Women currently make up just 9 percent of the U.S. construction workforce, but McCarthy Building Companies and other local businesses are committed to ensuring that number continues to rise.
“As an employee-owned company, we recognize the importance of cultivating a workplace where every partner can grow and thrive,” said McCarthy Director Erin Valentine. “Throughout our organization, there’s total buy-in toward driving diversity of perspective to help us deliver even better results for our clients and a rewarding culture for our employees.”
Valentine helped spearhead the McCarthy Partnership for Women, a national employee resource group that supports a diverse and inclusive work environment within the company. The group focuses its efforts on introducing young women to construction careers and provides personal and professional development opportunities for women within the company.
“Construction is a great career option, and we think it’s important to help provide the tools, resources and support to help everyone be successful,” said Valentine, a 17-year McCarthy employee.
To equip female employees for long-term success, McCarthy’s Central Region developed a two-year career development program with a curriculum that includes strategic communication, negotiation, decision-making and other topics that help them to be more effective in their jobs.
As vice president at Cushman & Wakefield, Lauren Talley manages the commercial real estate services company’s St. Louis construction division.
She discovered construction as a career option after a classmate at the University of Denver convinced her to take a real-estate class as a business elective.
“The moment I found out that construction management was something you could actually do with your life, I knew instantly that it was for me,” she said. “I wake up every day and look forward to going to work. I don’t know a lot of people who can say that.”
Talley believes women may avoid considering construction careers because they have an inaccurate perception of the industry as a dirty, noisy profession.
“The way TV portrays construction is not accurate at all,” she said. “The folks in the field take a lot of pride in the work that they do, and there’s a real community that extends all the way to the office. And the unions that comprise our industry are the backbone of America.”
Dispelling those construction myths is key to attracting more females to the profession, according to Talley.
“It’s a really exciting profession, and no two days are ever the same, which is one of the things that I love the most,” she said. “This career path is open to anyone and everyone.”
Path to leadership
Emily Martin practiced law for five years before deciding to build a construction career at Aschinger Electric, a business operated by her family for more than 100 years. She has served as president of the electrical contracting company since 2008.
“I came into the business and learned project management, estimating, contract negotiation, change order management and process cleanup for the first few years before taking on a leadership role,” she said.
Though she believes construction can be a wonderful option for women pursuing STEM careers, technical skills and aptitude aren’t a requirement for building a successful construction career.
“You don’t necessarily have to know how to install electrical switchgear to be a great project manager, Martin said. “Having a smart business mind is key.”
In fact, she believes many women are naturally equipped to be proficient in the construction field.
“One of the really important skills is the ability to take in a whole lot of information from different sources, sort it down and work together in a group to develop a plan and a vision for going forward,” she said. “I think people underestimate how much management of data, people and consensus-building is required in this industry.”
At the end of the day, attracting more females to the construction profession will strengthen the industry overall and enhance results for owners.
“There is extensive research that demonstrates that companies with more diverse workforces outperform other businesses,” said McCarthy’s Valentine. “Companies with more diverse perspectives are just more successful.”