Keys to Creating a Female-friendly Company Culture in Construction
While traditionally a male-dominated industry, the tide is turning when it comes to women in construction. Studies have shown that having a diverse workforce, including a more balanced ratio of men and women in leadership positions, is beneficial to an organization’s bottom line—and the construction industry should be no exception.
Despite the changes underway, to fully realize the benefits of a gender-diverse jobsite, culture must be at the forefront of the conversation. Achieving gender equality starts with recruitment, is extended through training and education, and culminates with leadership support.
The first step is recruiting. These efforts must reflect professionalism and respect, regardless of gender, so women are comfortable interviewing and ultimately choosing to join the organization. One universal step construction companies can take during this process to encourage diversity, especially among younger generations, is to increase transparency and communication. In a modern workforce, being clear and keeping channels open creates a culture of trust where employees know they can come to upper management with challenges and, even more valuably, solutions. This sense of trust begins during the hiring process and continues throughout an employee’s time with an organization. During the recruitment process, it is also key for a company to show it does not pigeonhole women to certain roles, but that women are well represented in the field, as well as leadership positions.
Once hired, organizations must ensure that adequate training, education and networking opportunities exist for women. Beyond simply providing these opportunities, it is important that leadership encourages participation. For example, an assistant project manager for Suffolk Construction on the company’s Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood project was recently able to attend the Groundbreaking Women in Construction conference in San Francisco where speakers discussed their various experiences as women in construction. Events like these encourage women to learn from others in the industry and gives them the chance to grow in their careers and bring back knowledge to share in the organization.
Finally, without support from leadership, even the most inviting recruitment process and extensive career development program will not create a company culture that promotes gender diversity. An organization may have the correct components, but without top executives believing in the process and caring about the results, those efforts will fall flat. During an internal leadership development program, Suffolk’s CEO, John Fish, shared his goal of making the company the best organization for women in construction and his commitment to that goal has led to the creation and success of teams like the one working on the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood Project.
The Hard Rock project team is comprised of approximately 30 percent women. This ratio is particularly impressive when one considers that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 women made up a mere 9.1 percent of the construction industry as a whole, putting this team at more than three-times the national average.
C-suite buy in also leads to upper management taking these processes to heart and can result in changes large and small. For example, Suffolk has created a national Diversity and Inclusions Council, as well as regional Women’s Councils. Both groups are extremely supportive of women in construction and have provided a more level playing field. Small efforts can also make a difference in the field. For instance, using gender-neutral work signs such as, “Men and Women at Work” as opposed to the traditional, “Men at Work,” can have a major impact on helping women feel included.
While there is still work to be done to achieve greater gender diversity in the construction industry, significant strides have been made in the last decade. To continue this positive trajectory, two things are essential. The first is that younger women in construction must continue to have, and be able to identify, role models for coaching, inspiration and support. The second is that leadership must recognize the benefits of having more women on their teams. Once this connection is made, it follows that they will push for changes to their company culture that will make their organizations more inviting to women.
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