Women in Construction

Darius Although women working in construction numbered just 1.2 percent of the entire U.S. workforce in 2013, an increasing number of construction industry vendors that we do business with are headed by women or employ women.

Our experience is apparently an anomaly: Government statistic show that while women have made significant gains in other male dominated fields, including jobs such as firefighting, the gains in the construction industry have been painfully slow over the past half century. The share of women in such construction jobs as brick mason (0.1%) and drywall installers (0.3%), for instance, pales in comparison to the percentage of women automotive service technicians (1.2%), according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The low numbers are surprising in an industry bursting with high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree or much in the way of brawn–now that power tools and heavy equipment machines do most of the grunt work. What’s more, there is even a Fort Worth, Texas-based trade group lobbying on behalf of women in construction.

I sat down with a few of our female vendors to find out how they got started and what, if any, obstacles they faced.

Lydia Martinez is operations director of P & J Cable Construction, which installed conduit for telecommunications cable at one of our properties.

Born in California, she moved to Mexico at the age of eight and returned to the U.S. when she became 18. She started supervising the installation of underground conduit after a construction owner struggled to communicate with his mostly Spanish speaking laborers. For the past 15 years she has run her own conduit installation business with her spouse. Martinez mostly handles business negotiation with clients and helps her husband supervise the foremen and laborers in the field.

Although Martinez said the career break left her “blessed to have a great situation that allows me to work and still spend quality time with my three girls,” she says her career rise has not been easy.

“Some people reject the notion of a woman giving orders to a group of guys even if it’s for a bigger cause,” Martinez said. “I’m at a point in my career where I understand the circumstances. I tend to hold my tongue about a lot of things because I know my actions have consequences that may affect potential business opportunities.”

Nevertheless, Martinez is optimistic about the future for women in construction: “Believe it or not, more and more women are becoming laborers in my line of work,” Martinez said. “The best advice I can offer women entering the field is to never get discouraged in the face of adversity. Men will look at you differently until they see you handle your business as a professional despite being a woman.”

Carolyn Brown, a ceramic tile installer, who has remodeled bathrooms and kitchens on our properties and who has worked in the construction industry for 26 years, entered the field after studying the trade in vocational school. Fresh out of school, she started her career out with a team of six men. However, within a few years Brown decided it was too much responsibility to manage such a large group so she started her own business laying ceramic tiles.

“Being from a small country town in North Carolina, I was always engaged in tasks with my hands” so I loved laying tile, said Brown. The key to success, she added, is to “simply love what you do and put your best foot forward.”

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