Rob Lynch turned to Melissa Berg, now his Director of Inclusion, Culture & Engagement and said, “We’ve got a problem.” She agreed. Lynch is the CEO of Dome Construction in South San Francisco, CA. The two were reviewing the results of a 2017 employee satisfaction survey. One of the questions was “Do you see Dome Construction as a place of opportunity for yourself?” 94 percent of male employees answered yes, but only 83 percent of women did. Lynch found this disparity unacceptable, adding, “We decided, you know what, we can do better.”
Currently about 10 percent of employees in the construction industry are women, a number that hasn’t changed much in the last 25 years. Doreen Bartoldus is the president of the National Association of Women in Construction, NAWIC for short. The organization is dedicated to helping women achieve equity in the industry. “Women have so much to offer and can accomplish so much in this industry. We have to change the mindset that this is primarily a man’s game,” she says.
For Bartoldus and NAWIC, the preconceptions held by men are the biggest obstacle, but men are part of the solution as well. Lynch agrees, adding, “Women can be phenomenally successful and bring so much to a team. It’s an industry that is gratifying and rewarding for everyone.”
Henry Nutt, the author of “7 Principles of Creating Success in the Construction Industry,” is an avid proponent of women in construction, noting the value of gender diversity on project or management teams. “The amazing thing about diversity is we don’t think alike. It’s not just about being a woman, but about having a different perspective. The more diversity we can have, the more holistic our team,” he said.
Nutt recently spoke to a group of women about the construction industry. After his talk one of the participants shared her experience of asking her male boss what she could do to grow, and he responded, “Go into another business.” “Essentially he was saying, ‘you’re not welcome,’” says Nutt. “Fortunately, she was able to turn to a woman for encouragement. I do see more and more companies taking a different point of view on women in the industry. It is becoming way more than just checking the box.”
Some men can identify with the challenges women face in the construction industry. “I’m constantly joining panel discussions that deal with diversity and equity,” says Willy Zambrano, president of Zambrano Architectural Design. More than half the employees of his firm are women. “I feel like I’m one of them. I’m a first-generation immigrant. Wherever I can, I try to identify with people who don’t have the same opportunities.” Zambrano’s own efforts to recruit women and minorities to the construction or architectural fields include programs for K-12 students. “We’re trying to bring awareness to girls as well as boys,” he says.
Bartoldus’s career spans more than three decades in construction and she has been a member of NAWIC for much of that time. She has seen a wide range of support for women by male counterparts, from dismissive to actively advocating. “I’m fortunate to be at a very supportive company now that sees the value of equity and diversity in their workforce,” she says with a smile. “We need more companies with the same attitude.”
At least some companies are seeing real change from their efforts to address gender equity. Rob Lynch and Dome Construction instituted women’s leadership groups, support networks and an internship program within the company. They repeated their survey, and this time found only a 3 percent difference for the same question of opportunity at Dome. The company now has a workforce that is 20 percent female. “We’re not taking that as victory, we still have room to grow,” says Lynch. He added, “What leader wouldn’t want a workforce that feels valued and important? People should look hard at that and ask themselves if their culture and procedures support that.”
The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) originated as Women in Construction of Fort Worth, Texas. Sixteen women working in the construction industry founded it in 1953 to create a support network for women in construction-related jobs. Today, NAWIC is still based in Fort Worth and has 118 chapters throughout the United States that provide professional development, education, networking, leadership training and public service. The theme of NAWIC’s annual conference, August 17-20, is “Envision Equity.