Ground-breaking Women in Construction
Builders and firms that want to outperform their competitors should make championing more women in construction a top priority. Women have strong workplace skills, such as communication, organization, and multitasking. Women are key in the fight against the growing workforce shortage. Attracting and retaining more women in construction supports diversity inclusion. And broadly, gender diversity is good for business. According to the Peterson Institute, companies that were in the top 25 percent in workforce gender diversity were 46 percent more likely to outperform their industry average. A Credit Suisse survey reports that companies produced 10 percent higher cash flow returns when women make up half of the senior managers.
Today, women make up 10.3 percent of the construction workforce, including office staff. The number of women in the field accounts for one percent of all construction workers. Women with ownership account for 13 percent of all construction firms, demonstrating an astounding 94 percent growth since 2007.
The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) was established in 1953 to help create a support network for other women in the industry. Women in Construction Week commemorates the founding of this important organization helping to advance women in this field. To celebrate, we’re sharing the stories of two women in the Butler Builder® network working hard to progress gender diversity in construction.
Two women with a voice at the leadership table
Females that hold ownership positions in their construction firms are nothing new to the Butler Builder® network.
Jennifer Heimburger is president of the company her father founded in 1978 in Bonne Terre, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. She joined Heimburger Construction, Inc. (HCI) in 1998 and has had partial ownership since 2011. Michelle Stephens with Bel-Con Design-Builders in Belleville, Ontario, got into the business by accident. She accepted what she thought was a temporary position at a construction firm to save money for school, and 26 years later, she is a partner in the business.
Both women admit there are benefits and challenges to being a woman in a male-dominated industry. “One of the benefits is not being perceived as a threat. I am thankful for all of the good advice and information that I have received from other Butler builders,” Jennifer says. “The downside is not immediately being taken seriously in male-dominated meetings.”
Michelle said she finds the biggest challenge to be “finding a balance between an assertive, confident woman [whose] voice is heard while not coming across as domineering and ‘pushy.’ The key is to be intentional about who you’re speaking to, whether it be a colleague or a client. Get to know their communication style and adapt your approach to better ensure success. It is especially important for women trying not only to assimilate into a mostly male environment but thrive in it.”
Thriving as a woman in construction
The best way for a woman to be successful in construction, according to Michelle, is to embrace differences rather than be intimidated by them. “Know your value,” she advises. “Be prepared to be challenged, encouraged, fulfilled, and stretched in whole new ways, to learn something new every day, and to never, ever be bored.
Jennifer believes that having a peer group of Butler builders (or similar) is unbelievably helpful with getting ideas, asking questions, and seeing other companies’ best practices. She also recommends joining a national group like MBCEA (Metal Building Contractors and Erectors Association) as an excellent way to network with a non-competitive peer group.
The most interesting part of being in construction for Michelle is the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the industry. “Every project is different from the last one in almost every way,” Michelle shares. “A unique combination of location design, clients, subcontractors, terrain, and team members require a different strategy, plan, and implementation each time.”
Jennifer finds the most rewarding part of being in the construction industry is a tangible sense of accomplishment. “I drive down the street and see buildings that we constructed up to 40 years ago still in service,” she says. “HCI works with a lot of small to medium-sized businesses that are the backbone of the US economy. We provide a service that helps them—and us—keep moving forward, creating jobs, and improving people’s lives.”
Closing the gender gap
Jennifer and Michelle are just two stories of individuals making strides for women in construction. Builders and companies looking to stay competitive must champion gender diversity in this male-dominated workforce. A place to start is The National Association of Women in Construction, with over 115 chapters across the United States. It is open to all women in the industry, including women builders in the trades, project management, marketing, administration, and executive leadership. To learn more about the National Association of Women in Construction, click here.
The MBCEA is a trade association, organized in 1968 to provide programs and services to the contractor and erector segments of the metal building industry. You can find more information about MBCEA at mbcea.org.