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Sommer Jacob is president of Northland Concrete & Excavation, Inc., in Bismarck, N.D. IMAGE: Pamela Smette Photography

Sommer Jacob, president, Northland Concrete & Excavation: When women lead construction companies, ‘the payoff is high’

BISMARCK, N.D. – The number of women in construction has declined sharply since 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. This is unfortunate, given the current need for more workers in the industry and the significant advantages that women have to offer, especially in leadership.

The number of women employed in the U.S. construction industry grew substantially – by 81.3 percent – from 1985 to 2007. But from 2007 to 2010, more than 2.5 million construction jobs were lost.

From the 2007 peak to 2010, more than 300,000 women workers left the construction industry.

Currently, women make up only 1.3 percent of the workforce in the construction industry. The majority of those are in support roles, such as office administration.

The reality is that a career in construction is no longer a dream for most kids, and rarely is even considered as a career path for women, especially women who are interested in leadership roles. Had you asked me years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined myself slipping into a pair of work boots leading a construction company, either!

But there are big payoffs for everyone that could come by facilitating a change in the industry.

Opportunity for growth and profits

For example, recent studies suggest that companies with higher ratios of women in leadership are in better shape financially. One reason for this may be many women’s natural ability to be good communicators and collaborators -- two critical factors that foster efficiency and breed success.

There’s a real need to include more women in all industries, but there are some especially significant opportunities in the construction industry.

According to the Peterson Institute, the payoff is high when women fill leadership roles in construction. Not only do companies benefit as a whole, but also women benefit on an individual level as well:

  • Companies that are in the top 25 percent in the gender diversity of their workforce were 46 percent more likely to outperform the average in their industry.
  • Women in construction earn, on average, 95.7 percent of what men make, compared to the national average of 81.1 percent.

Although the construction industry could benefit from more women at all job levels, change is more likely to come in leadership and management positions. And with so many openings pending (some project a shortage of 31 million skilled tradesmen by the year 2024), the industry must consider what can be done to support and include women filling those jobs, especially in leadership roles.

Construction professionals already are aware that their projects require high levels of collaboration in order to succeed.

Adding women who so often excel in communication and working cooperatively can be expected to improve overall workforce productivity.

Although only about 13 percent of construction firms are owned by women,  9 percent of women-owned construction firms achieve revenues of $500,000 or more, vs. 8 percent of all construction firms, the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report found.

It’s clear that women in leadership positions in construction are making a much bigger impact than one would expect on profitability for their companies.

What Can We Do?

Communities, industry leaders, educators and individuals must shoulder the responsibility to do what they can to help open the doors to the field and encourage women of all ages to consider a career in construction.

There are several organizations committed to supporting, encouraging and cultivating women leaders in the industry:

  • The National Association of Women in Construction
  • Women Construction Owners & Executives USA
  • Professional Women in Construction

It takes courage and hard work to break into this male-dominated industry. At first, women may have to do more than their male counterparts and speak up about their accomplishments in order for their contributions to be noticed. But even though a lot is expected of women, and some men have a hard time getting used to a woman being in charge, the playing field in construction is fairly level, and women are held to the same standards as men.

The opportunities are there for those women who are willing to be the pioneers and bring about this much-needed change.

Sommer Jacob

President

Northland Concrete & Excavation, Inc.

Bismarck, N.D.

sommer@northlandce.com

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