When you think of the construction industry, you might picture hard hats, work trucks, piles of planks and other materials. These images underscore the job opportunities that are missed due to a lack of awareness about the wide range of construction roles that are either based from the jobsite or support from the office, and the many ways people come to those roles. Marketing, project management, business analysis, finance, and other critical functions that support construction offer an array of opportunities for diverse backgrounds.
Women in Construction Week (WIC Week) helps change the narrative by addressing that gap in perception and encouraging women to learn about the tremendous opportunities in the construction industry. With this year's theme being "Many Paths, One Mission,” we wanted to celebrate and highlight three leaders at Infotech, as well as the variety of career opportunities in the construction industry. We sat down with Lacey Jones, Alysa Williams, and Sarah Farmerie to discuss the roles of women in construction and the many paths they take to get there.
Building construction industry familiarity
“It is hard to pursue a career when you don't know it is an option that plays to your strengths and your interests,” said Lacey Jones, Infotech’s Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications. Sometimes, the biggest barrier to more women working in construction is the lack of popular knowledge about industry roles and opportunities.
But whether you have a background in construction or not, there are many ways to get up to speed in the construction industry. Take it from Sarah Farmerie, Director of AASHTOWare Product Management at Infotech. She notes that as long as you have underlying drive, skills, and curiosity, your degree of construction knowledge will not be a major factor as you pursue a career in the construction industry. In an industry full of passionate advocates, there are always excellent mentors willing to put in the time to educate a new hire.
At Infotech, for example, new employees are offered resources that outline industry terminology during the onboarding process - but written materials don’t hold a candle to real life experience. Alysa Williams, Infotech’s Director of Customer Success, often sends newcomers to project sites and construction offices to gain as much real industry exposure as possible.
“We drive on roads every day but there isn’t much insight into how they’re constructed when you're not involved. When working for a software company that supports a critical function of our infrastructure, understanding the foundation helps put the bigger picture in perspective," said Williams.
Of course, organizations need to ensure employees feel supported as they explore the nuances of the construction industry. In a survey of 1,100 working professionals, 45% of women leaders noted that it’s difficult to speak up in meetings often dominated by their male counterparts. Jones notes that speaking up is key to growing industry knowledge.
“Never be afraid to ask questions, even in meetings with many stakeholders. The best way to learn and grow is to find subject matter experts and mentors that you can lean on, and then have the willingness to consistently ask questions” she said.
Advice for women joining the construction industry
With women composing ~11% of the construction industry, it is a common experience for a woman to be the only one in the room or on the job site, but Williams assures "that it is okay to be the only woman in the room and in fact, it’s impactful. You're meant to be in this room. It can all be navigated, you just have to push through that norm - know your worth and trust your capabilities. "
Although the construction industry is often too comfortable with “the way things are done,” Williams shares how the innovations in technology have convinced the industry to be more adaptive and flexible in order to continue providing the best solutions for projects, teams and clients.
She shared a story about providing a product demonstration for a traditional male leader who was very conservative about his team’s tech usage. Williams persevered despite his mindset, and by the end of the session (same day!), he was advocating for the technology to others in the room. By persuading an outdated construction team to modernize, Williams underscored the essential role of women in construction.
“There is an outdated vision of where we are and how much women contribute to this field, and it’s often not what people think about,” said Williams. Williams also notes the importance of building reliable industry connections - “connect with people in this industry, and put in the work to keep those connections. While this industry seems large, it’s really not, and there’s a good chance you’ll run into or need a familiar face at some point.”
Farmerie chooses to focus on what is in her control and how she can affect change within a situation. She adopts an attitude of resilience, working through obstacles and focusing on the ways in which software products can support customer needs while remaining competitive in the marketplace.
Farmerie also emphasizes the importance of employers that value diversity and foster empowerment. She’s found that having mentors who provide coaching and ample opportunities to stretch your skills make nearly any challenge overcomeable. She suggests seeking roles that embrace the growing intersectionality of the industry.
“While growing up, my dad always said that opportunities exist at the interfaces between disciplines. I was fortunate to find my niche at the intersection between construction and software development. Career possibilities abound in construction and adjacent fields,” said Farmerie.
For Jones, it took years for her to realize the influence that she had. Outside of gender or experience compared to her peers, she realized she could contribute by focusing on what she does well.
“I can create these ripple effects that make projects better and advance the industry even though I never grew up thinking construction needs a communications leader,” she shared. Jones also advises women to lead from where they are, whether they’re an established leader or a new employee. “Regardless of your title or experience, you do have the opportunity to have influence. Be confident in your strengths and pursue every opportunity to use those strengths to make an impact on the projects and teams that you're working with,” she said.
Many paths, one mission
In keeping with the theme of Women in Construction Week, these women all took vastly different roles to get to where they are today. For Jones, she had no dreams of working in construction - but she found a company and industry where her strengths have impact. Williams' architecture degree gave her a leg up on the industry terms and the principles of vertical construction, but ultimately, she found her home in a role supporting horizontal construction - work her dad used to perform when she was a kid. For Farmerie, her family has a background in construction. Though she initially pursued computer science, she followed her own advice and wedded that experience with a Master’s in Construction Management.
Despite the different paths that led them to a role that supports the construction industry, these three women are creating a more accessible space for others, regardless of gender or background. Learn more about the National Association of Women In Construction and the work they do at: https://www.nawic.org/.