Women are Driving Change in the Construction Industry

From live field data to IoT, the entire construction industry is changing with technology. But that’s not the only area of construction that is evolving. In fact, there is nowhere changes are more important and impactful than how the industry is changing for women.

Anne Pfleger is the President of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), an organization that has been providing female construction leaders the education, support and networking to help advance their careers in construction for over 65 years. In this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, Anne joins host Mike Merrill to share what NAWIC does and how technology has opened up new opportunities for women on the job site. They also discuss best practices for women looking to enter the industry.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Construction isn’t a male-dominated industry anymore. Men comprise 90% of the employees in construction but the number of women is increasing.  With more women in both leadership and job site roles, it’s time the industry recognizes it is male populated but not male-dominated, giving room for women to excel in a much more open environment. 
  2. Remote work gives flexible options that women value. The technology that allowed the construction industry to succeed during the pandemic is also enticing women who would normally not be interested in the rigid schedule structure of the job site into the construction industry. Remote work bringing valuable skills, insights and needed workers that would otherwise never be available to contractors.
  3. Female-focused PPE brings needed safety and acceptance. PPE, such as face masks, gloves, shoes and lift skeletons, that are actually developed for different body types have increased the safety and comfort of day-to-day safety for women. Giving women the protection that everyone on the job site needs to extend their effectiveness without sudden or long-term damage that can limit their quality of life. Proper fitting PPE also signals that the wearer belongs on the job site, as opposed to being stuck in oversized and ineffective PPE that’s built for men.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down for an episode with Anne Pfleger. Anne is a woman who wears many hats. She is the estimating safety and HR administrator at the Charles Construction Services. The prequalification and estimating administrator at Hancock Structural Steel, and most importantly for the conversation today, the president of the National Association of Women in Construction. So there’s 115 chapters in NAWIC, as it’s pronounced, that offer education, support, networking, and also help in advancing the careers in construction for women. Also, it helps to build their technical skills, and ultimately become leaders. So as president of NAWIC, Anne is an advocate for women in construction, and today she’s going to share a little bit about what NAWIC does, and also how technology has opened new opportunities for women on the job site, and also how it’s changed the culture for construction forever. And Anne, we’re grateful to have you today. I’m excited for the conversation.

Anne Pfleger:

Thanks, Mike. It’s great to be here.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. So as the president of the National Association of Women in Construction, or NAWIC, you’ve been involved for about 15 years now. So what can you tell us about NAWIC and what you do there?

Anne Pfleger:

Well, NAWIC was actually started back in 1953 by some women in Texas, Fort Worth, Texas area, because they were the minority in the construction industry. So they got together and wanted to have a support system. Well, they quickly found out that there were other women across the country that also needed that support system. So in 1955, it became the National Association of Women in Construction. And for 66 years now, we have been strengthening and amplifying the success of women in the industry. What is really neat about this association is that construction encompasses pretty much everything that you touch. So a NAWIC member could be a referred general contractor. They could be a trades woman, an architect, an engineer, a lawyer, a trucking company that hauls building materials. The list is just endless, which really makes NAWIC stand out, because I don’t know if any other association that encompasses so many different job careers.

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. So NAWIC recently has launched a new logo and tagline, grow and educate and network. What can you tell us about that and why the changes?

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah. Last August, we launched our new logo and tagline, leading builders, building leaders. Again, we’re supporting women in the industry and we have been able to through certifications, through opportunities of being a leader within our local chapters, and on the national board, we are developing those women leaders to make a difference and influence the construction industry.

Mike Merrill:

So how many members does NAWIC have worldwide or nationwide I should say?

Anne Pfleger:

Well, across the country, we have over 5,000 members. We have over a hundred in, actually we just chartered our last chapter a couple of weekends ago. So we’re up to 118 chapters now. We also have a chapter in Guam and in DC. We are also global. We have international affiliates in Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia. And there are more out there that we’re making connections with.

Mike Merrill:

Wow, that’s truly amazing. That’s a great work you’re doing all over the world, it sounds like at this point.

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah. One of our priorities is how amazing would it be for all of the women in construction across the globe to get together in one place. And technology is really what’s going to help us do this, because before the pandemic there wasn’t as much virtual. It’s kind of starting to come in with the ability to do Zoom and other platforms like that, but now that it’s more accessible, we’re able to connect virtually with our international affiliates across the globe.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. That’s a real blessing that technology’s allowing you to all come together in that way. So what are some of the top priorities of the association?

