The time is now to capitalize on the role of women in AEC - by Maureen Funke

February 17, 2017 - Connecticut
Maureen Funke, Gilbane Building Company

The time is now…to capitalize on the potential impact of women in the architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) industry.  The industry is in the midst of a transformation from risk averse participants working in silos to embracing a more collaborative process. What can we do to this transformation?   We can leverage the skills all of our constituents possess, but particularly those of women.  Let’s start by asking why women excel in AEC careers?  (Hint: it’s not because they’re pretty or pitied). Women’s innate ability to lead with empathy and grace, while being collaborative, tough minded and innovative puts them in the driver seat on the mission to reshape the environment we function in.  The transformation will accelerate when the percentage of women in the AEC industry starts to grow!

Let’s look at the numbers. By any measure, the percentage of women in the AEC industry is too low.  The Bureau of Labor statistics from 2014 reported 9,813,000 people working in the construction industry. Of these, only 872,000 of them, or 8.9%, were women.1 The average percentage of women in the construction industry in 2000 was 12.5%; in 2010 the average was 13.2%. We need to change this picture.

The time is NOW to recruit more women to the AEC industry.  But how? Preaching about travel, long days, crazy deadlines, and increasing demands on our valuable and precious time isn’t going to spring them from their chairs. Perhaps support, toughness, caring, fun and inspiration would be a good start?

The time is NOW:

• To uphold each other, look out for and champion each other from a place of kindness and empathy. 

• To stand up for ourselves and each other – every time we stand up to a naysayer we empower the next woman who comes behind us.  Let’s continue blazing the trails that our mother’s and grandmothers’ started for us!

• To take care of ourselves first and then each other – martyrdom has no place in this industry… or any industry for that matter!

• To have fun!  We need more joy at work and play… if we’re not having fun why would anyone else consider walking in our shoes? 

• To lead by example. We inspire those around us, including our families, by demonstrating that hard work should not be absent of grace and beauty, that there are no ceilings, molds or limits. 

If we focus on collaboration with these philosophies in mind perhaps we would all be empowered to excel in the roles that bring us joy and success.  And maybe we would lead well enough to let those around us do the same!

So… what can you do about this right now? Send this to a woman you think might find it interesting, invite her to the next networking event you’re attending, go to the next one that she invites you to, go out of your way to support someone else regardless of what’s in it for you.   Consider mentoring, advocating, promoting or sponsoring a woman.  None of us should be too proud to keep learning… from everyone around us!

“Success happens when you accept challenges outside of your comfort zone and practice empathy with those who stand in your way.” –  Cathy DeFrances, associate director business development, Fuss & O’Neill Enviroscience, LLC.

“You can not get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

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Maureen Funke is a business development manager for Gilbane Building Company, Glastonbury, Conn. 

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