Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why Women in Construction Should Join NAWIC

As a member of the transportation profession since 1986, I speak from the heart when I say “I love this business.”  Although my own experience within our unique niche has granted many opportunities to serve in numerous diverse and challenging positions throughout the industry, it is construction for which I hold a special affinity.

In contracting, it doesn’t matter if you are a male or a female; it’s a tough gig.  Dealing with the ever-dwindling cash flow, maintaining workplace safety, labor shortage crises, escalating material and fuel costs, scheduling demands, estimating deadlines, ignorantly competitive low bids, Buy American constraints, endless piles of documentation, and everybody’s favorite, liquidated damages, all present unimaginable levels of stress.  As someone who is fortunate enough to be well-acquainted with men who are considered bona fide legends in the contracting industry, I can tell you first-hand, it’s not any easier for them to be successful than it is for women.  Anyone who is a recognizable success within contracting is someone who has struggled within what can be a ‘dog-eat-dog’ industry.

Speaking as a female, there have never been boundaries or constraints strong enough to deter me when success was my ultimate goal.  Upon joining an all-male crew on a jobsite in 1987 as a laborer, the field superintendent sent my male co-workers scattering with different directives, leaving me ready and waiting, shovel in hand.  When I asked him “So what am I supposed to do?” he said, with a very sincere and well-meaning smile, “You just stand there and look pretty.”  If life were only so easy, right?

Being a female in a male-dominated industry presented many similar moments, but in the end, none of those moments mattered.  As a female, I might be ‘physically limited’, but I’m definitely not ‘mentally limited.’  What construction taught me was to always work smarter, not harder.  Gender does not determine levels of intelligence nor inner strength.  One of the reasons I consider my career in construction to be a success was because I persevered, and most of the men ended up working for me.  I have the utmost respect for my male construction colleagues because I understand what it takes to do the job.  They persevere.

The purpose of NAWIC, or the National Association of Women in Construction, is “To enhance the success of women in the construction industry.”  What would I have given in 1987, had I been aware of NAWIC, to share my frustration with a group of people who understood my experience?  There were numerous male co-workers with whom I could relate to on many levels, but none of them were ever directed to “Just stand there and look pretty.”  Men usually consider that anecdote hilarious, as do I…now. 
Anyone who works in construction can use a support system, and women are extremely fortunate in that they have NAWIC to rely on.  NAWIC promotes the advancement of women by offering support in many forms.  The NAWIC network provides guidance from peers within the industry, member-to-member and member-referred business opportunities, continuing education and scholarship programs, charitable activity involvement, partnerships with industry organizations, employment opportunities, regional forums, national conventions, and a wealth of additional resources. 
The core values of NAWIC are Believe; Persevere; Dare.  Applying these values would assist anyone who wishes to be a success in construction, and I would encourage a person of any gender to choose this industry as a personally fulfilling and financially rewarding career.  From my perspective, the only limits set are self-imposed.