We Are The 10%: Life as A Woman in Construction
As we continue to focus on women in the industry throughout the month of March, Ross Group wants to shine a spotlight on what it’s like to be a woman in the construction field. We sat down with two of our amazing project engineers, Rachel Rose and Chelsea Vaden, to discuss their experiences and opinions on working in an industry that is comprised of 90% male employees.
How did you get started and who inspired you?
It’s always fascinating to find out what got someone started on their career path. Did they join the family business, wake up one day and realize their passion? Or did they happen across something that turned out to be a lucky surprise?
For Rachel, the industry had always been in her blood. With a grandmother who was an architect, a father who was a home builder, and other family members in the lumber and millwork industries, joining the construction industry in some way was almost a given. However, it wasn’t until her first experience on a construction job site as a purchasing and procurement professional that she realized exactly where she wanted to be. The wonder of seeing a space gutted, starting fresh, and watching it grow inspired her to get into the operations side of the business.
On the other hand, Chelsea says she just fell into the industry. She was working as an administrative assistant for a construction firm and had the opportunity to visit job sites, where she really started learning more about the construction process. For her, “that’s when the spark ignited!” She was privileged to work with some great people starting out, including one superintendent who became a significant mentor, giving advice based on his 20 plus years in the field.
What’s good, what’s bad, and what surprises you?
Rachel and Chelsea both say that their experience in the construction industry has been overwhelmingly positive and it’s primarily because of the people they’ve had the opportunity to work with and under. Being teamed with good project managers early on who let them try their hand at managing punch lists, instead of being given only administrative work, was an important first step in the right direction.
Specifically, in their current roles they feel more heard and respected, and not limited in their future opportunities. Chelsea expressed that the more experienced project managers are “Almost like your big brother. They’re willing to help you get better.” Women in the industry expect to have to be louder and prove themselves to be treated as equals, but that’s not always the case. Finding the right fit in a company and on a team makes all the difference.
OSHA cites finding appropriate PPE as a challenge many women face on the jobsite. However, Rachel and Chelsea haven’t found it to be overly difficult. They said that to fit in as much as possible, they just order smaller sizes in the same equipment their male coworkers wear. No pink hard hats please! Specialty
equipment, such as flame-resistant gear, is one exception where both women said items specifically sized and fit for women would be necessary and appreciated.
Rachel and Chelsea are also pleasantly surprised by the changes they’re seeing in the industry, regarding female workers. Rachel mentioned that there are more girls and women attending construction-specific career fairs and intern days. More female college students are interested in joining the industry because it’s not so intimidating anymore. The fact that there are already a good number of women in construction makes it less scary and more of a positive experience.
What does the future hold?
As project engineers, both women are currently part of project management teams at Ross Group. Project engineers are critical to the team and do things such as project document control, sending out subcontracts and purchase orders, ensuring the project schedule and budget are on track, overseeing subcontractors and field personnel, and basically “keep the project going.”
This is a role with a lot of growth potential and both Rachel and Chelsea see themselves continuing to move upward in the company, while staying in a position to directly impact projects and job sites. In the future, they aspire to be “someone who can teach others and be a mentor,” while having the opportunity to “manage successful multi-million-dollar projects.”
Any advice for other girls and women who want to join us?
The advice Rachel and Chelsea have for females starting the in the industry, or going to school for a construction degree or trade, is to work hard and keep pushing yourself forward, no matter what. If you encounter obstacles, don’t give up, because you will be able to overcome them and turn those challenges into learning experiences. You will have to prove yourself, but never doubt that you can do it.