For the first handful of projects I worked on in the construction industry, I was the only woman working in our construction trailers, and one of very few on the entire job site. I’ve always had a love of buildings and also developed a deep passion for construction over my 27-year career with Mortenson.
I’ve been fortunate to have many amazing mentors, coaches, and sponsors over the years. One thing they all had in common: they were all men. This was primarily driven by the simple fact that there weren’t many women in the industry in leadership positions 27 years ago. While, thankfully, the days of no or limited women in leadership roles are behind us, men still play an important role in advancing, advocating, and supporting women in our business.
Right now, the industry benefits from just 1.25% of the total workforce being female, and most of those women are working in office settings. Meanwhile, the construction industry continues to face a historic and rapidly intensifying craft labor shortage. The industry will need more than two million workers over the next three years, according to an analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The solution to this challenge is literally all around us, and the industry is broadly aware of the need to attract and keep more women in our field. Events like March’s Women in Construction Week are one way the industry is creating space to discuss how we can build a more diverse pipeline and address the barriers that still hinder women from advancing in our industry. Recognizing that real change comes from the participation of everyone in our industry, one of the key areas of focus this year for Mortenson’s Women in Construction Week activities was allyship.
Becoming an Ally
Mortenson recently defined allyship for our team as leveraging one’s voice, advantage and assets to benefit others. Generally speaking, being an ally means actively supporting members of a group to which you yourself do not belong. From the jobsite to the boardroom, there are many ways people in our industry can work toward creating parity between men and women.
Here’s how we broke it down for our project teams during this year’s Women in Construction Week. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a great place to start.
- Listen first — Take the time to understand the perspectives of people in the industry who have experiences different than your own. Ask questions about what it’s been like for women or other minority communities on job sites and do a little research on your own about what it means to be a good ally. The Internet is full of great resources like this video we shared with our team that can help you understand where and how to best lend your voice.
- Set the example — Just like any other major priority on the job site—from safety to quality control—each of us has a role and obligation in creating the right atmosphere for success. Examine the environment on the job site and make it a point to promote inclusive behavior.
- Advocate for the women (and others!) you work with and recognize their accomplishments — This one is straightforward. See good work, recognize good work. Whether it’s a man or a woman, make it a point to recognize accomplishments. Are women on your jobsite typically relegated to the light duty work like sweeping or opening a gate? It’s going to be difficult for that woman to advance or stay in the industry if they’re never given the chance to grow. Mortenson created Women Skills Nights with the goal of providing more opportunities to grow and learn new skills. These Skills Nights are available to all team members and are focused on safety, tool use, reading blueprints and IWP training.
- Speak up and confront inappropriate behavior or harassment — No one likes to rock the boat. It’s often easier to look the other way or make excuses when someone makes an inappropriate or harassing comment. No different than our approach to safety, we all have an obligation to say something if we are witness to inappropriate behavior. Don’t leave it up to the person being targeted to point out why it’s inappropriate. They are already in the minority and likely fear retaliation or not being seen as a team player if they “can’t take a joke.” As an ally, you can recognize that behavior and put a stop to it—either publicly or privately as the situation warrants.
- Act respectfully regardless of who is present — This one is really about being who you say you are, regardless of who’s watching. If you consider yourself an advocate for equal treatment of women, reflect that belief in how you speak when there aren’t any women in the room.
- Offer to mentor or sponsor a woman’s career — Personally, I find mentorship one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. Seeing someone grow and develop a passion for the important work we do in this industry is inspiring to watch. Look for opportunities to provide mentorship—direct support and coaching—for women in the industry, as well as sponsorship, advocating for talented women in rooms where decisions are being made about their careers.
While there is work to be done, the increase in both men and women at this year’s WIC Week events was energizing to see. Together, we are powerful. Together, we can all play a role in fostering a meritocracy where skills are cultivated in all willing participants, regardless of gender, and where more people want to build careers in this great industry.