Interested in joining the construction industry, or advancing your career in homebuilding or remodeling?
Here are recommendations from women who are working as builders, engineers, manufacturers, startup founders, remodelers, and more for tomorrow’s women in construction.
Advice from Women in Construction
You’ll learn about building physics, construction practices and home performance testing methods, and you’ll gain valuable exposure to the concept of how a building works as a whole system. “If you like it, look up the Building Performance Association, National Comfort Institute, PHIUS or RESNET,” says Kimberly Llewellyn, senior product manager for emerging markets at Mitsubishi Electric Trane in Austin, Texas. “These are vital communities at the forefront of advancing our industry.”
2. Learn a skill or trade
While you might be the only woman on the crew, you won’t have trouble finding a job; skilled tradespeople are in high demand, according to builders and remodelers. Also worth considering: An expensive college degree isn’t required, and the jobs pay well; skilled workers can make an average of $60,000 a year and up, according to NAHB and online salary sites. Options include carpentry, electrical, masonry, HVAC, plumbing, and painting.
3. Get jobsite experience, even if you want to end up in design or energy modeling
“If you’re going to work on buildings, you have to know buildings,” says Llewellyn. “You’ve got to get your boots dirty, swing a hammer, push a broom, and swing from a few rafters.”
4. Consider job opportunities at local builders
“Major production builders are desperate for site managers,” Llewellyn says.
5. Put in the extra work and time
“What has made me successful is I’ve always been very engaged and inquisitive,” says Ricarda Dietsch, mountain area president for Taylor Morrison. That means continually going above and beyond. “If you really want to learn, you probably have to put in extra time beyond your day job to educate yourself,” she says. “I’ve never been afraid to put in extra hours.”
6. Connect with colleagues, especially if they are women
With so few women in the industry, those with outdated attitudes may encourage you to see other women as competition in the workplace, but Llewellyn disagrees. “Resist any urge to play into those stereotypes,” she says. “Women have to support each other in professional environments.”
7. Reach out to people in the industry
“You’d be surprised at how many people will answer an email or phone call asking to meet up for coffee or on Zoom,” says Bec Chapin, CEO and co-founder of Node, a prefab startup in Seattle. “When I was wondering how I was going to get into green building and what part I wanted to do, I went to coffee with a lot of different people.”
8. Build an informal network
Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, you can end up in a job or company that just doesn’t feel right. “You’re going to need a network where you can say, ‘This is what’s happening,’ and everyone will say, ‘Yeah, you should get out of there, and here’s a place you can go,’” Chapin says. “That’s why you need a network—to help you move when it’s not working and to let you know that you’re not crazy and that the problem isn’t just you.’”
9. Find a mentor
As you meet different people in the industry, it’s worth looking for someone you like and respect—and seeing if they’d be willing to serve as an informal mentor as you progress through your career. “Ideally, you want to find someone who can stick with you a little bit,” Chapin says.
10. Lend a helping hand
To succeed in your own career, consider how you can help the people around you succeed in theirs. “I’ve always looked around to see how I can make the team and business be better,” Dietsch says.
11. Explore certificate or apprenticeship programs
“Degrees are great, but I think most things in construction can be done with experience or some kind of certificate, just to brush up on the technical jargon and how people are doing it,” says Chapin, who reassures women in construction who are worried about having to do an unpaid internship to get a job. “I paid my way through college, and I never could have done an unpaid internship. I always found a way to get a job instead.”
12. Join a training program
Research opportunities designed to recruit and train women for construction and housing industry jobs. The National Association of Women in Construction maintains a list of such programs here.
13. Find the right employer for you
Work for organizations that see you as a valuable contributor and give you the training and tools you need to become a leader yourself. Women are more likely to get that in a diverse organization, Dietsch notes. “Make sure you find the right company that works for you.”
14. Be confident
“Confidence is key,” says Roula Saba, director of business development and preconstruction at RMT Construction and Development, Richmond, Va., contractor that is building Virginia’s first 3D printed house. “Don’t let adversity discourage you; use it to empower you.”
15. Do your research
That means knowing your codes, studying a project’s technical documents. and paying attention to the details. “Your plans and specs are the project’s Bible,” Saba says. “You’re like a doctor looking at a patient’s chart.” Use that knowledge to ensure the project is done correctly every step of the way, which also will build your own credibility.
16. Speak up
That means everything from asking questions to raising concerns on the jobsite. “If there’s a discrepancy, address it,” says Saba, who has years of experience dealing with complex construction projects.
17. Be persistent
“You might have to push and pull more than a man, but if working in construction is something you want to do, go for it,” says Vicky Biggs, special projects manager at RMT Construction and Development in Richmond, Va., who started at a landscaping firm and now manages subcontractors and more for RMT, a Class A general contractor handling residential and commercial projects.
Read the stories of these women in construction here:
- Node’s Bec Chapin Seeks to Solve the Labor Equation
- Kimberly Llewellyn Pushes for Higher Energy Performance
- Ricarda Dietsch of Taylor Morrison Leaves East Germany and Discovers American Dream
- Nicole Tysvaer Discovers New Career as Entrepreneur
- Women in Construction: Rose Rodriguez Finds Her Voice (Q&A)