Anne Pfleger:

Well, we have a number of things that we’re working on. Something this year that we started is we now have a standing diversity equity and inclusion committee, and we are trying to make the construction industry just that, diverse, equitable, and inclusive of everyone. No matter what race, what culture, what visibility, anything like that, we want everybody to feel included in everything. So that has been a big initiative for ourselves. We’ve also had a lot of companies reaching out to us to partner with us, because they’ve heard of the things that we’re doing, not only with the DE&I, but we’re also having those conversations about what women need in the construction industry.

Anne Pfleger:

Yes, we are built differently than men, but we can work just as hard as what the men can do. We go through the same type of training, but there are differences that we need, and some of those are sanitation on the job site and proper fitting PPE, that’s a big one. Actually our annual conference is next week in Charlotte, North Carolina, and you’re actually going to have a women’s PPE fashion show, because there are now companies out there that are designing women’s PPE. And some companies, that’s all they’re doing. They’re not even doing any men PPE anymore. So we’re very excited to be offering that to our members, and making that be a highlight.

Anne Pfleger:

So we’re also working to, I mentioned about sanitation on the job site, and with the pandemic, we’ve been talking a long time about being able to work remotely and have a flexible schedule, but because of what happened with the pandemic, that has kind of pushed us forward to show the companies that we work that we can be just as productive when they’re working at home, or even having a flexible schedule. It’s not unusual now to sometimes see work emails coming through in the middle of the night, because of the people having a flexible schedule. Maybe they needed to take off a little bit early to go to a child’s soccer game, or take them to a doctor’s appointment, but it’s becoming more acceptable. But one of our alliances with OSHA, we’ve actually had for a number of years, but we’re really starting to have those conversations about what regulations we need to be working on as a result of the pandemic that we’ve been talking about for a long time. So that’s very exciting.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, that’s great. So are there some online resources or some links that you can share with the audience that they can learn more about NAWIC?

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah, our national website is www.nawic.org And you can find out all the information, you can look for a local chapter in your area to get connected with them. Also, all of our social media links are there as well. And even if you’re just interested in getting some more information, or if you’re maybe a man, reach out to us because we want everybody. It’s going to take everybody to make the construction industry more inclusive of everyone.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. And I know we participate in a lot of events all around the country throughout the year. And of course with the pandemic, things have been shut down quite a bit, but some of the live events we’ve been to recently, it’s not uncommon to run into members of NAWIC and people that have literature materials at their booth or exhibitions. So obviously the work that you’re doing out there is being impactful and helping a lot of people to get the recognition and the opportunities that they deserve.

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah. I think that’s one of the biggest takeaways for me this year as president, is to see the difference that we are making. I mean, we’ve been around for 66 years, but we actually start seeing people reaching out to us, because they’ve heard about what we’re doing. It really shows what all of the past members and national boards have, what they have done has really set us up for that. So to actually see it happening this year, especially with a pandemic goi   ng on, was just amazing for me.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I know I was reading up and doing a little research, and I know that somewhere I read 44 out of the top 100 construction firms have women in executive positions. So that was really cool to learn.

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah. Well, that’s another thing, you still hear a lot of people saying that women work in a male dominated industry. I don’t like to say that anymore. Yes, we’re male working in a male populated, because we still only encompass about 10%, but we are seeing more women, like you mentioned, in executive positions influencing the direction. You’re seeing what women on the job site with boots on the ground, actually building these buildings, or roads, or any types of construction projects. So yeah, it’s male populated now. It’s not male dominated.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I love that term. That’s great. We had a guest on not so long ago, Letitia Hanke, and she has an organization called the LIME Foundation and they do a lot of construction trades training for people coming out of high school. And she owns a roofing company, and has been awarded all kinds of things for her leadership and recognition on that. And that was really exciting for us to learn about her story and to, to hear that there’s more of that going on out there then maybe hits the press a lot of times.

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah. And I really think that that’s just a sign to us that, yeah, it may be male populated, but I think we’re really going to see a push of more women coming into the industry in the next few years for a number of reasons. For the main reason of, I mentioned people are seeing more women in the industry actually working. They’re hearing us talk. And then also too, with the pandemic, construction remained an essential industry. So for the majority, we kept working throughout the whole pandemic, which for the younger generation is a good thing to consider when you’re choosing what career you want to do that, hey, even during a pandemic, construction was still going on.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. It was deemed quote unquote essential by most government affiliations around the country. So like you mentioned, construction touches every aspect of our lives. If you live somewhere, if you work somewhere, if you drive somewhere, I mean, everything that we do has an impact from construction on it. So are there some other statistics that come to mind for you that are interesting, that you could share with the audience?

