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Women in Construction: Bridging the Gap

Contributor: Swinerton Blogger   |   October 18, 2013   |   Image Gallery »
Women in Construction: Bridging the Gap

Bridging the construction gender gap was the hot topic at Swinerton’s San Francisco headquarters Wednesday night as Bay Area building pros gathered to discuss female leadership in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries. Part of Swinerton’s Center for Excellence lecture series, the event brought together a diverse mix of architects, structural engineers, project managers, real estate professionals, and others with a hand in shaping the future of design and construction.

Although female presence in these fields is not the eyebrow-raising rarity it once was, women remain a stark minority. From the jobsite to the board room, the numbers paint a clear picture. Women make up only 9% of construction professionals and a mere 2.6% of skilled trade workers in the field—a miniscule number that hasn’t budged in more than three decades. A scant 14% of engineers are female, and although women make up nearly half of US architecture students, only 20% of licensed, practicing architects are women.

The evening kicked off with a look at female AEC trailblazers and current innovators—from superstar architect Zaha Hadid to Berkeley urban design expert Jennifer Wolch. Two of Swinerton’s project managers, Lori Dunn and Melanie Lapointe, spoke about their path toward engineering and the benefits and challenges of working in a male-dominated industry. Lapointe discussed how work culture and style—which she described as a combination of communication and behavior—can inform a person’s success in any industry. “When the rules are based on male style, women may have to work harder and may be judged differently,” she said. However, Lapointe acknowledged that many of her male coworkers appreciate the balance and expanded insight that gender diversity can bring to a project team.

The discussion also touched on the importance of encouraging girls and young women to purse AEC careers and the enormous value of mentorship. Many attendees cited a figure early on in their education—whether a relative, teacher, or other role model—who inspired them to pursue their passion for creating the built environment. Thanks to the increased visibility of women in AEC careers, there are now a host of organizations dedicated to advancing their roles in the industry. ACE Mentor, Techbridge, and TechWomen all connect AEC and technology professionals with students to help foster the next generation of leaders. For those already working in the industry, groups like the Association for Women in Architecture + Design, the Society of Women Engineers, and the National Association of Women in Construction offer robust networking and professional development resources.

-By Madigan Talmage-Bowers