! That’s an unnecessary skill set today.
YC – As the world has gotten smaller, the industry has become more internationally connected. Cross-cultural business communication is not easy, but I think we have learned to listen, show respect, and be flexible. (I want to keep one or the other, not both.) The construction industry has also become very dynamic and multi-faceted. A construction company is not only made of architects and engineers, but also IT, training specialists, marketing professionals, and so many more working for the same goal.
What is your favorite part about working in the industry?
JK – Creating jobs! Our economy is directly linked to the construction industry. What we do provides infrastructure to local communities, directly impacts people’s lives, and keeps our country moving forward. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing our customers open the doors to the facility we have built to start hiring from the local community! In an indirect way, we are putting the food on the tables for the children of the future.
SS – I love being part of a team that designs and constructs amazing facilities. From large industrial projects to research facilities, to lighting at auditoriums, and everything in between.
EAH – I love that the construction industry is not bound by one location, method, or path. Instead, it stretches across the world into all cultures, ideas, and needs. Playing a role in this industry provides the opportunity to experience and improve our world one project at a time.
If you could provide advice to a young female interested in a career in construction, what would it be?
AK – The most helpful piece of advice I’ve ever heard was, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” because it’s those uncomfortable learning moments where we grow the most.
YC – Try to learn from your mistakes. Mistakes make you tough.
AG – Find your passion. Is it sales, business development, marketing, architecture, engineering, proposal development, estimating, project management, accounting, or risk management? Find your niche and develop an expertise. No matter what your background or your industry focus, become the best at something and share your expertise. And when you find success, mentor others.
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