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Today, women face immense career opportunities and challenges. Catalyst research on S&P 500 companies shows that despite representing 45 percent of the total workforce, women occupy less than 25 percent of board or C-suite positions.

Based on this breakdown, it’s clear that women’s career advancement possibilities and their current reality vastly differ. 

In the construction industry, the numbers are even bleaker. Women represent 9 percent of the construction workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not only are women not reaching senior-level positions, but they’re not entering the industry in the first place.

There are key things male-dominated industries like construction can do to address the gender imbalance, provide advancement opportunities for female talent and drive a more diverse workforce. The need to do so is more critical than some realize.

The Power of Three
Research illustrates that having three or more women in leadership roles delivers substantial gains for business. Credit Suisse’s study of 28,000 executives at 3,000 companies across 40 countries demonstrates that companies with 10 percent greater representation of women in top operational jobs achieve 27 percent higher return on equity and 42 percent higher ratio of dividend payouts. In addition, a Catalyst report found that companies with a high representation of women in board-level roles for an extended period of time outperform their competition and increase return on sales by 84 percent, return on invested capital by 60 percent and return on equity by 46 percent. 

European countries aren’t hoping women will receive more leadership opportunities; they are mandating it. For example, Germany passed a law that requires companies to increase the number of women on corporate boards to 30 percent beginning in 2016. When the law was passed, women held fewer than 20 percent of corporate board seats.

Competency Isn’t a Problem
Lack of skills is not the reason women are underrepresented in leadership roles. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, hosts of “The Extraordinary Leader” workshop, surveyed 7,280 leaders on 16 leadership characteristics, asking them to rate male and female leaders in each category. They found women outscored men in 12 of the 16 leadership competencies. Two categories where women outscored men the most were taking initiative and driving for results.

Zenger and Folkman noted, “At every leadership level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts—and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows.”

Women are just as capable of leading divisions and guiding product innovation as their male counterparts; however, some are not speaking up or gaining the visibility to connect them to their next opportunity. 

Unlocking Potential to Drive Change
In forward-thinking organizations, women are not alone in their drive for increased leadership opportunities. Male leaders also support this diversity initiative. Senior executives and women’s direct managers, who are often men, advocate for the development of all talent to maximize the success of their organizations.

One leading environmental organization is investing in a targeted leadership program for women to identify high-potential female talent, drive corporate diversification and address a historic gender pyramid. This program provides them with opportunities to gain corporate exposure, develop business acumen and enhance personal effectiveness. Success in the company’s North America division led the firm to expand the program to women from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scotland. 

Development programs not only enhance an organization’s competitive edge, but they also position the company as an employer of choice for women. Females are more likely to gravitate toward male-dominated industries—such as construction, oil and gas, and technology—if they are valued in the workplace and receive the advancement opportunities they deserve.  

Career Accelerators at Work
This environmental organization has realized substantial gains through action plans that empower women to enhance their skills and effectiveness. One project encompassed the development of a customer-facing tool to display how the organization recycles and disposes of waste. Since initiating the program, 91 percent of the female participants have stayed with the company and 35 percent of the women have received promotions.

One participant led her team to achieve 100 percent compliance for a significant client audit—an achievement she attributes in part to her enhanced skills through the program. “It was a game changer for me,” she states. “This program positively impacted my role as a leader despite being the only female member on my team. Achieving 100 percent compliance is a tangible result of my team’s resolve and my participation in the program.”   

Leadership is not gender biased. This truth will drive a deeper focus on empowering women to advance their careers and to earn senior leadership and executive roles. Organizations within the construction industry will achieve these results quickly with a solid plan and coaching program focused on women.

Marcia Mueller is an executive career coach and the practice leader for talent development at IMPACT Group. For more information, visit impactgrouphr.com.

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