When Barbara Jackson talks about women in construction, she frames the conversation in human terms. She recognizes the unique aspects each gender brings to the table and calls the phenomenon gender intelligence. According to Jackson, it exists where companies leverage the talents, skills and natural tendencies of either gender to the advantage of the whole.
Jackson, founder & CEO of Women Building Change (formerly Women Who Build), describes WBC as an ‘on-demand resource network’ on a mission to advance the careers of individual women. Besides offering support for women to grow, advance and succeed, WBC has three leadership boot camps a year, limited to 12 women each. So far, they have hosted over 115 women from 51 different companies and 17 different states.
Learning to Belong in Construction
Each boot camp immerses the women in intensive leadership and self-awareness training. Jackson said that graduates learn “to stand in their own power” and feel like they really belong in construction, perhaps even for the first time.
Nearly half of Jackson’s working life has been in construction. She first held estimating and project manager roles and then served as president and CEO of Design Build Services, a design-build company. Later, she developed design-build and integrated project delivery curricula at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. Today, besides her work with WBC, she is director of the Burn’s School of Real Estate and Construction Management at the University of Denver.
In most industries, women make on average 81.1% of what men make. In construction, where the gender pay gap is smaller, women make 99.1% of what men make.
Having been a pioneer of collaborative delivery methods, Jackson recognized the unique leadership roles women could play in the industry’s transformation. She was also very attuned to construction’s decades-old labor problems and believes women could become a larger part of the solution.
There are good reasons to hope that women can help to fill out construction’s sagging ranks. Luckily, the industry’s pay practices for women shouldn’t stand in the way. In most industries, women make on average 81.1% of what men make. In construction, they make 99.1%. Still, there’s a lot of ground to make up.
“Twenty years ago, we began talking about a workforce crisis in the construction industry, and then 2008 happened,” Jackson recalls. “And this is what we know. Sixty percent of the people who left the construction industry in 2008 and 2009 are never coming back, exasperating the crisis even more. Right now, the numbers suggest that we are 300,000 short on the workforce needs of the industry. In 2026, they indicate that we’ll be short by another 747,000. So the growth of the industry is clearly outpacing our ability to fill the workforce gap.”
Breaking Down Personal Barriers
Jackson and her close friend Shirley Ramos, decided to help women and the industry’s labor problem by offering individualized leadership training. The idea was to go beyond one-day workshops and seminars. Instead, the two developed an intensive boot camp program to help women break down the barriers to advancement they had unknowingly erected for themselves.
Jackson explains the barriers as unique to the individual and learned behaviors from interacting in a male-dominated industry.
Once women understand the behaviors that hold them back, they can begin making more powerful requests, engage better with people and strengthen their positions within their companies.
Some learned behaviors restrict women from advancing, according to Jackson. The behaviors often arise from having to do things the way men do just to be accepted. But, the male way isn’t the only way. And women can provide valuable perspectives that can help companies balance their direction and their decisions.
Once women understand the behaviors that hold them back, they can begin making more powerful requests, engage better with people and strengthen their positions within their companies, says Jackson.
Graduates from boot camps, and those who use the resource network, can gain significantly improved self-awareness, confidence, and skills that help them be heard and not ignored.
The women also learn more about what really drives them, why they are in construction in the first place, and how to strengthen their connections to that purpose. Jackson says most women are not in construction just because they love construction; they find the work fulfilling and meaningful. They find satisfaction in helping to create built environments that impact how people live, work, and play.
Jackson stresses that she doesn’t see construction’s current gender state-of-affairs as intentional.
“What if none of the exclusion of women in the industry is intentional? We come from the perspective that it’s not intentional but an unconscious bias among men and women,” she says. “We all have our unconscious biases, and they get in the way of us easily relating to one another. It’s not wrong or right, it’s just simply where we are.”
The Business Value
Jackson estimates that at least 65% of those who completed the boot camps have advanced in their careers. But, it’s not just the graduates who are getting value from taking part in the program.
In one instance a graduate received a budget to improve diversity at her company. Another graduate is now part of an executive leadership team and is helping transform the company’s culture.
At least 65% of those who completed the boot camps have advanced in their careers.
“What’s fascinating is that construction companies are beginning to reach out and want to have deeper conversations with us,” Jackson says. “They know there needs to be a culture shift within their companies if they are to gain a competitive edge in the market, and they are seeing that developing women leaders is a path to that end. My intention is to change the face of the industry by providing resources and support for individual women and the companies they work for, so it becomes clear that construction is women’s work, and all women are welcome.”
WBC encourages companies to become partners. They offer partnerships at a supporting level, a sustaining level, or a founding level. Company partnerships also help to fund resources and keep them updated.