EDUCATION AND OUTREACH ARE THE KEYS TO RECRUITING WOMEN TO THE INDUSTRY
BY SHERYL L. JACKSON
Women comprise 9.9 percent of the construction industry workforce, with an even smaller number of women on the front lines — an estimated 1 percent. With women making up 47 percent of all employed individuals, this means that the construction industry is only benefitting from about 1.5 percent of the total female workforce.
Construction companies are strengthening their efforts to attract women to the industry as one strategy to address today’s workforce needs. Although the industry has been a traditionally male career, women are increasingly recognizing opportunities in construction.
“I came from a construction family and spent my high school years working in the construction office or the field,” explains Melanie Taylor, general manager of The Boldt Company’s Chicago office. Although she admits that she always liked the physical and mental challenges of construction work along with the banter among everyone on a jobsite, she never imagined choosing construction as a career. “I wanted to become a chemical engineer, but while in college, I gravitated toward construction classes, until I realized that I really did want to go into construction.” She joined Boldt, a member of multiple AGC chapters, immediately after college and has been with the company for 15 years.
Part of Taylor’s decision to make a career in construction was the realization that construction is more than engineering or technical skills. “It is a complete business that requires people with skills in finance, scheduling, planning and managing people and projects,” she explains. Not only does the variety of opportunities offer a long-term career in multiple roles, but she also says, “Every day is different — one day I’m on a jobsite, the next day I’m in the office working on budgets and the next day I’m meeting a client.”
Stacy Robben’s path began very differently from Taylor. She pursued a career in public relations, and while working in a firm that represented construction industry professional organizations, she formed relationships with members of the organizations. “One of the individuals I worked with was the business development director for a large construction firm who offered me a position in his company,” says Robben. She began her career in construction 28 years ago as a marketing assistant, then was promoted several times until she reached marketing manager, and then moved into business development.
Throughout her career, Robben has worked for several construction firms and joined Boldt in 2018 as vice president of healthcare business development. “Although people are initially surprised that I did not come up from the field or that I’m not an engineer, I’ve never felt like I did not have opportunities to advance because of my gender,” says Robben.
Colleen Martindale, estimating director at the McCarthy Building Companies, a member of multiple AGC chapters, says that she “tripped and fell” into a construction industry career. “I started college majoring in jazz guitar performance but realized that the degree would not ensure a stable living wage, so I changed majors to civil engineering,” she says. “The counselor actually laughed when I told him what I wanted to do because it was so different.”
Following an internship at McCarthy, Martindale joined the company in 2009. She did leave to work for another construction firm for a few years for a leadership position and then returned to McCarthy as a senior estimator. She was quickly promoted to estimating manager and then to estimating director. “Although my internship was in the field, I was given a choice of a field position or an estimating position,” she explains. “I was always interested in estimating because it is such an important job and is very challenging because every project is different.”
Jessica Adame began her professional career at an executive search firm and joined McCarthy six years later. “I’ve always worked in the talent acquisition arena. I’m focused on building awareness of construction as a career choice,” she explains. “Education and outreach are the keys to growing the workforce,” she says, because “the perception of our industry versus the reality is surprising.”
As Adame talks to high school students about career opportunities or to college students about internships or first jobs after graduation, she emphasizes the variety of jobs that range from human resources to estimating to project management to trades. “I find that many high school students who are interested in building, drawing or creating often are not aware that construction can be a successful and positive career choice, so we communicate that these skills are needed in construction,” she says.
When asked what one of her most important professional achievements is, Adame, now national outreach manager at McCarthy Holdings, laughs and says, “Recruiting Colleen Martindale.”
An increased emphasis on
STEM education – science, technology, engineering and math — for women in high
schools along with the increasing use of technology in construction has made
the industry a more attractive career choice for women, says Robben. “The
skills most needed in the industry are good organizational skills, attention to
detail and ability to collaborate with others —
all areas in which most women excel.”
While diversity and inclusion of all groups, genders and ages is important, Boldt and McCarthy are tackling the challenge of recruiting women by including women in career fair recruitment teams or high school outreach programs to make it easier or more comfortable for a young woman to approach with questions – and to demonstrate that women are working in the company and not just pictured on brochures or websites.
“We have also expanded the number of schools we reach out to as we recruit entry level employees,” says Taylor. “As we increase the quantity of schools, we also pay attention to the quality and diversity of the school’s student population to be sure we are reaching a diverse group of candidates.”
When the job opening is for a more experienced person, the position is posted on very targeted sites, says Taylor. “We leverage organizations such as Women in Construction and purposely place job listings in diverse places to be sure we reach as many women as possible.”
Boldt and McCarthy are tackling the challenge of recruiting women by including women in career fair recruitment teams or high school outreach programs to make it easier or more comfortable for a young woman to approach with questions
The job descriptions are also carefully evaluated following Taylor’s attendance at an implicit bias training session at Boldt. “I learned that most women read the list of skills or experience required for the job and think that they must meet at least 80 percent of the requirements before they can apply, while men read the list and apply if they meet 40 percent of the requirements,” she says. “This means that women are self-disqualifying themselves based on the list.”
To reduce the chance that women pass on applying to jobs, Taylor says that the list of requirements is short and to the point, rather than a laundry list of every possible requirement.
Once women are hired, McCarthy’s Partnership for Women organization offers support and networking opportunities to address specific needs of women’s personal and professional development. “Every region’s organization is different and will host events that are specific to their needs, but we all share ideas, says Martindale. “Socializing is an important component of building relationships with colleagues and clients, and we learned that women may not be invited or may decline to attend some events when invited, because they don’t play golf, for example.” The Southern Region has held several events that addressed this concern.
“One event was an introduction to golf at a local course and the other was a primer on clay shooting,” explains Martindale. “We also had a fun wine tasting event that was centered around our female clients so women and company clients could connect in a non-traditional setting.” When talking with women about career opportunities in construction, Taylor encourages them to spend a day on a jobsite. “The perception of construction is that it is low-tech, gruff and rough, when the reality is that it is high-tech, collaborative and professional,” she says. “Most importantly, we get to build things that make a difference for our communities, our friends and families. For example, one of my first projects was a cancer treatment and research facility where my sister later was successfully treated for lymphoma.”