What It's Really Like to Be a Woman in the Construction Industry
Construction is an industry perched on or at least near the top of the "super male-dominated industries" spectrum. Certainly female on-site construction workers are scarce, but women are almost as underrepresented in the industry at large. So I spoke to two women in the trenches — one a recent college graduate working as an office engineer and one a veteran project manager, both at large general contractors.
Even after attending a male-dominated science and tech high school and completing a male-dominated civil engineering major, it was only once Caroline, a 2014 Notre Dame graduate, started working that she felt surrounded by an 'old boys club' — the air clouded with off-handed, subtly demeaning comments toward women in general. The casual sexism doesn't stop there. "I have noticed that a lot of young women in the industry get mistaken for a secretary or an assistant just because they are young women," she says. "Between this and being an entry-level employee, it can be difficult to distinguish whether you are being asked to do something because they genuinely need your help or because you’re the girl on the team."
But when it comes to the actual work, Caroline feels the playing field is fairly level. "I feel like a lot is expected of us, being recent college grads, and I think I get held to the same standards as my male counterparts, which I appreciate," she says.
...This time I spoke to Lynn Hurley, a project manager with Allen Construction since 2005, who started her career as a geologist behind a drill rig in 1989. In the past decade she has managed construction projects from small residential remodels to ground-up homes, commercial interior remodels to brand new restaurants, and her teams are almost always 100 percent male. When I asked what it was like being a woman in the industry early on in her career, Hurley said “uncomfortable” didn’t even begin to describe how she felt.
"Uncomfortable … you better believe it," she says. "There were very few women doing what I did and I would get the same look every time I met a new crew of men. They just stood there staring for a few minutes, not sure how to act. Since I was in charge it took them a while to adjust since this was not standard in their industry. I always treated them with respect, but was clear about who called the shots."