Changing the image of construction for women

According to the US Department of Labor, the number of women in our industry is less than what it was 10 years ago. Between 1985 and 2007 the number of women in construction grew by 81.3 percent; however, during the economic recession, employment dropped drastically. Today, while women make up almost half of the mainstream workforce, they represent only nine percent of the construction workforce in the United States. 

Our industry has acknowledged the value of diverse perspectives, and specifically that of women. Skill sets that are often considered core strengths of women leaders—empathy, ability to engage, self-awareness, desire to mentor, intuition and assertiveness—all contribute to a higher probability for success.

At Pepper Construction, women hold 30 percent of the salaried positions, representing both field and office positions. Women fill key roles in the company throughout the organization, from coordinators to directors and officers. In addition to project and field management, we are engaged in estimating, accounting, virtual design and construction, human resources, marketing and communications. 

Our industry is on the forefront of the latest technologies like virtual and augmented reality. We also have the opportunity to effect real change in our world through high performance and sustainable construction practices. At Pepper, women play key roles in leading these initiatives.

As we speak with students about a career in construction, we talk about an industry that offers opportunities for leadership, creativity and analytics. The women at Pepper contribute to the company’s strategy and growth, and we have the opportunity to do meaningful work that aligns with our career aspirations.

The messages that resonate most come from those who experience the job every day. We interviewed six women in our company, at various levels and in different roles, to share why they work in the construction industry and what keeps them here.

Lauren B., Project ManagerLauren B

I loved math. It was like another language to me…We have pictures from when I was 5 years old in construction boots striking poses. My grandpa, dad and mom were in different facets of the business, and as a kid, I would anticipate the 8 o’clock doorbell ring on a weeknight: Grandpa coming over with plans in hand. My dad would unroll them on the kitchen table, and I would watch them scale and move rooms together in complete fascination.

Since working in construction, I’ve learned that you have to wear different hats - an office hat, a field hat, an owner hat – and you have to be adjustable to every situation. Like every new graduate, it’s hard to be inexperienced and new to an industry of people that have been doing this longer than you have been alive. Just keep pushing regardless. Be honest and have faith in yourself because you are here for a reason.

Deana A., Director of Human ResourcesDeana A

Construction was a new industry for me. I needed to try something different, and I found it here. After earning my bachelor’s degree, I was given the opportunity to lead HR in Indiana, and now I serve on the senior management team. As I've grown in my career, Pepper worked with me to provide that next step. There are many different career options for women in construction. The team approach that I appreciate is similar no matter what project you work on or the department in which you work. The construction industry is very rewarding. If you want to try it, do it! 

Kristen EKristen E., Manager of Technical Services - Structural

I’ve loved math, problem solving, and buildings since I was young and through school and early jobs became heavily involved in 3D technology and design construction integration. If you’re considering construction, go for it. It’s a very fulfilling, hands-on career. Believe in yourself and follow your passion.

Grace L., Project EngineerGrace K

I chose a career in construction because it was a career that involved both numbers and people, both of which I have always enjoyed. My advice for women considering a career in construction is to be flexible. You will need to learn how to roll with the punches and keep moving forward.

Wendy C., Project ControllerWendy C

I didn’t seek out a career in construction, but I was drawn to the company culture and understood the business. My role model is my dad. He owns a small construction company. Early on I saw how he treated his employees and cared for his clients. I learned the happiness of your employees directly influences the success of your organization. In a predominately male industry, I think it’s a little easier to set yourself apart. Find a market or path that you enjoy or are passionate about and run with it. You may have a unique view or approach compared to men, so use that to your advantage.

Neely S., Preconstruction Project ExecutiveNeely S

Even as a young child, I enjoyed building things.  I was constantly playing with Legos or Lincoln Logs.  In junior high I shadowed a design-build architect for a day for a school project, and from that point forward, I knew I wanted to be part of the built environment in some form or fashion. I actually started college with every intention of becoming an architect. Later, however, I discovered that my true passion was not designing the building; it was bringing it to life.

If you’re considering a career in construction, never view the fact that you are a woman in a “man’s world” as a disadvantage. More and more women are pursuing careers in the built environment. Be confident and own your career. Don’t be afraid to ask, show some initiative, find a mentor or two and most importantly, find your passion and fuel it!

