Women workers say jobsites are often "hostile" places. (Photo by Guy Lawrence for ENR)

A man gives a female engineer a helium balloon in honor of Secretary’s Day. A supervising journeyman pushes a female apprentice plumber down the stairs. Insult and injury. The experience of women who have charged into the "good ol’ boys" universe of construction in the last quarter century often is still worlds apart, depending on the color of their "collars."

Typically, tradeswomen have sustained insult, injury and indignity way beyond female design and construction professionals. Most incidents are blatant, including sexual harassment, discrimination and isolation (ENR 9/7/98 p. 26). One thing less blatant is the progress made by women in the trades. They make up only 2.4% of a work force of about 10 million; up from less than 1% in 1978; women account for about 10% of all construction’s professions, up from 6.1% in 1983.

"Working-class women, in terms of economic opportunities, have not gotten [much] attention from anyone," says Lauren Sugerman, executive director of the 20-year-old Chicago Women in the Trades and a former elevator constructor.

Advocates for tradeswomen say this must change, especially in view of the graying of the male labor pool. "If the industry is going to be successful in acquiring and training employees, it can no longer afford to ignore 47% of the work force," says Jane Gilbert. Gilbert, until August, was human resources director for Maine’s Dept. of Transportation. Currently, she is assistant commissioner for the state Dept. of Labor.

The percentage of women in the field has remained stagnant since the early 1980s, when it shot up after President Jimmy Carter in 1978 set hiring goals of 6.9% and hiring timetables for women on federally funded projects. The goals were never reached.

Getting into the trades is one thing. Staying there is another. Like victims of abuse, many pioneer tradeswomen, who came of age in the heady times of the late 70s, have retreated from the direct source of their pain—hostility, discrimination and harassment—into the relative shelter of advocacy. Most keep their union cards active while they fight for women in the trades from behind their desks.

Susan Eisenberg, author of the seminal We’ll Call You If We Need You: Experiences of Women Working Construction (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N.Y., 1998), hasn’t worked as an electrician since 1984. Eisenberg says she became weary of her lonely crusade in the field.

"Working-class women... have not gotten [much] attention from anyone."

Other activists have hung up their tools and their boxing gloves, trying cooperation rather than confrontation to affect change. "In our early days, we were often litigating against [labor unions]," says Sugerman. "Now we’re partnering with them."

Partnerships are being formed through a three-year-old coalition of 30 tradeswomen advocacy and job training groups called Tradeswomen Now and Tomorrow. "A need was recognized for a more formal and unified national voice to bring visibility and policy recommendations to the national level," says Sugerman, TNT’s chair.

At press time, TNT and its partners were waiting for word about whether they would be one of 10 grantees under 1992’s Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO) Act (PL 102-530). The grant would fund TNT’s services to assist employers and unions on recruitment and retention of women in the trades.

"The climate is changing," says Colleen Muldoon, education programs coordinator for the International Masonry Institute, a Fort Ritchie, Md.-based arm of International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, Washington, D.C. "I think we’re at the cusp of something good," says Muldoon, a bricklayer inactive for eight years.

Sugerman is especially happy with the bricklayers’ union, which five years ago took the "men" out of its name.

Other unions, faced with labor shortages, are beginning at least to talk the talk, if not walk it. The AFL-CIO’s Building & Construction Trades Dept. (BCTD) says it is, for the first time, looking at trying to establish how many women in trades groups there are in the U.S. It then intends to establish a national strategy to allow groups to meet with the national building trades to discuss issues and remove barriers.

"Outreach to women has to occur locally, where people are hiring. "

On the open shop side, The Associated Builders and Contractors is starting to take notice of women craftworkers. Last year, ABC’s Craft Professional of the Year award was given to Mary Hodge, a welder with BE&K, Birmingham, Ala. But ABC has no formal women’s initiative. "ABC national can take more of a bully pulpit role, but it has to occur in the chapters and at the company level where the people are hiring," says Carole L. Bionda, vice president and general counsel, Nova Group Inc., a Napa, Calif. heavy contractor and ABC’s chair-elect.

Empowering tradeswomen takes money, and there’s a lack of funds. Sugerman, like her counterparts across the U.S., has to "beg, borrow and scream" for the $1 million she needs each year to keep her Chicago programs running. "We see interest and demand but don’t have the capacity," says Sugerman. Federal assistance is likely to go from pathetic to worse. Like scavengers competing for crumbs, the WANTO grant applicants are vying for $993,500. Next year, they may not award any grants because the Bush administration chose not to renew WANTO funding.

