By Karen Stokes
March 5-11 is Women in Construction Week. Women currently comprise only 10.9% of the construction workforce.
It’s time for a change.
Jess Benson, Boldt Assistant Project Manager and Shauna Boyer Estimating & Preconstruction Manager at Boldt are two women who work in the male dominated career of construction.
It’s common for sons to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, especially in the contracting businesses. But daughters can follow those same footsteps.
“I generally liked construction as a kid, my dad made me help him with all the construction projects around the house,” Boyer said. “I went to Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) to study construction management.”
Benson took a different route, she went through a non profit to take an accuplacer and applied for the Carpenters Union.
“There’s a million ways to get into construction,” said Boyer. “You can join the trades, you can be a laborer or a carpenter, join a union, you can become an apprentice and work your way up. You can basically earn an income while you’re learning.”
Benson has been in construction for 6 years. “I was in the field as a carpenter for 5 years and I’ve been in the office for about a year. My office time has been at Boldt.”
Though there are few women in the trade, the male workers differ in their acceptance. While Benson’s experience has been mostly positive, Boyer says that it is not uncommon to face some challenges.
“I was a project manager forever, now in Precon so I would often find myself in the field directing and managing, scheduling and there were a lot of times where some guys didn’t want anything to do with listening to a female and in many cases younger than them and didn’t work in the field. You see all types,” Boyer said.
Boyer has been in construction for 18 years.
Variety is important to both women in their jobs. Change of projects, team members and location adds to their job satisfaction. They also take pride in the finished project.
“Fiserv Forum, was the first project that I worked on in the field. It’s such an iconic building in Milwaukee and every time I see it, I think of my time there,” Benson said.
For women exploring the construction field both women offered advice.
“Be open minded and bold, Benson said. “I think sometimes people have misconceptions that it’s more of a man’s job when it’s not. Even though men outnumber the women, I never felt uncomfortable being on a job site. If someone isn’t interested in the physical labor part of it, there’s so many options, like the job I have now, it’s not a physically intensive job, there’s a lot of positions in construction that are not.”
Teaching part time at MSOE, Boyer has had the opportunity to offer her advice to women about the field.
“I think construction is a great opportunity for women and men. The thing I tell women is to be confident, be strong, you have to know what your doing to the point that people are going to see you as someone they want to work with and someone they can trust,” said Boyer. “You have to work harder than the guys because you have to gain their respect.
You have to be confident and decisive if you’re leading a group or leading a team or a project. If you sound uncertain of your own abilities they’re going to see right through it so you have to go in confident and if you don’t know the answer you need to find it as soon as you can so that you don’t lose that perspective with your team. It may appear that you don’t know what you’re doing and there may be people who are doubting you, so don’t let them be right.”
Besides the work and the financial benefits, there are also unexpected benefits that are part of being a woman in construction.
Benson recently had the opportunity to share her thoughts and experience as a panelist at WRTP | BIG STEP’s 6th Annual Women in Construction event. She shared with women her perspective on the diverse occupations construction has to offer.
Benson also has built strong friendships on the job.
“Some of my closest friends are women I met during my time being in construction. My best friend and I met when I was doing my apprenticeship. There’s definitely a sisterhood in construction that I never felt anywhere else in other industries,” said Benson.
“The future for women is getting better, it’s definitely better from when I went to school, there were very few women but the ratios are getting better. It’s not 50-50 but it is improving. It’s a great career and you can make a great living,” Boyer said.