Despite the many benefits associated with gender diversity, women remain underrepresented in the civil engineering construction industry. Perks of a more diverse workforce have been proven in a study done by Professor Qingbin Cui and Ph.D. candidate Paul Hickey, researchers at the University of Maryland.
The study, entitled Gender Diversity in US Construction Industry Leaders, also revealed that women in the civil engineering profession have often worked for more companies and held more positions on the way to senior leadership positions than their male counterparts.
How Diversity Translates to Better Business
Hickey and Cui presented their findings at ENR’s annual Groundbreaking Women in Construction (GWIC) conference sponsored by Procore. They discussed the results of their study, which analyzed data on the career paths of more than 3,000 individual construction executives.
“Greater diversity creates better business outcomes, a more inclusive environment, a better working environment, better stakeholder engagement, and an overall positive impact on the company,” Hickey explained at his GWIC session. “Yet, women remain significantly underrepresented in the company or the industry.”
Impact of Social Media
Notably, the study also found that women tend to have more advanced graduate degrees and a wider social “bubble” or network connections based on their social media resumes.
As part of the study, they identified the individuals from ENR’s Top 400 contractors list, cross-referencing them with LinkedIn to confirm it was the same person. Then, they extracted details from their profiles.
After the presentation, three female construction leaders joined the researchers for a panel discussion. They talked about their experiences working in the industry and shared insights on what it takes for a woman to succeed.
Hickey is a former business executive whose studies focus on gender inequality in civil engineering and construction industry executive leadership. He got involved in the work after having watched his wife train male graduates in the industry once they came out of school, only to be passed by them five or six years later.
Cui, a civil engineering professor, specializing in infrastructure management and economics, said the results indicate a big difference between male and female executives in construction. He wanted to understand the situation so he could help younger female engineers succeed.
Findings of the Study
The researchers analyzed how long it took individuals to reach their positions, how many previous jobs they had, different companies they worked for and looked into their education and interests.
They found that women comprise 14.2% of engineering and non-engineering positions in the construction industry. However, the closer to the top of the executive pyramid, the smaller the number got. At the director level, women filled 6.5% of positions, while at the vice-president level, they accounted for 5.3%. At the executive-suite level, that figure decreased to 3.5%.
Four out of 10 men stayed at one company for their entire career and reached senior leadership or executive positions, the survey revealed. The same was true for only one out of nine women
More than half of the women in the industry have an advanced degree, while less than one-third of men have such education. It can be inferred that women need more education to get ahead. Women also had a larger network size.
Obtaining an Advanced Degree, Is it Worth It?
Panelists at the event discussed why it appears tougher for women to climb the ladder, whether an advanced degree was necessary to compete with men, and how important networking was to their success.
Kasie Mathena, Vice President of Operations at AECOM Hunt, said she had found that more stars need to align for women to make it to top leadership positions in construction. In her opinion, “more boxes need to be checked for women.”
To be successful in the industry and compete with men, Mathena deemed it necessary to obtain an advanced degree.
Finding a balance between work and family life can also hold women back from opportunities, she said, because they must weigh whether they can relocate or manage a heavy travel schedule in order to rise in the ranks.
“It’s those kinds of obstacles that make our journey more difficult, and those are the kinds of things we have to recognize.”
What it Takes to Climb the Ladder
Yvette Stevens, Vice President and Director of Economic Inclusion and Community Affairs for Gilbane Building Company, always felt she had to move in order to get to the next rung on the ladder.
“I did see a lot of my male counterparts moving up, a lot of times with less experience and with less education than I had. I felt like in order to really move forward, I was going to have to move to a different company. “
Stevens said positions were created for her male counterparts if they were doing a good job, “whereas for me, it was more of a, ‘Let’s wait and see what happens.’” She also noted that networking was crucial for women as once in a new position, it was like starting over again with contacts.
Patricia Zugibe, CEO at Holt Construction Corp., believes women often have a longer and more difficult journey than men.
“We need to not only excel at our careers, but at the same time, we need to overcome the challenges of getting credibility and acceptance. That takes us longer.”
An advanced degree helps women seem more trustworthy. It is, in fact, critically important for a woman aspiring to move ahead in a company, she said. “It’s not only helpful to get us that seat at the table but, once you’re at the table, to have a voice at that table.”
She said a woman, unlike men, must earn credibility. “We have to first prove that, whereas our male counterparts, they don’t have that obstacle.”