BuiltWorlds recently facilitated a Future Workforce Forum meeting exploring the challenges faced by women in construction. The forum participants heard presentations about the personal experiences of women in the industry, while also engaging in a lively discussion about ways companies should respond to the hurdles that women face. The group came up with five concrete solutions for companies to make themselves welcoming to women:
- Qualify female colleagues
Numerous studies, such as this one from the American Association of University Women, have shown that women are often viewed as less competent than their male counterparts. One small way to address this issue is to highlight your female colleagues qualifications when you introduce them.
For example, Jamie Redmond, the Director of Operations at Redmond Construction, related that when she’s in a business meeting, one of her peers informs everyone, “this is Jamie, she leads our operations; she’s a great resource for you.”
- Amplify women’s ideas
Men often take women’s ideas and claim them as their own (see Dr. Arin Reeves’ study, “Mansplaining, Manterrupting & Bropropriating.”) In order to combat this issue, Redmond emphasized the importance of repeating a woman’s idea and crediting her for the idea ideas. It’s as simple as saying, “as Jamie pointed out, we should really pay more attention to this marketing campaign.”
- Ladies — make yourself a seat at the table.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the way women’s colleagues treat them is almost entirely due to bias and has no correlation with women’s actions. However, in hostile environments, women often have no recourse but to develop a thick skin and hold their ground.
Cathy Osborne, the VP of HR at Leopardo admitted that when she started at the company, the male leaders had a difficult time listening to her. “We had cultural issues because they were not used to having women in a leadership role,” Osborne said. “They’d say, ‘Cathy you don’t know construction.’ I’d say, ‘It’s not about construction. It’s about human capital…’ I have a seat at the table and I’m a business partner.”
- Put women in positions of power
Women in power empower other women. For example, as a smart, driven woman, Osborne recognizes the importance of recruiting and retaining female employees. Since she started at Leopardo, the company has “been seeing more strong project engineers, project managers, on the female side.” Osborne also makes sure that male superintendents support her project engineers. In large part due to Osborne’s work, Leopardo is now 27 percent female, not including the trades.
Lauren Enders, a Project Manager at Vortex Flooring, observed that having women run the show benefits everyone. “We have our first female partner,” she said. “She’s really good at maintaining a positive environment for our team… the women in our office make shit happen.” This, of course, means that women in power also empower the men around them.
- Make work-life balance a company priority
Women with children often hesitate to take on leadership roles in the field because of the large time commitment demands associated with supervisory positions. Roseanna Bloxham, a senior geo-environmental engineer at environmental consultancy RSK, observed in this article, “it’s really difficult for working mothers to be on site by 8 am, because most childcare facilities are not open at 6am, when they would need to drop off their children. Therefore, after having children female engineers are still tending to go back into desk roles.”
The industry cannot afford to deprive talented women from field leadership opportunities. If you want to attract young parents of all genders into field leadership, you need to implement family friendly policies. Try developing generous paid maternity and paternity leave policies. Look into flexible working options — in the digital age, a lot of office work can be completed at home. Hire assistants for your supervisors who can take on their administrative tasks. You will attract and retain more skilled employees with these policies.
With a precipitous decline in skilled labor, the construction industry cannot afford to alienate 50 percent of the workforce. By implementing these five strategies, you will make your company more competitive and profitable.
Note: This article first appeared on BuiltWorlds’ website and can be viewed here.