When it comes to your average construction workers, most people envision a group of men, hammering nails or driving heavy-duty machinery. But did you know that nearly 10 percent of the construction workforce is female?
In fact, when it comes to professional opportunities, women may find they have a better future in construction than they first realize. “Once upon a time, men needed to do [construction] jobs because it took so much brute strength to do a lot of the work,” says Debbie Dickinson, CEO of Crane Industry Services (CIS). “[Today], technology and the advancements in hydraulic equipment have made it possible for those jobs to no longer be gender-specific.”
Debbie has been in the crane and rigging industry for 20 years, and in honor of Careers in Construction Month, we asked her what it’s like being a woman in this male-dominated field. After all, few little girls fantasize about traveling the world to perform safety and efficiency audits in a pair of steel-toed boots. But maybe, just maybe, 1 in 10 does.
As of December 2016, about a third of all women working in construction are in management or professional roles, taking care of business from behind the scenes. Statistically, few are driving forklifts and loaders, but they are making critical decisions about things that affect every other person in the company, like what kind of payroll software gets used or how employees clock in and out.
“Whoever is most comfortable with the technology in the office is going to have somewhat of a leadership or influencer role, and women are often fulfilling both roles,” says Debbie. She finds that most women shop differently than men, taking into account the way they feel about a company, beyond just the product or service they offer.
“Women tend to look at who the company is,” she says. “Who are they as an organization? … We’ll base a decision on ‘Will this do the job? Will this fulfill the job?’ and then if you find two that are equal, the company that is going to be more of a partner or a give-back organization is going to win over the other company, even if the other company is $10 cheaper.”
Of course, just because women are calling the shots on software doesn’t mean their leadership doesn’t come into question now and again. Debbie, who’s been a CEO for the last 10 years and serves in a professional capacity herself, understands this better than anyone.
“You’ve got to set yourself up for success,” she says. “I don’t know that we work twice as hard throughout the entire scope of work, but I think we do have to prepare twice as hard up front, and that serves us well all the way through.”
Debbie firmly believes that people who plan to lead onsite jobs need to gain practical experience. That means working the entry-level jobs and learning to build from the ground up — literally. “In my experience, women are comfortable with this process,” she says. “They are willing to invest the sweat equity as long as the path and timeline to advancement is clear.”
Debbie says she’s passionate about a future where women are just as respected as their male counterparts, and if she has anything to say about it, tomorrow’s construction workforce will have more women in hardhats than ever before. Because a woman's place is wherever she wants it to be — even in the cab of a 40-ton bulldozer.
Danielle Higley is a copywriter for TSheets by QuickBooks, a time tracking and scheduling solution.