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In the era of the Lean In movement and the Women’s March, women are finding their voices and using them. In politics, in the classroom and even on the playing field, women’s participation and leadership are breaking records. However, this is not the case in the board room—especialy in the C-suite. The Russell 3000 Index, a market index that benchmarks the U.S. Stock Market, found that only 9 percent of top executive positions were filled by women. The construction industry reflects this low participation of female executives. Women in construction only number 9 percent across the board of the industry.

Seven percent of all construction executives are women and only 3 percent of the Fortune 500 construction companies have a female construction manager. Most are in sales and office roles (about 45 percent). Russell 3000 also found that women who are in the C-suite usually fill more HR- or administrative-related positions with very few in COO or CEO positions. Women in leadership need to have real decision making power to progress further. On the upside, women in construction tend to have less of a pay gap than other industries—about 5 percent compared to 20 percent.

Though she be but little, She is Fierce

Despite their small numbers, women executives in construction are paving the way for others to access leadership. In 1984, 11 women created Women Construction Owners and Executives, an organization for support and professional development. Their purpose is to promote women into leadership, assist women in executive positions and encourage more women to join the industry. The National Association of Women in Construction and Women in Construction Operations are also resources and networks with thousands of members. 

Women executives in construction understand the power of education and have been investing in programs such as scholarships, training and educational programs that help to address gender gaps and encourage girls in STEM. The result is growing participation of women in construction technology and architecture in higher education. Enrollment in university construction programs is moving toward parity.

Technology is another lever helping women amplify their leadership. Technology is an equalizer that allows opportunities to manage the entire construction life cycle. Specifically, enterprise technology creates more access because it allows for greater real-time collaboration. For women, this has increased participation and a chance to excel.

Champions Needed

There are a number of ways to help create more promotion into the C-Suite and to also support women once they are there. One of the most widely suggested methods is mentorship. Women mentoring women provides personal and emotional support. This support is invaluable but may not be enough. Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett believes that women support each other, but men tend to champion one another. She states that championing is the act of actively sponsoring, which is a bi-directional relationship. Mentoring is usually a one-way model with the mentor providing direction and modeling. Championing, on the other hand, is more reciprocal and also active. For example, opening doors, creating connections and bringing people to the table. Women actively look for a mentor, but they should be looking for a sponsor. Construction companies, through internship programs and diversity committees, are understanding this. 

Companies can also create more opportunities by including women as project-based leaders. If women are not in formal C-suite roles, project-based leadership will give them an opportunity to demonstrate what they are able to do. It is also a space for them to practice and refine their skills and, perhaps more importantly, get to network with company leaders. This advances benefits to women and companies. Research has consistently indicated that having women leadership increases productivity and millions of dollars in profits.

Other ways of increasing women’s participation in the C-Suite include training programs, more pathways, intentional recruitment of women, retention and advancement programs, executive mastermind groups, dedicated leadership programs, networking opportunities, and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion.


Women continue to have a huge role to play. Dr. Bremond, from the University of Southern California, conducted research that revealed female leadership traits being more collaborative, integral and transparent than males. Further, women proved better negotiators with the aim of creating win-win solutions. 

Instead of waiting for a seat at the table, they have to ask for one and create space for other women once they are seated. This will require shifts in thinking, and it is already happening. Women in construction C-suites are not just owning their own success, they are making sure that communities and their companies are made stronger because of it.


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