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah, there is. Construction actually is one of the highest equitable pay. So when you’re comparing what a man makes to what a woman, we make about 96 cents to every dollar that a man makes, which of course we would all want it to be even, dollar for dollar, but construction does have the one of the highest for women working in any type of industry. So that again is another benefit to the younger generation to let them know that we’re a lot closer than some industries.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and another reason why more women should look to get involved.

Anne Pfleger:

Exactly. Yep. And that’s something else that if women are looking to get into construction, they really should look at all the different opportunities, because you can work as a tradeswoman, or talking technology, something that’s really been coming to the forefront is drones. And that technology that we have to do a number of different things, and that may be a whole different podcast, we wouldn’t talk about that. But they also want to find a mentor to help them really see what their interest is. And then once they decide which way they want to go, continue having that mentor throughout their career. I mean, I’ve been in construction and trucking industries for, gosh, I hate to say it, 28 years now. And I still have mentors, because they can help you out in different parts of your career. So you can have multiple. And I’ve had men mentors as well. So I know that men can be our biggest ally, the things that we’re working on in the construction industry. And they do want to help out.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. And I think that’s key even in any pursuit, whether it’s a hobby, or a passion, or whether you’re trying to learn something. Whether it’s a professor at a university or a religious leader. I mean, we all need mentors in life, and I think that’s fantastic that you brought that up about the mentors in the workplace that you’ve been able to tap into throughout your career.

Mike Merrill:

So I read another statistic that said that there was a 68% increase in women owned construction firms between 2014 to 2019. So that is huge. What can you tell us about that?

Anne Pfleger:

Well, I think that has to do with a lot of the initiatives by the government to have more diverse projects. You have more companies that are women-owned, minority, disability, things of that sort, to make sure a certain percentage of a construction project has that type of company on there. I think that really has helped, which is really a great way for women to start out their company and get moving. Now there’s, with every kind of startup company, there’s still a lot of education and things that you need to do, but that opportunity is really helping increase the number of women-owned businesses in the industry.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I know we’ve talked about ownership, women in those positions, also executive positions. What can you tell us about women that are actually working out in the field? Is there an uptick there? Is there a change? What’s going on there?

Anne Pfleger:

Well, there’s not much of a change in the trades, women working out in the field. And that’s one of the things you had mentioned earlier about things that NAWIC is working on. The conditions on job sites are still a very hot topic, and we need to really be having a conversation and getting some regulations in place, because when women are on a job site, they are there for a reason. They have a skill, a lot of them go through apprenticeship programs, just like their male counterparts. So they have all the exact training. And the things that are still happening on some of the jobs sites with bullying and not wanting to support, and teach the women, trades women, I mean, have you ever never asked the question, or needed to learn how to do something? We all do. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. If you’re new on a job, you need to find out certain ways this company does this process, or how you do that. We all have those questions.

Anne Pfleger:

So we just need to get up away from that stigma of, oh, she can’t do this job. I’m not going to help her at all. So there is still a lot of that. Now, with saying that, the thing about it is, is that more women are finding the courage to stand up and talk about this and try and get this fixed. And that’s one way to enable, gives a support network of women in the industry. And yes, I personally work in the office, but I can definitely be a voice for those trades women when we’re at the table negotiating general conditions on the job site to make sure that there’s something as simple, having separate porta johns, or hand washing stations. That’s something that’s been huge with the pandemic. We’ve really had to increase just the sanitation on job sites.

Anne Pfleger:

So even though I’m not a trades woman, I can still be a voice to help them get what they need, but the courage that those women have to step up and talk about it, and ask for change. I think that that’s amazing. So in the next few years, I do see that changing, and I think we will have more women coming into the trades. It’s a great career for earning an amazing salary. They really do make a good money when you get both through your apprenticeship program and become a journey woman. So a lot of the younger generation, especially single moms is a great way to be able to support their family.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. And I think, like you mentioned, we can all do a part to help encourage and foster those opportunities for women that have an interest, or that maybe are curious a little bit. And I think that’s a spark that can grow into a flame that can really grow into something substantial that could really change the way that we’re approaching this industry. And I think to your point, I think those women that have been bold enough to step up and to work through those challenges obviously are pioneers and trailblazers, and we need to work on building that path and making it more comfortable for more to join.

Anne Pfleger:

Yes, definitely.

Mike Merrill:

And we’ve talked a lot on this podcast about the shortage of skilled labor and people in the trades. And I think there are women out there that can meet those needs, and make more money, and have a opportunity to contribute more to their household income by doing these sorts of things. And so I’m excited to see that some of these changes are starting to take hold and I hope that they continue forward, and I know that NAWIC has been, and will continue to be a big part of that change.

