Giles employees celebrate progress during Women in Construction week

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For women in construction, the good news is the industry is become more welcoming, inclusive and diverse.

That progress was reflected in a recent poll conducted by the National Association of Women in Construction, or NAWIC. Of the 718 respondents to the survey, a full 71% reported seeing more opportunities for women in the industry – a feat both to acknowledge and celebrate.

The results are especially noteworthy now, as NAWIC and its Milwaukee chapter take time to celebrate national Women in Construction Week.

Like many women in construction, employees of Waukesha-based Giles Engineering Associates can attest to both the progress of recent years and look back at how far the industry has come. Kris Hagen, who’s in both business development and human resources at Giles, said she and her fellow female employees can’t think of a single department at Giles – whether it be geotechnical, construction material testing, environmental or drilling – that has not had a woman on the payroll at some point.

They also feel empowered by the fact that Giles evaluates all job seekers by their qualifications and not by whether they mark down an ‘M’ or ‘F’ on their applications. Being a national firm and in its 45th year, Giles has the experience needed to take a project from the beginning with due diligence through construction with its Construction Materials Testing and is proud to say it has women in all levels of all of its departments. This is true not just of its corporate office in Waukesha but all of its regional offices as well.

Hagen recently assembled a group of female Giles employees to discuss the industry in general and how female roles have changed with time. (This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

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The Daily Reporter: What still are some of the biggest barriers to women being in the construction industry? How can they be removed?

Colleen Finley, geotechnical staff professional: One barrier is the lack of knowledge about the construction industry and the thought that construction just involves direct labor. There are many other ways to be involved and work in the industry besides construction labor. Architecture, engineering, project management and material testing are all critical. Advertising and informing high school students about these fields would lessen some of these barriers.

Kelly Hayden, environmental staff professional: I feel a lack of exposure to the industry as a career option is a barrier that causes fewer women to enter the industry. I’m sure there are plenty of women who would find a career path with the construction industry that suits them; however, they are simply unaware that those roles exist. Construction is a broader industry than one might realize. It not only includes careers operating machinery and building buildings, but it also includes careers in project management, environmental science, design, education and compliance.

Katy Modl, senior field technician: the concern of the physicality to women working in the construction field.

TDR: Are there benefits or aspects to working in construction that you think women might tend to under-appreciate?

Alina Hummer, field technician: The problem-solving and eye for detail are important. Personally, I think women pay more attention to detail. And we can all have the chance to be the boss someday.

Angie Anderson, assistant construction materials testing division manager: There is more to construction than just physically handling the material. There is office work. For instance, my position is reviewing reports, project plans and scheduling. I rarely am in the field.

TDR: What drew you to the construction industry in the first place?

Anderson: Senior year of high school, we took a tour of the UW-Milwaukee Engineering School. They were making a concrete canoe. I said I wanted to do that someday (I haven’t yet.) I don’t have family in the industry. However, my dad is a mechanical and an electrical engineer. And my female physics teacher encouraged me to pursue an engineering degree.

Finley: I always wanted to be an engineer because two of my aunts were electrical engineers. I didn’t know what kind of engineer I wanted to be until I got to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and took an Intro to Geological Engineering course. After that course, I wanted to be an engineer that worked in the office and the field.

Hummer: Personally, I enjoy working outside and prefer to be in the field more than being in an office behind a desk. My father was a master mechanic in the operating engineers union. I grew up around heavy machinery, playing with nuts and bolts as a child, operating cranes at 14 years old. I enjoy the atmosphere of this industry.

TDR: What do you enjoy about construction?

Finley: As geotechnical engineers, we are usually one of the first groups to work on a project since what soil and rock a building is built on can great affect the building design and construction. It is rewarding to see a project constructed that you worked on from beginning to end.

Anderson: The opportunity to say, ‘I had a hand on helping this building be built.’ And every day is a different day.

TDR: If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Hayden: If I could improve one thing about the construction industry it would be to normalize the inclusion of women. I’ve noticed that a lot of equipment isn’t designed with women in mind, which can make it harder for women to operate and leads to the false assumption that women are incapable. Basic safety equipment like women’s steel-toed boots and work gloves are hard to find without resorting to online shopping. It may seem like a small issue, but it reinforces the stereotype that this job is for me.

 

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