Leaning In: Women in a Male-dominated Industry
May 29, 2014 by Kevin McCarthy, President & CEO
The Vermont Business and Industry Expo came to an end last week but it was a fantastic two days bringing so many members of our business community together under one roof. One of the most eye-opening events for me was the Lean In for Leadership Luncheon which focused on promoting and mentoring women as leaders. A few months ago, I was asked by the Vermont Chamber if I would consider participating as a panelist during this luncheon and spend time commenting on identifying and developing talented women. I didn’t hesitate and it turned out to be every bit the opportunity I had expected.
I think the crowd was surprised to see me on the agenda. And the fact that I was the only male among the 3 panelists and 18 facilitators was quite impressive (or should I say daunting?). But how I came to be passionate about the topic of women in male-dominated industries is actually quite personal. My younger sister, Erin, decided decades ago to follow me into the testosterone-filled world of construction. This was back in the 1980s and I spent years mentoring her and helping her through the difficulties of being a young woman in a predominantly male industry. At one point, she was the only female on a massive construction project with over 300 workers. Despite the challenges, she is the most dedicated and determined person I know and clearly others saw that in her too. She climbed the ranks all the way up to project executive before moving on to manage construction projects for Harvard University. She taught me a lot about perseverance and empathy – two things I carried with me throughout all these years.
While we’ve come a long way in the construction industry, the numbers are still startling. The U.S. population is 51% women yet women only account for 9% of the construction industry workforce. Why? I think a lot of it is about perception and the stereotypical work environment people picture. What women and our youth need to understand is that construction is so much more than that. Consider what technology has done to the industry. There is a place in construction and engineering for the best and the brightest – and the opportunities are there.
So how do we make the change? It all starts with the industry leaders arming our companies with the tools and resources to attract women into the business. We need to build and sustain development and leadership programs dedicated to nurturing successful and fulfilling careers. We need to change the perception and promote the safe, innovative and collaborative environments in which we construct.
I know one thing for sure – PC Construction is much richer thanks to the contributions of our female employee-owners. And we’ll continue to do everything we can to encourage not only women – but the next generation of our workforce – to take a step, stand up for what they want and consider all their options. The construction world is pretty damn exciting and opportunities are around every corner.