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Diversity in an Evolving Industry: A Q&A with Women in Construction

Diversity in an Evolving Industry: A Q&A with Women in Construction

A Q&A with women in construction: Anne Gorham, General Counsel; Jami Killinger, Assistant Project Manager; Liz Axtell, Project Engineer; and Yukie Cooper, Assistant Manager of Business Development.

According to a study done by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) in 2017, women make up 9.1 percent of the construction industry in the United States. There are more than 10 million workers in the construction industry and less than 1 million of those are women.

Although there is still progress to be made, in recent years, the male-dominated construction industry has made promising developments in bringing women into the field.

Anne Gorham, General Counsel

The construction 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, Assistant Project Manager.

What led you to pursue a career in the industry?

  • AG: 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 of those aspects and ensure that one does not disproportionately influence or outweigh the others is a fun challenge.
  • LA: Our industry is an ever-changing environment. The boundaries are pushed daily in order to provide work that is on time, under budget and holds quality and safety to the highest standard.
  • YC: 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.
  • AG: For better or for worse, I’m old enough to have experienced a time when women served only in a support or administrative roles.  Female construction lawyers and female project leaders were an aberration. I am excited that the ranks and roles of women in the industry are increasing, as well as awareness of their importance to the success of the business.

What are the challenges, if any, that you face as a woman in a male-dominated field?

  • LA: 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.
Jami Killinger, Assistant Project Manager

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. 

How would you describe the growing role of women in the construction industry?

  • AG: Construction companies are more aware that diversity increases perspectives and ideas and breeds success. A diverse design-build team ensures that Gray connects with the customers and their upper management—because most customers’ management teams are diverse.

How do you think women are leading the charge on improving diversity in the construction workplace?

  • JK: Women are now entering fields of studies once dominated by men that involve areas such structural, civil, MEP trades, among others. With diversification beginning at the root level in education, it initiates and develops the need within the industry.

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.
  • LA: 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.
Liz Axtell, Project Engineer

If you could provide advice to a young female interested in a career in construction, what would it be? 

  • 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.
  • YC: Try to learn from your mistakes. Mistakes make you tough. 

From your perspective, are there vast opportunities available for women entering the construction workforce?

  • LA: Absolutely! The world is changing. The construction industry needs women stepping up, realizing their potential and taking leadership roles, whether in the field or in the office. The jobs are out there and the prospects are endless - we just need more women to take on the roles.
Yukie Cooper, Assistant Manager of Business Development

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 250,000 unfilled construction jobs in the U.S. – up from 139,000 in January 2015. These numbers paired with the opportunities becoming more readily available in the industry produce an exciting time for women to enter the construction workforce, shrink the skills gap and diversify the industry.

“The standards are changing; women are taking a proactive approach to advancing their careers. Companies like Gray go above and beyond to bring women to their teams. This along with the growing ambition among women are playing the most vital role in bringing more women to construction,” concluded Axtell.