In the world of design-build, women are helping build the future

Traditionally, the construction industry, including the world of design-build, has comprised a predominantly male workforce. But that is changing. According to the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) publication, DBIA Integration Quarterly, and their article, “Women Boosting Their Impact in Design-Build,” women currently make up 47 percent of the national workforce, but only 9 percent of women in the design-build world.

Women bring valuable leadership skills to design-build

Industry leaders have taken notice and are working to increase diversity and inclusiveness in their workforces, in part because of the unique and valuable skills women bring to the environment. Among them: integrity, motivation and a willingness to take initiative. These key competencies, according to research conducted the Harvard Business Institute, are skills that are key to good leadership. The findings were of interest: women tended to score higher than their male colleagues in two-thirds of those competencies.

A changing industry, fighting fear of change

But changing the workplace can, at times, be an uphill battle. The same report showed that less than a third of respondents felt that having a female leader would result in positive changes in the construction environment. Panelists at a popular workshop of the 2018 Design-Build for Water/Wastewater conference weighed in on the results in a discussion entitled, “Steel Toe Stories and Project Success Guide.” Their assessment: fear of change skews such responses. One woman on the panel also pointed to the common issue of girls being labeled bossy, when the skills they are exhibiting prove to be good leadership building blocks later in life. Another woman on the panel explained that at its core, the issue is about having shared goals, regardless of gender: driving toward project success, having a team that performs well and producing a quality product that’s within budget. With those shared goals in place, the industry simply needs women available to serve in those roles.

A bright spot: the construction industry and pay equity

Achieving gender equality in the construction industry, like the effort in any male-dominated industry, will take time, however, according to the article, trends are encouraging: the number of women in construction has increased by 80% over the last 30+ years. And the construction industry has a potential recruitment draw that other industries may not have: women earn 95 cents on the dollar in the construction industry when compared to men, so the pay gap is not as wide as it can be in other industries.

Change can be seen in other areas as well, said the panelists. Women are increasingly taking a seat around the table at meetings, but in particular, more women are visible on the owners’ side of the business. When owners are women, it makes good business sense to build teams that reflect the customers you serve, so the industry would be wise to embrace that diversity, explained one panelist.

The future of design-build workforce: young women in STEM career paths

Developing a workforce in construction that appeals to all owners, and finding a way to harness the unique skills women bring to the table, begins long before a job is posted on the careers page. In fact, it starts by increasing the numbers of young women in high school and college who pursue work in the industry. The panelists pointed out that by encouraging young women to consider science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, the pool of female job candidates will eventually grow as well. In the meantime, women continue to make great strides toward building the future of the industry.