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah, we definitely will. We’re planning on being here for another 66 plus years to help out with the industry.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. So what about technology? Is that helping make this transition easier? Are there some things that are improved because of that and maybe what are some of those, if there are?

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah, actually there are, I mentioned earlier about remote work, working remotely, or flexible schedules. So technology has really helped to do that because people can be working from home, but still be able to connect to all their files in the server as if they were sitting at their desk in the office. So we’ve had that kind of work for many, many years, but I really think that it’s been utilized more by companies, and then seeing that their workers, even when they were working remotely were just as productive or even more productive when they were doing that.

Anne Pfleger:

I know personally myself, I worked from home while we had the country shut down, but then towards the beginning of May 2020, I came back to work. And actually I thought I was more productive at home because I had less interruptions, because when you read my bio, I always laugh when people read my bio, I’m thinking, wow, that is a lot of stuff to do. But when you’re working in safety, and HR, and IT, I mean, you get interrupted throughout the whole day. So yeah, I definitely was more productive, but having that technology, being able to have meetings, using Zoom or whatever other platform, bringing companies together on projects, all of the general contractor, sub suppliers, but even the owners, you can get everybody on the Zoom and have a conversation about what’s going on in the project and you’re saving travel time. I think the amount of time you traveled to a job site for a meeting to get together one, now you can be doing it from your office and still have the same outcome.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I know I was at a user conference for one of the accounting construction ERPs a couple of years ago, and one of the speakers and keynotes was a woman dump truck driver. And she was fantastic at her job ,had received all kinds of recognition and awards, and was really just an all-star among her peers in that role. And I think there’s all types of jobs like that women can certainly do, but when we talk about technology, are there innovations that have created new opportunities that maybe didn’t exist before that women could excel at?

Anne Pfleger:

I mentioned the drones. That is becoming very prevalent for a number of different reasons. They were used for flying around the job site, just to take a look, see how progress is going, a lot of times banks now are requiring some sort of pictures, or something to show how much has been complete before they actually released funds. So a drone is able to go in and take the appropriate pictures. It’s also improved our safety. If there’s a dangerous or a really high area that normally a person would go to, the drones can take care of that. They can fly wherever it needs to be to take a real good look, to see if something does in fact need to be fixed, or something else needs to be done rather than just sending somebody up, which maybe they only have to go up once just to fix it instead of up to check it out and then again to actually fix it. So that’s one of the things that drones…A lot of our younger generation are really into video games. So flying drones fits for both women and men in that aspect of it.

Anne Pfleger:

The other thing that’s really good for women is there are safety, I guess, skeletons that you can have that will help you, and men use this as well, but they can help when you’re lifting things and moving things to give you that little bit of extra, to do it safely. I mean, we all want to be able to show that, yeah, I can lift this up without a problem, but construction can be hard on your body. So technology and the things that are coming out now, I think is going to provide the opportunity for everyone who is working on the job sites to have a longer life working on the job site, and not tear up their body so much with the technology that’s coming out with the safety gear.

Mike Merrill:

Now, I’m glad you mentioned that, because again, safety is a key piece to every project, or should be. And so, I like that people are innovating and developing tools and things to help offset some of those challenges that maybe somebody that has a smaller frame, or doesn’t have huge biceps can still participate in those physical activities and help progress the project.

Mike Merrill:

So generally, are you seeing much of a change in culture on construction sites as it relates to women? I mean, are you feeling like things are moving in the right direction?

Anne Pfleger:

Yes, but slowly. The good thing about this, is that owners of companies, and most of them are men, are coming and asking what can we do to help advance, live in success in the industry? And I think it’s great that they are just even asking the question. That is a sign that we’re moving in the right direction.

Anne Pfleger:

And what I like to tell them is, just sit down and have a conversation with them. Come out to the job site. Now, if you come out to the job site, you want to make sure that you’re talking to everybody on the job. Not just the women. You should be anyways. Those are the people that are working every day on the projects, they know best what they need to be successful to help move the project a little quicker, or help for safety reasons. So I always tell the owners that it’s important for you to visit your job sites and really ask, and talk to all the people on the job site.

Anne Pfleger:

For those that are in the office, I know my boss, he typically does this almost every day. Usually in the morning and he’ll come in, a cup of coffee and he’ll ask how things are going. Is there anything I need? And that time we get to talk a little bit, if there’s any ideas that I want to present. So I think just owners and supervisors just initiating the conversation, I really think makes those women that maybe aren’t sure about how they should be asking for something. It gives them that opportunity to talk. So I think that is a key to really hearing what we need in the industry and what needs to be done.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great point. And I know there must be, again, young women out there who are interested, or have at least a curiosity, if nothing more, what would you suggest that a young woman that has interests do to learn how to obtain these skills to enter the workforce in the construction industry?

