The construction industry is widely considered a male-dominated field. That idea is not entirely a misconception; a majority of the workforce is made up of men. What goes unrecognized, however, is the undeniable progress that women have made in an industry that was previously considered unfit for them. Whether it is on a job site or in an office, women are making huge strides to be seen as an equal to their male counterparts and are proving themselves to be a crucial aspect to the building process.
According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, women hold only 10.3% of all construction jobs. When you look at the amount of women working on a job site, the number is even smaller. Construction Dive says that the areas with the largest amount of female workers last year were building inspectors (14%), painters (7.2%) and helpers (5.6%). Although the overall percentage of females in the construction workforce is minimal when compared to other industries, women working in construction today hold a wide array of positions, with many being key decision makers on projects. Savannah Harvey, Assistant Project Manager at Flintco Construction, says that there are many more sides to working in construction than just "swinging a hammer."
"I happen to be on the Project Management side, in which I deal with facilitating all aspects of the project, such as Document Control, Financials, Submittals, RFIs, Correspondence, Meetings, Site Walks and much more. But that is only one small piece of the process," Harvey said. "My company also employs women as Assistant Superintendents, Estimators, Financial Coordinators, Marketing Coordinators, Office Managers and Field Employees. There are so many options available for Women in Construction with varying degrees of education."
Many people are unaware of the wide variety of job opportunities that the construction industry can provide; to work in construction does not necessarily mean to be hands-on and working on a job site. When concern arises about a woman working in construction, it usually is under the assumption that she will be working with dangerous materials or in a risky environment. While many females have done incredible work disproving the theory that men are better suited for construction jobs that involve difficult labor, there are other options for women seeking different work conditions. A common concern for working women is the ability to have a schedule that allows for them to tend to out of office conflicts, such as taking care of children. Melanie Gay, Diversity Coordinator at Yates Construction, believes that holding an office position is an ideal job for a person wishing to attain a set schedule and not worry about difficult work conditions, while still wanting to be involved in the construction process.
"When you're working in the office, you typically can expect to work until 5:00 PM Monday-Friday," Gay said. "Not only are you able to work in a more comfortable setting off of a job site, but you also get to see all of the plans that cross through the office. Advanced education is not always a requirement; you can start right out of high school and build your career within company."
Ladies in construction are backed by groups that are set out to support and connect women working in the industry together. NAWIC, a national organization with chapters located across the country, provides its members with opportunities for professional development, education, networking, leadership training, public service. The Memphis Chapter, lead by A&B Construction's Brandy Bonner Aden, currently has 13 members and is steadily growing as they continue to host monthly chapter meeting and networking events.
Another local group set out to support Memphis women working in construction has gained lots of support since its recent birth. Titled Women Build 901, Too! this organization's mission is to expose, educate, and empower women to pursue viable careers in the building trades, which deliver financial independence, respect, and security. The initiative was kick started by Kit Crighton-Smith, a Project Management Advisor at FedEx. Kit began her career working in the hourly labor jobs to put herself through school. Now, she is the Project Manager for one of the largest construction jobs in the Mid-South.
“I created 'Women Build 901, Too!' to give back to the community that has supported me in my career choice for the past 30 years,” Crighton-Smith said. “Our plan is to get the word out to girls and women that they can have a good paying career and take care of themselves and their families in a multitude of jobs in the building and construction industry.”
Along with a quickly growing team of Memphis women all working in construction, Kit plans to utilize social media, job fairs, and other opportunities to reach a younger audience to educate women on the opportunities that the construction industry provide. You can find the group on Facebook and on Instagram at their handle @womenbuild901too.
As the number of females working in the construction industry slowly continues to rise, women are rallying together to prove that they are an indispensable component to the construction process. Along with support of their male counterparts, women are able to wear many different (hard) hats in the industry and continue to prove that they belong.