What It’s Like: The Perspective of One Woman in the Construction Industry
March 7, 2016
By Susan Stabler
It is no secret that the construction industry is male-dominated. Just look around any jobsite in America and you’ll likely find that most of the management and field staff are male. Even on the corporate side, women are typically underrepresented and more often hold administrative positions than operational roles. I am frequently asked what it is like to be a female in the construction industry, so I’m sharing my story.
My story begins at Auburn University, where I initially studied pre-med/biomedical science. A few years into my studies, I decided medicine wasn’t the path for me, despite good grades. I became interested in construction after meeting a young woman who was studying building construction and hearing about projects she was working on, her summer co-op position, and her excitement about her future career path. Eventually, I changed majors to study construction.
During college, I spent two summers working as an intern for a mid-sized construction company. Those were the only times in my career when I truly didn’t feel like I fit in. I never once saw a real jobsite, I put together a lot of proposal binders, and I wasn’t invited to lunch with “the guys.” It wasn’t that my male counterparts didn’t want me around; I simply didn’t know how to play golf, how to invite myself to lunch, or how to present myself in a meeting in which I was the only female. Was I making the coffee because I was the intern or was I making the coffee because I was the only female? There were no other females in the office, so I had no one to look to for advice.
After graduating in a class of building construction students that was approximately 25 percent female, I gained some assurance I wasn’t entering completely uncharted waters as a woman in construction.
I joined Brasfield & Gorrie and immediately found a fit in a company where I could envision a successful career. From day one, I was determined not to let my internship experiences color my perspective. I realized I had to learn how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and began to learn the value of asking questions. I found the more I demonstrated willingness to learn from men who had much more experience than I did, the more they accepted and asked for my input and became comfortable with me being involved in their work and even giving them direction.
I’ve never felt like I’ve been treated differently than my male counterparts, and that’s how it should it be. As I see young women entering our company and industry, I think what they need most is to know they are not alone.
Given the percentage of females in construction, when women enter our industry, they too may experience initial uncomfortable feelings of being in a “man’s world.” When a woman is navigating these experiences, she needs to know she isn’t the only one who has felt uncomfortable running meetings or has been left out of golf outings and hunting trips. She may encounter superintendents who are not used to overseeing a project alongside a female, and she needs to know she isn’t alone in that. Supporting one another through these sometimes frustrating, but often humorous situations is the one of the most important things we can do, along with encouraging other women to consider construction careers.
I have been with Brasfield & Gorrie for 13 years, during which I have managed several hundred million dollars of healthcare construction. I can say without a doubt that I’ve chosen the right career, the right company, and the right industry. I consider my colleagues to be family, and I hope everyone in our company can say the same.
Below are a few tips I’d share with any woman or man entering the industry.
- It’s okay if you don’t know the answer—keep asking and learning.
- You don’t always need to be aggressive, but you do need to be assertive.
- Don’t be intimidated.
- Encourage one another.
- Work harder than anyone you know.
- Be good at what you do so that you set a positive tone for the younger generation that will follow you.
- Treat everyone with respect, fairness, compassion, and understanding.
- Learn to balance work and home; you can be committed to both!
- Love your job and be proud that you’ve made it in this industry. It’s tough for everyone!
- Don’t be afraid to learn to golf, hunt, or embarrass yourself on the karaoke stage with your coworkers. Have fun!
Susan Stabler is a senior project manager with 13 years of experience in the construction industry. She leads Brasfield & Gorrie’s operational women’s resource group, and is a wife and a mother of three young children.