I joined the construction industry nearly 20 years ago. I was inspired by strong women role models; my mother was a project manager and my aunt was a pipefitter. My construction career began as a project engineer in 1983 and I rose through the ranks in operations. I’ve also had a range of experience in other roles such as marketing, estimating, scheduling, and safety. In 2018, I joined HITT as vice president to lead the Seattle office, focusing on growing the company’s presence in the Pacific Northwest.
As a women leader in construction, I want to inspire women to join me in the career that I love. The building industry is facing a shortage of labor – by 2022 we’ll need an additional 1.4 million workers to keep up with the current demand for construction services. There are more than 47 million women in the US workforce, but only 2 percent work in the construction field. If we inspired just 1% more of these women to join construction (both as craft workers and construction professionals) we could add 5 million people to our force, effectively solving the labor crisis.
To do my part, I am committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. How we define diversity is broader than just the physical dimensions, such as gender or ethnicity. What shapes each of our unique perspectives comes from a combination of elements that include the physical, but also hundreds of other elements such as where we were raised, family background, religion, education, work experience, political views, and so on.
Beyond being simply the right thing to do, there’s a strong business case for cultivating diversity. Studies widely show that diverse teams are better teams. They outperform homogenous teams, both financially and in their ability to develop and implement innovative solutions.
Bringing together different perspectives and skill sets is only part of the solution. I must also create an inclusive environment so that these unique team members have a sense of belonging. When you join a conversation or a meeting, think about those sitting around the table. Is there a visible or perhaps non-physical difference that could make your team members feel excluded?
I was once in a project meeting, and as I looked around the table, I realized that 14 of the 15 people in attendance were women – the owner’s rep, architects, engineers, and construction team included. This, of course, is unusual in our business, so I asked everyone to pause a moment to reflect on this unusual situation. I then asked the man to share his experience of being the minority in the room and what we found is that in that moment, he felt excluded in a way many at the table could relate to, having often been the sole women on a team or in a meeting. This was a very impactful moment and we each reflected on the idea that anyone can be the minority in a given moment. For me, this experience highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion for everyone in the room.
My challenge to each of you – my colleagues, design partners, clients, and friends – is this: be a champion for inclusiveness. Make it your mission to learn about each of the people on your team, at the table, or on your project. Be known as the “includer” and accept that title proudly. Diversity and inclusion may be a corporate responsibility, but every one of us has the power to make everyone in the room feel welcome and included. Diversity drives powerful results worth striving for together.