Life-work balance

The women who work at Pepper are all different, from work styles, to skill sets, to personal interests. One thing we all have in common: we have a life outside of work.

For example, this group of women that we interviewed talked about planning a vacation to Spain and thinking about going to Italy. They value family and enjoy volunteering and being involved in the community.  Whatever the motivation, it’s important to stay true to the people who bless your life and the activities that make you happy.

Recently I spoke at an event attended by 50 women business students from the University of Iowa. I shared with them 10 words of advice from my own career:

01.  Don’t be the best woman for the job.

Be the best person for the job.

02.  Make every hour count.

Are you serving your family, your friends and your company well? To do this you will need to learn how to prioritize how you spend your time.

03.  Expect the unexpected.

Half of what happens, you typically won’t see coming. Observe, anticipate and respond.

04.  Take a strategy class

Apply it to your life as well as your work. It will help you think about your career in a different way.

05.  Speak up.

Make meaningful contributions at every meeting you attend.

06.  Follow the 80/20 rule.

There are so many different 80/20 rules in life. Early in my career, a mentor told me his:  80 percent of what gets said in meetings, everyone is thinking. Consider it your job to contribute the other 20 percent—the thing or things the rest of the people in the room didn’t say.

07.  Hire people that are better than you.

This one I learned from my father, a career military man: hire and then empower them. The best way to figure out what could be next for you professionally is to put people in place that do things better than you can (or did when you were at the same point in your own professional development). Make sure they know it’s not only their job to execute, but to figure out better ways to get the job done.

08.  Think like it’s your own company. 

Consider every decision you make. Would you do the same thing if it were your own company? Would you dedicate your most valuable resources in term of time and money to these things?

09.  Have the courage to fail

But remember there can be a downside. While learning from failure is critical to your development, few people who fail often remain employed. Carefully consider when and where you can “afford” to fail and make sure there will be a meaningful impact to doing something new. Most importantly, make sure you learn something of value, but by all means, take some risks.

10.  Be kind.

I think this is the most important piece of advice I can offer.  We all get very busy every day, and many days—too busy. Remember that most of what you say and do can be delivered in a way that positively impacts those around you. Early in my career, I worked with some amazing men and women.  Many of the women welcomed me into their midst and a few even stepped up to mentor. As I reflect now, I realize there were also several who considered the extraordinary effort they invested in their career was not likely achievable by women of the next generation.  Whether they thought the business context had shifted, or they couldn’t imagine the new crop of women entering the workforce would weather the storm, I don’t quite know. What I do know is that if you treat people the way you want to be treated, work is not only a lot more fun, but the culture of your company advances—and the simplest path to attracting great talent to your team, your company and even your industry is to be a good ambassador by being kind.

My advice to women, regardless of occupation, is to take gender completely out of the equation. For me, it’s about having both a rewarding work life and family life.

If you’re considering a career in construction, I hope our experiences help you see the possibilities. I thank all of you for your contribution to the construction industry. If you would like to talk further, contact us.

Authors

Jacqueline Lavigne
Senior Vice President, CMO and Chief Strategy Officer

As chief marketing officer for Pepper Construction Company, Jacqueline Lavigne leads the company’s growth strategy across business development, marketing and communications, where she focuses on relational approaches that drive metrics-based results. Jacqueline’s focus on integrating content, PR and communications strategies to support business development and operations has elevated Pepper’s brand position in the market. Jacqueline is also part of Pepper’s senior leadership team.

Jacqueline has 25 years of experience in the industry, including extensive experience in business and market planning and analytics. Before joining Pepper, she served as chief marketing officer for NELSON and as group vice president and marketing principal for global architecture firm HOK. Jacqueline holds a Master of Architecture and a Bachelor of Environmental Design in Architecture from North Carolina State University, and she is a LEED AP. Jacqueline serves on the board of DuPage Children's Museum, and she is dedicated to the Ride Janie Ride Foundation, which assists individuals facing financial hardship resulting from ongoing medial treatment of various types of cancer. She is also a member of the City Club of Chicago. In 2015, Jacqueline co-authored the Changing Role of the CMO, featured in SMPS Marketer.

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