Subscribe / Renew
|► Subscribe to our Free Weekly Newsletter|
|print email to a friend reprints add to mydjc|
August 4, 2022
According to 2021 data, only 11% of employees in the construction industry are women. Of them, more than 45% have never worked with female construction managers, myself included.
Outside of a short time as an intern I’ve never had the opportunity to work under a female project manager, but I’m thrilled to see our presence in the industry increase.
However, I do feel fortunate to have worked with a number of men that saw me as a valued member of the team and treated me as such. Regarding me as an equal and supporting me through mentoring, encouragement and promotions has contributed to where I am in my career today.
I am one of six senior project managers at Schuchart, and three of us are women. I work for a firm that values and promotes diversity, and I’ve experienced firsthand how unique backgrounds and perspectives benefit the work we do. When the pandemic hit, it became even more clear just how big of an impact diversity makes. Lines between work and home became blurred. It was easier to see how an individual’s personal experience outside of work affects the job they do, and how they do it.
I also became a working mother during the pandemic. When COVID-19 caused childcare centers to shut down and many businesses transitioned to remote, I found myself needing to more intentionally coordinate both work and personal schedules, priorities, and boundaries. As I adjusted to my new role, I realized the skills I use as a mom clear communication, efficient time management and prioritization, setting expectations, and flexibility to pivot without much notice were the same skills I apply to my projects at Schuchart. Suddenly, I was leaning into them across all facets of my day-to-day more than ever. And by looking at my job through the lens of my personal life, I was able to see what my experience as a woman and a working mother brings to my role as a project manager in construction.
WOMEN IN CONSTRUCTION
While the construction industry has lagged behind others when it comes to workforce diversity, the onset of the global pandemic has affected representation even more. Between February 2020 and January 2022, 1.1 million women left the construction labor force.
However, new construction jobs are on the rise and the industry is poised for growth. This presents a tremendous opportunity for women to effectively contribute their skills and experience to the profession. It also presents a responsibility for construction companies to support the advancement of our historically underrepresented demographic.
Examining the unique skills and talent women bring to the workforce isn’t new, and many organizations continue to explore how women in construction management roles are helping advance the industry.
Women are natural relationship builders, which is essential when managing a diverse team of stakeholders and consultants. We tend to read non-verbal cues more easily, helping us quickly uncover project needs even if the client is having a hard time articulating them. We excel at communication and explaining things in non-technical terms. This helps build consensus around shared project goals. Women also embrace teamwork and group input. We understand what it’s like to be underrepresented, and we support the views and talents of others.
While these traits appear to come more instinctively to women, this isn’t to say these skills are exclusive to us. The key is to draw on the combined experiences of everyone to bring necessary balance to the construction industry. Embracing unique perspectives and knowledge leads to innovative solutions, identifies areas to improve efficiencies, and provides a collaborative and supportive process. And, it’s good for the bottom line: gender-diverse companies are 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than companies with less diversity.
With the number of women pursuing careers in the field continuing to grow, understanding and leveraging diverse skills will be paramount in maintaining a successful business and a competitive advantage.
We’ve already seen how workforce diversity is changing the types of spaces we build. Lactation rooms, prayer rooms, and all-gender restrooms to name a few are quickly becoming standard components of many commercial office projects. When present on a project team, workforce diversity adds value to the process and end product as well.
I apply my organization, time management, and communication skills as a woman and working mother to my role at Schuchart every day. They are essential to my success, and the success of my projects. I also draw on my experiences using the types of spaces we build to deliver projects that go beyond function. During preconstruction and through our value engineering process, I can question priorities when necessary and contribute a different perspective. My insights and lessons learned ensure these spaces are best suited for the end user.
Increasing the variety of backgrounds and experience we bring to our projects is crucial for the construction industry to evolve, innovate, and attract top talent. Employees in a diverse environment are more engaged, which is especially critical in a profession that relies so heavily on communication and collaboration. Bringing unique ideas to the table encourages creative problem solving. And by cultivating a diverse workforce, construction companies can widen their candidate pool and open doors to even more qualified recruits.
At Schuchart, we understand the importance of attracting and supporting a diverse team. I am an active member of our Inclusion Action Group, which focuses on promoting inclusion and diversity throughout our organization and in our collaboration across the industry. We are dedicated to fostering an environment where contributions of diverse backgrounds and life experiences flourish.
THE FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY
Like so many other professions, the pandemic helped shine a light on the lack of diversity in the construction field. As the U.S. workforce continues to become more racially, ethnically, and gender-diverse, the future of our industry will rely on increased diversity and inclusion for its survival. We must embrace diversity now. By recruiting and supporting women and other historically underrepresented groups, construction companies will offer their organization, their clients, and the industry as a whole the diverse perspectives, experiences, and contributions needed to advance, re-invent, and thrive.
I take great pride as a female in the construction industry. I am excited to act as a role model for new employees entering the profession and to demonstrate that senior roles can and should be an option for anyone interesting in pursuing them.
Ashlee Stedman is a senior project manager on Schuchart’s major accounts team, and an active member of the firm’s Inclusion Action Group.