Volume 50, Issue 8 - August 2015


Men Build Buildings Women Do Too

Decades ago, when Alana Griffith showed up at a construction site, she says the reaction was often predictable.

“[As a woman], you walked into a job trailer and were looked at, up and down, knowing they were asking themselves, ‘what is she doing here?’” says Griffith. But that’s all changed as a result of both the mindset and the numbers.

With more than four decades of experience in an industry that has grown with the times, the traditional challenges associated with being a woman in the male-dominated culture of construction no longer factor into Griffith’s day-to-day work.

“Now, it’s not about gender. It’s about what I know, who I know and how to get it done,” says Griffith, vice president of Minnesota-based contract glazier Empirehouse. “Today, a woman can walk into a job trailer and not a single head turns.”

While the Department of Labor reports only nine percent of the construction industry and 29 percent of the manufacturing sector is made up of females, the growing presence of women in the building industry is notable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of women employed in the U.S. construction industry grew by more than 81 percent from 1985 to 2007.

“When I began working in the building and construction industry almost 28 years ago, there were few women in the industry, nonetheless in leadership roles,” says Dianna Perreiah, president of Alcoa Building and Construction Systems. “Traditionally, building and construction–especially in technical areas–was male-dominated.”

Perreiah joined Alcoa after meeting with company representatives at a job fair when she graduated from college. Since then, she has changed divisions multiple times on her way to her new post. During that span, she’s seen the industry evolve.

“Over the course of my career, I have seen a growth in women across many roles–from plant managers and line workers, to engineers, product development, sales and marketing and more recently, leadership positions,” she says.

Nataline Lomedico, who recently took over as CEO of Los Angeles-based contract glazier Giroux Glass, started in the construction industry at 19 years old. She quickly fell in love with the environment but recognized early on that “it was a man’s world.”

“I remember going to conferences and looking across the ballroom to find perhaps only one other female,” she says. “… When I attend meetings or conferences today, I see many more women. Unfortunately, the numbers are still dramatically low, compared to the number of men.”

Alana Griffith, vice president of Empirehouse, has been working in construction for more than four decades and has seen a significant shift in the presence of women in the industry.

Changing Dynamic

Over the years, various public entities have required a larger number of minorities and females on jobsites, Griffith points out. However, that’s also exposed the industry to the range of skill sets that come from a more diverse environment.

Perreiah agrees. Over time, she says she’s seen the discussion of diversity change from that of numbers to a recognition “of the business value that’s created through diverse inclusion.”

“I am seeing the focus on diversity shifting from just counting numbers to the business value created by diversity, which can deliver groundbreaking innovation, and that’s exciting,” says Perreiah. “We are proud to employ a number of women at all levels, and I am proud to see women interested in manufacturing and leadership roles across the board.”

Lomedico adds that while it’s taken some time, the presence of women has had an impact on people’s behavior in construction companies’ offices. “Men are adjusting to the presence of women in a more respectful manner,” she says, “I have been fortunate to work with many gentlemen, but have experienced my share of disrespect also.”

“I also believe that both men and women in the industry are finding the advantages of having women in leadership roles,” she says, speculating that a growing recognition of women’s competencies in leadership could have to do with their willingness to ask for feedback. “I don’t know the answer, but I think that organizations are putting themselves at a disadvantage by overlooking women for leadership roles.”

Nataline Lomedico, CEO of Giroux Glass, started in the construction industry when she was 19 years old. She quickly fell in love with it and has grown her career within the sector ever since.

Nataline Lomedico, CEO of Giroux Glass, started in the construction industry when she was 19 years old. She quickly fell in love with it and has grown her career within the sector ever since.

Family Matters

Family businesses are well-represented in the construction industry, and the contract glazing sector in particular, which has had a big impact on the presence of females in top positions.

Empirehouse is a woman-owned business and has been that way since Griffith’s mother- and father-in-law, Betty and John, started it in 1950. Betty was a part-owner from the start.

“It’s a point of pride,” says Griffith, who has been with the company since 1974. “Women have always been interlaced in our organization.”

Amy Cole, president of Tubelite, spent 23 years with construction product manufacturer Hilti before assuming her current role. From the manufacturer’s perspective, she’s taken note of the role the family-owned business has played in the influx of women leaders.

“The biggest increase in women in leadership roles comes from family-owned businesses that transcend generations,” says Cole. “The most successful ones are those that develop the family members most interested in running the business, daughters and sons alike.”

Perreiah says she’s seen the trend among her customers over the years of businesses changing generationally, as well. “Fathers are turning their businesses over to daughters, not just their sons,” she says.

Adds Griffith, “It’s because of one reason: the girls are interested. They have grown up in it. They’ve seen their father and mother working in a particular industry, and, to put it simply, they like it.”

Wealth of Opportunity

Empirehouse managers regularly attend job fairs,and much of that effort is dedicated to exposing women to the wide range of opportunities the industry presents.

“We’re trying to give them a variety of options in what is possible instead of putting them on one particular job,” says Griffith, adding that cross-training for multiple roles is important.

“There are so many opportunities available for women in our industry,” adds Perreiah.

She says her company, in conjunction with the Alcoa Foundation, is working to deliver that message through supporting Science Technology Engineering Math-related programs.

“These programs give students early on an idea of what opportunities there are in manufacturing, which span the physical to the technical side, including product development, engineering and architectural roles, to name a few,” she says. “There are truly a broad range of roles to fit a diverse group of people.”

Lomedico says the construction industry offers the opportunity “to work in an ever-changing, fast-paced environment, where each position relies heavily on teamwork and trust.”

She adds, “The glazing industry is especially unique, in that it brings the ability to see the finished product. The beauty of glass is visible, unlike some other specialty trades. It’s a wonderful feeling to see a blueprint brought to life.”

A Focus on Others

Griffith says a point of pride she’s noticed with females in the industry is not only how they can make a difference for themselves, but also how they can impact others.

“A lot of women in this industry take a lot of pride not only in what they do, but also in bringing along other women,” says Griffith.

Perreiah stresses the importance of “pay it forward.”

“Focus your power to make a difference for others rather than on your own success,” she says. “In the end, you’ll find you’ve achieved your goals because you have been of service to others.”

Cole says if she could offer a piece of advice to a woman entering the industry, it would be to understand the importance of relationships.

“Relationships matter in the construction industry,” she says. “Pay attention to that and network accordingly. When you truly care about your customer’s success, they will reward you.”

—Nick St. Denis

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