Change Takes Time
Advancements in land development has played a prominent role in the advancement of human society, providing us with the means to connect and express ourselves through the structures that surround us. Through planning and construction, we’re able to take people’s visions and bring them to life, creating parks for our families to play, museums for our community to explore, retail space for new businesses to thrive and so much more.
However, this doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take years for a single concept to come to fruition and decades for communities to be built, all while requiring significant commitment from industry professionals to make it happen. Similar to structural changes in a community, innovations and shifts in the traditional structure of the workforce take just as long with just as much conscious effort – usually requiring more.
For decades, we have seen women becoming more and more prominent in the Construction and Development space. Yet, we still make up a mere 10% of the industry. As a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE), we find great excitement in the progress and achievements women have made within our industry, while setting goals for what we’re looking to do in 2020 and beyond. Take a look at some of the achievements of women in Construction and Development over the years and consider the ways you can help these percentages rise!
History of Women in Construction
While the expansion of women in construction and development roles has become more commonplace since the turn of the 21st century, their contributions can be traced back much further. Some of the most recognizable structures standing today, dating back over 100 years, were developed with women in key leadership positions; the first documented being that of the Brooklyn Bridge. Serving as the unofficial Chief Engineer for 11 of the 13 years it took to complete, Emily Roebling’s contributions to the engineering and construction of what was at the time, the longest span bridge in the world, may have been the start of a perspective shift regarding female roles in the workforce.
Fast forward nearly sixty years and this shift became even more prevalent as our need for labor skyrocketed in the 1940s. With WWII and growing labor shortages, we saw the female labor force grow by an unprecedented 50% in the span of just 5 years. With 19 million women now part of the labor force, about 4% of them were considered skilled workers.
Three decades later, we experienced what may have been one of the most significant breakthroughs for Women in Construction when Barbara Res was placed in charge of the construction of Trump Tower on 5th Avenue; making her the first female hard-hat boss to ever oversee an American skyscraper from start to finish.
Although these only represent a few achievements of Women in Construction over the years, each of them were a critical piece of the collective progress our industry has made. As a result, the construction and development industry continues to incorporate more diverse representation with 44% of the Top 100 Contracting Firms and Fortune 500 Construction Companies employing Women in Executive Roles. The question we pose is, what can we do to continue this trend?
Where We Are Today & What We Are Doing
While the growth in diversity we have seen over the years is encouraging, we see an opportunity to help educate more young women of the opportunities they could have in Construction and Development.
4% was a starting point in the 1940’s, 10% is an advancement in the 2000’s, but what does the future of Construction and Development look like over the next 10, 20, 30 years? While there are many factors that contribute to these percentages, the perception that construction is a predominantly male job plays a role in women’s decisions to pursue careers within our industries.
However, it is encouraging that day by day this perception moves towards more neutral ground due to the hard work of so many great businesses, organizations and leaders that are dedicated to providing resources for women interested in the field. As a Women-Owned Commercial Consulting company, we have had the privilege to be a part of, contribute to and experience the impact of many organizations striving to shift our youth’s perceptions of this space. Some of our favorites include:
National Association of Women in Construction – Seeing that women represented only a fraction of the construction industry workforce, 16 women founded Women in Construction of Fort Worth in 1953 to create a support network for others like themselves. Women in Construction of Fort Worth was so successful that it gained its national charter in 1955, becoming the National Association of Women in Construction. Today, NAWIC provides its members with opportunities for professional development, education, networking, leadership training, public service and more.
BuildHer Collaborative – Based in Fort Collins, CO, BuildHer Collaborative was founded in 2019 by four women in the Commercial Construction space. From Project Managers to Real Estate Developers, their goal was to create a community of women in the Construction and Development space that encouraged ongoing education, collaboration and growth to collectively ensure their industry progressed in a positive direction. With Northern Colorado being made up of smaller metropolitan areas than that of Denver, yet rapidly growing, this group strives to create connections within their surrounding communities.
