When Sara Jazayeri, American Institute of Architects (AIA) and principal at Studio 360 Architecture/Interior Design, was about to speak to a group of schoolchildren in Queens, New York, about her experiences working in the world of construction, one of the men involved with the event asked if she was sure she could handle the presentation.
She explained that the man could not understand that she was an authority on the topic with years of professional experience in the industry. Together with several other women in the construction industry, she was at the annual NY Build Expo to share stories of bias and discrimination in their workplaces — and how to address and correct them.
The event drew massive expo attendees who lined up to hear from the inspiring leaders how to break down gender barriers and lift each other up as women in a traditionally male-dominated field.
Creating Industry Partnerships and Networks
Unfortunately, Jazayeri’s recent experience is not unusual, even as the data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the total number of women in the construction industry has risen by about 31% just in the last decade, and is expected to grow at a rate of 4.5% over the next few years.
Herlema Owens, Founder of the Association of Women Construction Workers of America, Inc. (AWCWA) said that creating professional partnerships and networks of like-minded peers can help women further develop their careers and achieve income parity for women and minorities across all professions.
Chelsea LeMar, executive director at Professional Women in Construction said that women don’t need to be friends; a purely professional relationship is enough.
Finding a Work-Life Balance
Women in professions traditionally dominated by men should find the work-life balance that feels right for them according to LeMar.
Jazayeri stressed the importance of fighting for the flexibility and benefits one requires, especially in an industry that historically has not taken women’s needs into consideration. She added that her staff is 100% women and the majority of them work from home.
Updating Policy to Change the Status Quo
New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said that women should also take advantage of their political voices, whether that means calling their senators or expressing themselves on a ballot if they want more childcare benefits or more vacation time.
Paola Tocci, CEO and president of The Tocci Group said that it’s important that women learn to ask ‘why’ or ‘why not’ rather than just accept the status quo to continue driving change across the workforce.
Inspiring More Women in Construction
Hochul told the audience that despite the challenges, working in the construction industry is rewarding because of the “absolute joy of being part of building something with their hands, of creating it on paper and seeing it actually come to fruition.”
The speakers are optimistic that through continued policy changes, increased networking efforts among women and improved workplace flexibility across the industry, there will be more women in construction.