Students bring lecture series to advocate for gender equality in construction

Ryan Yoo

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 an estimated 1,107 women were working in the construction industry, making up only 9.9 percent of all construction employees. Construction is often deemed a “man’s job,” where men make up 90.1 percent of the total construction workforce. The Women Builders Council (WBC), a professional organization representing women in the construction industry, is sponsoring a lecture series that aims to change the way that society thinks about women in this field.

The lecture series was started by fourth-year civil engineering majors Sarah Carlson and Maria Tompkins, who reached out to the WBC with the idea of starting a lecture series to promote gender equality for women in the construction industry. Together with their faculty advisor, Katie Wheaton, Carlson and Tompkins aim to educate community members about the issues women in the construction industry face and to help make it easier for women to enter the field.

“We aim to educate women about the construction industry, not in the ways of the classroom or the theoretical learning that we already cover in school, but rather what it is actually like to work in a male-dominated field and the best ways to achieve and further a career in construction,” says Tompkins.

The lecture series was started after Carlson and Tompkins’s experiences working in the industry.

“I have completed many internships in which I was either the only or one of the few female engineers on staff. I love the work that I have done and will continue to do, it is so much harder to settle into a new company or a new position when you don’t have representation there,” recalls Tompkin.

Industry-wide, women make up 7.5 percent of all construction managers. Most of the women in the field hold office roles, 86.7 percent, compared to 13.3 percent holding trade roles. In 2018, one third of companies promoted women into senior roles, yet 47 percent of women have never worked with female managers.

“I think it is imperative that women in these industries discuss their experiences and how these experiences have shaped their careers for better or worse,” said Carlson.

“I hope that this new lecture series can further educate people about the opportunities for women in construction and civil engineering,” described Carlson. “I want this lecture series to both inspire individuals and embolden them to follow their passions, knowing they have a whole host of women standing in support with them.”

Many women face discrimination in this industry. Seventy-three percent of women reported that they felt that they were passed over for positions because of their gender. In addition, women are at a higher risk of workplace injury due to poorly fitted equipment. In the construction industry, women make about 4.3 percent less than what their male colleagues make, compared to the national average of women making 18.9 percent less than what men make.

The lecture will not only provide the community with a deeper understanding of the struggles that women face, but also provide women seeking work in a male-dominated field with resources on how to combat work-related stigma. The series will promote the WBC’s mission of advancing women in the construction world by covering a range of topics, including the advances that women are making in representation, equal pay and gender equality.

“The lecture series will help women looking into construction or civil engineering industries by providing insight on how best to navigate these fields as a woman as well as providing a platform for networking with a supremely involved and connected group of women in the WBC organization,” said Carlson.

Although the series is mainly aimed at those who are interested in the civil engineering and construction industries, the series is open to all members of the public, including students, faculty and professional individuals.

“I think generally, that if there is something you’re passionate about, you should try to pursue it. If there’s something you’re interested in but unsure about it, it’s better to try it than to wonder,” adds Tompkin.

“The field of construction is so versatile in career opportunities that it would be a shame to never experience it because of preconceived notions and fears about what it might be like.” Tompkin continued, “ Also, we continue to pave the way for those who come after us, just like those who came before us did. The more equal representation we can gain, the better place any industry will become, not just construction.”