Women Make Buildings Better – Initially hosted by Trane (Commercial HVAC), this group strives to connect women in the building industry for personal and professional empowerment. With their first successful interactive conference held in Denver in 2019, they helped women in the building industry discover their own style of innovation through interactive discussion and activities, and continue their efforts through meetings and discussions with like-minded peers.
CSU Women in Construction Management Summer Institute – In the state of Colorado, there are few organizations that are having as much success in recruiting women to the construction industry than CSU’s Department of Construction Management. An immersive introduction into construction management, Women in Construction Management Summer Institute provides dozens of girls aged 15-18 an environment in which to shift their perceptions and discover new career opportunities through classroom sessions, job site tours, hands-on activities, volunteer days, and more. Having only recently completed the 3rd year of the program, the department has already seen an increase in women enrolling in the Construction Management program. Building important life skills as well as professional skills, we are optimistic about the influence this program will have outside of the programs direct participants, on friends, family, and classmates.
CSU Women Engaging in Construction Mentoring – Addressing the concern that retention in the industry can be just as difficult a hurdle as recruitment, CSU’s Department of Construction Management introduced a second program focused on cultivating a community of support through mentorship. Pairing incoming students with both an upper-class Construction Management student and an industry mentor, Women Engaging in Construction Mentoring prepares young women to face industry challenges by sharing personal experiences, methods to demonstrate strength and resilience, and creating a foundation of like-minded individuals who can support one another throughout their journey.
Organizations like these continue to drive discussion, create awareness and elevate the confidence of women in Construction and Development, so younger generations have the opportunity to build something too! If you are interested in a career in construction or seek to contribute to the industry’s growth, we encourage you to reach out, join, and share information about programs, such as those mentioned above, with your peers.
How To Keep Moving Forward
In addition to the resources funded by private companies and the volunteer efforts of those in the industry, State and Federal Government agencies are striving to include more women in their Construction plans.
In 1994, Congress authorized a WOSB contracting program, stipulating that government agencies should aim to have at least 5% of all federal government contracting dollars set-aside for Women-Owned Small Businesses. That being said, despite being authorized in 1994, the SBA’s final rule implementing the program wasn’t published until 2010 and to this day the 5% goal has yet to be achieved.
So, what can we do to start achieving and maintaining the 5% goal for WOSB’s? Information is key! For a contracting office to consider a set aside for a WOSB, the contracting officer has to have a reasonable expectation that two or more small business concerns owned and controlled by women will submit offers for the contract. Creating, offering, and ensuring businesses are aware of the resources meant to assist business owners through this process may increase the volume of minority certifications which can result in more opportunities within our state and federal government agencies.
For us, Colorado PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center) has played a positive role in our post-certification research. With our WOSB, MWBE, SBE and DBE certifications, their procurement officers have helped to shed light on what resources will be the most efficient and effective as we begin chasing state-wide opportunities.
That being said, this standard of opportunity and the availability of resources does not represent that of our local agencies. For minority businesses, including Women-Owned, to begin or continue competing for contracts within their local communities, it could prove to be beneficial for municipalities to set-aside the same opportunities we see at the state and federal level. Not only could this introduce agencies to organizations they may have been missing, but could also contribute to a truer representation of who their community represents.
The more informed we are, the more likely we are to act. If you have experience obtaining certification, are a part of leadership programs that you have found to be impactful or have experiences or opportunities you can share to encourage the growth of other minority business, contact us! Having recently gone through this process ourselves, we’d appreciate the opportunity to connect and assist other women in the process of doing so.
Continuing the inclusive growth our industry has seen over the years requires an ongoing effort. By sharing information, opportunities, and experiences, we can continue to cultivate an environment that encourages the current and future generation of Women in Construction and Development to enter the industry with confidence, knowing they have the opportunity to build something bigger than they may have ever imagined.
The addition of more diverse perspectives will strengthen our communities and ultimately help create an all-inclusive industry culture, where the incorporation of unique ideas and values will propel us towards more rapid growth; benefiting our communities and industry world-wide.
If you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to learn more about the opportunities for yourself, your co-worker, your mentee, etc. by looking into some of the programs mentioned above or ones that we may have missed. And, if you work for local government agencies, consider how set-asides could benefit your local organization!
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