While the construction industry has made strides in attracting more women to the industry over the last two decades, there remains a lot of work to be done. Women make up about 9% of workers in construction, that figure also includes office, executive and administrative positions.
Procore recently sat down with a panel of female leaders in construction to discuss barriers that remain for women considering a career in the field and what the industry can do to bring more women on board.
Sasha Reed, Director of Industry Advancement at Procore, hosted the webinar entitled “Foundations for Progress: The Future of Women in Construction.” The panelists included Sandra Benson, Worldwide Head of Engineering at Amazon Web Services, Tiesha Moore, President and Co-owner at G3 Electric, and a project manager at Kinetic Construction Jessica Sidhu. The group discussed everything from their personal beginnings with construction to hiring biases, and some important themes quickly became apparent.
Old Perceptions Remain
Research shows that many adults who wind up in construction were first inspired by TV characters they saw during childhood. It’s a problem, though, when girls are underrepresented in those roles. Only one of the three panelists sought out construction from the beginning of her career—the other two happened into the industry as happy accidents.
Why girls don’t consider a career in construction is a subject of much research, but the panelists agreed that there is still a bias against construction that affects students. “It starts with the parents,” Benson said, suggesting that people still see construction as a vocation for the academically challenged or as a lower-class job.
“There was a lack of support from my parents,” Sidhu said. “They didn’t understand what it was really like to be working in this industry. They were concerned for my safety and my mental health.” Luckily, Sidhu did get support from teachers.
The public discourse is also lacking in its portrayal of what it’s like to work in modern construction and what opportunities exist in the field. “So many women think they’re going to be on top of a roof hammering—and there’s nothing wrong with that, and there are people who do that—but there are so many other jobs out there,” Benson said.
“You can go through trade school and become an electrician with zero debt and be making a great living,” Moore said but acknowledged that women just starting their careers are not told that.
Seeing is Believing
Even when women do come into roles in construction, many leave the industry in search of a new path. Construction work is infamous for long, grueling hours, which may not fit women who have children and are statistically more likely to bear the brunt of unpaid work in their households. Another setback is that they might not be able to envision a future at their current jobs.
“We all start at the entry level,” Moore said. “But what does advancement look like?”
Seeing the way to the top can take two forms: having a supportive leadership team that values women as equals or finding a more experienced mentor who can guide and bolster career-related activities. Sidhu said women shouldn’t be afraid to look for such relationships. “There are a lot of groups out there; you just have to look for them,” she said. Sometimes, employers can help.
Moore said real, effective mentorship is necessary, not just programs that talk the talk. Leaders need to assess the results of their programs to make sure a real connection is made.
Benson takes mentorship one step further to what she calls sponsorship. While she defines mentorship as a less-experienced person picking the brain of someone who knows the ropes, she considers sponsorship as actually helping to further a youngster’s career by putting her name forward for an opportunity.
Future Next Steps
Going forward, panelists agreed that the most basic, and yet the most necessary, step they need to take is to get boots on the ground to see what barriers still exist for women in their workplaces.
“Talk to the people of your company,” Moore suggested. “What’s the culture? What are they going to think about a woman who’s their peer moving ahead of them? If that’s not something that can happen, it would be difficult to keep a woman there.”
Getting down to the nitty-gritty of daily life on a job site can be revealing. Sometimes, the things that seem small, like not having a nearby bathroom for women, can make women feel like they don’t belong, Benson said. “We have to get sensitive about those kinds of things.”