Anne Pfleger:

Well, definitely I would tell them first to go to nawic.org and learn a little bit more about NAWIC, and like I said, we have chapters all across the country, so they could connect with maybe their local chapter. We even do you have student memberships as well. So that’s something that they could look into, and really get to know like what area they’re focused on. Try and find somebody that’s in a similar type of job. They can talk to them about what schooling they did, or how they went about getting to where they are today. So I think that is very important.

Anne Pfleger:

If they don’t have a local NAWIC chapter, I mean, I know that any woman in construction is always happy to talk about working in construction, because the satisfaction that we have working in this industry, I mean, when you’re driving down the road, and my son hates it when I do this, but when you’re driving down the road and I point to a building, I said, I had a part of that. And thinking that that building is going to be there way longer than what I will be on this earth, it just gives me chills even thinking about it. So I know that women would talk to other women, whether they’re in NAWIC or not because of our passion for construction.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. My background is in construction as well. I was a general contractor and ran trades crews before I helped start this software company 18 years ago. And so, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Many times I’ve driven my family or my kids past a project that we completed, or a home that we built. And yeah, it’s very satisfying and fulfilling to see the work that you did. And I love the fact that there are women out there that can drive by and do the exact same thing, say I took part in that project.

Mike Merrill:

So more on a personal level, is there one thing, personally or professionally, kind of a challenge that you worked through and feel like you learned from that you could share with others to encourage them to fight through those difficulties?

Anne Pfleger:

That’s a great question. For me personally, I’ve been on NAWIC National Board since 2014, you move up the ranks to become president. And one of the things for me is just having the support of fellow NAWIC members across the country. I know that if I need anything, whether it be professionally, or personally, I can call on them. I actually had a situation with my son who was traveling back from, he came from bootcamp as a Marine, was traveling back to do some additional training. And he and some of his other friends, who were also going to the same training, got stuck in Charlotte, North Carolina because it snowed. So snow in Charlotte, North Carolina, everything shuts down.

Anne Pfleger:

What I didn’t know until then is that when in the military when you start a mode of transportation, you have to finish it. So they couldn’t rent a car, they couldn’t go on a bus. They couldn’t do any of that. And that weekend was a basketball tournament, they did not have any hotels left. So I called one of my fellow NAWIC members, told them about the situation and she found a place for everyone of those men and women to stay until they could get out on a flight. And I mean, again, not too many associations that I know that would do something like that for you. So that alone was just amazing.

Anne Pfleger:

But for me, it has also given me the opportunity to learn how to have these difficult conversations. We’ve kind of already talked about it about what women need in industry to succeed, and that I can have those conversations and be a voice for those people that maybe don’t have that confidence to have that conversation and talk about. So those are the things that I’ve gotten personally out of being, not only NAWIC member, but on the national board.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. What a blessing and what a wonderful tribute to the membership to sisterhood that exists there, and the connectivity that you have each other’s backs. So Anne, is there a superpower that you possess when you put your cape on? What are you getting ready to go do?

Anne Pfleger:

Oh, a superpower. Well, I think my superpower is everybody wants to have a purpose in their life, and I didn’t find mine until a few years ago. My super power is to be able to support women, to be and do whatever they want. This year, as president, I have done everything I could for any member that wanted it. I would make the time for them and help them in any way that they can. And that really is, I believe a superpower, not many people can do that. I know we all have very, very busy lives now, but for me it was a priority to do that. And by doing that, my hope is that those women will then pass it down to the next generation and so on.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. I love that. That is a super power I would say for sure.

Mike Merrill:

So, last thing, is there one takeaway that you would like to share with the listeners today, from this episode and discussion?

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah. The one thing I would like to mention is that whatever you set your mind to do, you can do it. You can be and do whatever you want to in this life. Just remember that there were others here to support you along the way.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. That’s great. Very profound. Well, thank you so much for the conversation today Anne, I really enjoyed getting to know you more and learning about NAWIC, and then it’s exciting to have a new friend in the industry.

Anne Pfleger:

Yes, definitely. Great to hear that you were previously a general contractor, and thanks for having me. I do appreciate it.

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. And thank you to the guests for listening today. If you enjoyed the conversation that Anne and I had today, or learned anything new or insightful, we invite you to please give us a rating and a review, and share this episode with your friends and colleagues. And most especially, if you have any interest in NAWIC, personally, if you are a woman in construction, or if you work with women in construction, we encourage you to plug into NAWIC and help get those around you involved ,and see the goodness that they have to share with our industry. Of course, we want to not only help improve individual’s business and success there, but also their life.