“If I got a dollar for every time I was asked how I got into construction, I would be a wealthier woman. People’s curiosity points to the fact that they mostly don’t know any women in construction now, so the fact that I started almost 30 years ago is considered an amazing happening….especially since there was no divorce or male family pressure involved.” Iris Harrell, founder and CEO of Harrell Remodeling jokes.
When a woman is in a male-dominated industry, it is assumed that she is there because her father, brother, or husband made her. But in reality the women that thrive and succeed are too strong-willed and passionate for that to be the case. Yes it’s true that some were exposed to it because of a family connection, but they ended up staying in construction because they wanted to!
For many women, it was an industry that they fell into. It was a temporary job they took or a transfer they had to take, but once they were there, they realized that they loved being a part of the industry—its constant changes, the problem-solving, personal pride, and the relaxed but high demand atmosphere is intoxicating.
“I needed to find a career that I could grow into and not get tired of; that was a scary prospect! I was afraid that I might be like my father….always changing jobs and getting bored or mad or both. When I met my partner, she was fixing up her new house with her mother who drove around in a Mercedes with her own tool box in her trunk as if that was perfectly normal. It was through that experience that a spiritual light bulb went off for me and a new passion took rise; using drills and swinging a hammer was exhilarating.” Iris continues.
Daria VanLiew, the Deputy Chief, Construction Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shares how she got into construction, “When I came out of college I thought I wanted to be an engineer in the water treatment field. But I discovered my true passion was actually for construction when I completed my rotational assignment in Construction Division. I started my assignment during the Christmas holiday when about half of the office was on vacation. I was given a quick indoctrination and run down of all the projects and then told I was the lead for the next week. I quickly learned that construction is dynamic and priorities can and do change on any given day. On my first day as the lead, the general contractor hit a gas line causing a leak and much to my luck the site was next to family housing. During that week, I discovered how much I loved the constant challenges, problem solving, interacting with contractors and clients, and seeing physical progress each and every day in the projects we were constructing.”
What excites these women is one of the unique aspects of the industry—the ability to physically see and touch your creation. To watch it go from nothing, to something, to an amazing building that has changed a community. An achievement you get to drive by every day. Construction is about hands-on tangible results; something that the rest of us rarely have the opportunity to experience with our increased dependency of technology and the virtual world.
“When I graduated, I was offered two jobs; one as a traffic design engineer and another as a construction materials inspector for a highway construction project. I took the inspector job because I wanted to be on a construction site as part of a team building things. I love working in land development and home building because you get to see a piece of land go from grass and dirt to a beautiful community full of homes and parks with people living there. It’s great fun to drive around a neighborhood and be able to say, I helped build this.” Deborah Van Huis, president of Expertise on Demand explains.
Despite the growing number of women in the construction industry, society’s perception is largely that construction is still a “man’s” job, and women remain a minority. However, even with this stereotype, women are finding their place in the industry. For the woman that establishes her boundaries, earns respect and proves herself, a successful career in construction is inevitable.
“There were no jobs in engineering when I graduated so I took one in construction with the intention of transferring out as soon as I could. I have now been here for 18 years now with no regrets.” Eleanor Encinas Resident Engineer, US Army Corps of Engineers.
There has never been a better time to be a woman in construction. Many of the traditional barriers are falling, creating more opportunities for women. Management has begun to recognize that women bring different qualities to the table and that they can perform as well as men. As the workplace becomes more comfortable for women, they are finding the career choice to be easier. More and more women are discovering that regardless of how she ends up in construction, she chooses to stay because she wants to!