In a June letter to appropriations subcommittee members in Congress, a Washington, D.C.-based group named Wider Opportunities for Women calls for not only the restoration of WANTO funds, but an increase to $5 million annually. The letter was signed by 66 women’s groups and other concerned organizations. Lawmakers have yet to decide whether WANTO funds will be restored, let alone expanded.

Women in the professions may have an easier ride, but they still have their own barriers to knock down. Market penetration has never reached 24%—the number that disqualifies an occupation as a nontraditional one. But at 23.4%, nearly double the percentage 20 years ago, women architects are approaching.

"The glass ceiling is still there, it’s just more porous. "

Still, Mary-Jean Eastman, a director of Perkins Eastman Architects, New York City, maintains that the glass ceiling for women architects is still there; it is just more porous than it was 20 years ago. Eastman, whose name has been on the door since 1986, says the firm tries to promote women, and she adds that decisions are based on performance alone.

Cynthia Kracauer, managing principal of the New York City office of Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, says women are as well-respected in her office as men. In New York, SHC has 58 men and 55 women. "There’s been a tremendous transformation in the course of a generation," she says.

American Institute of Architects statistics indicate that in 2002, women accounted for almost 21% of principals and partners at firms, up from 11% in 1999. The figures for registered women architects are just as strong: 20% in 2002, up from under 14% in 1999. To better document the rise, the American Institute of Architects has formed a coalition of design groups to develop a standard way to collect data on demographics on women and minorities in architecture.

Occupation 2001 1983
Professional specialty occupations 53.7 48.1
  Engineers,architects, surveyors 11.6 6.1
    Architects 23.4 12.6
    Engineers 10.4 5.8
       Civil engineers 10.1 3.8
       Electrical, electronic engineeers 10.0 6.2
       Mechanical engineers 6.3 2.7
Construction trades 2.4 1.8
  Construction supervisors 2.5 1.4
  Construction trades, except supervisors 2.4 1.9
     Brickmasons, stonemasons 1.3 0
     Carpet installers 1.6 2.3
     Carpenters 1.7 1.4
     Drywall installers 2.6 1.1
     Electricians 1.8 1.5
     Electrical power installers, repairers 3.6 0.0
     Painters, construction, maintenance 5.8 4.9
     Plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters 1.9 1.1
     Insulation workers 6.7 5.4
     Roofers 1.9 0.0
     Structural metalworkers 1.3 1.6
Source: U.S. Dept of Labor  

Women engineers, however, are another story. They account for only 10% of all engineers, double that of 20 years ago. According to the 2000 U.S. census, only 9.5% of civil engineers, 7.1% of mechanical engineers and 10.1% of electrical engineers are women. And women-owned construction firms account for 3% of all women-owned firms in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"The perception remains that if a woman is in construction, there must be a man behind her."

According to the National Science Foundation, women account for just 19.7% of enrollment in undergraduate engineering programs nationwide, versus 40% for architecture programs. By contrast, tradeswomen have historically been kept not only out of the jobs but also out of the pipeline to the jobs—the job training and vocational educational system," says Sugerman.

There are various groups trying to change that, including New York Women in Science, Math, Engineering, Technology & Trades. The group will be holding its first conference for girls on nontraditional careers on March 27 at Cooper Union College.

Compared with women in the trades, women construction professionals are flat-out buoyant about their prospects for advancement once in the door. "In general, today, women don’t see barricades to any profession," says structural engineer Suzanne Nakaki, co-principal of the five-person Nakaki Bashaw Group, Irvine, Calif. Like many professionals, Nakaki had a strong role model—her father.

Beyond her capabilities, engineer Jones credits a supportive spouse and the Port of L.A.’s policies with her rise. (Photo courtesy of Port of Los Angeles)

Despite progress, women engineers say conditions haven’t changed enough. "We need to do a better job of outreach to high schools through organizations," says Stacey Jones, director of engineering development for the Port of Los Angeles, San Pedro, Calif. She thinks the American Society of Civil Engineers could do "a lot more."

Like many married women construction professionals, Jones, a mother of five, credits some of her success to a supportive spouse. But not all women near or at the top had that luxury. Structural engineer Shelley R. Clark, a single mother, made history by becoming the first woman principal shareholder of the 80-year-old Seattle firm Skilling Ward Magnusson Barkshire, now Magnusson Klemencic Associates.

"I found a company that wasn’t afraid of women."

In 1987, Nancy Hamilton became the 13th U.S. employee of the 7,000-person multidisciplinary engineer ARUP. Hamilton was made a principal this year and relocated from New York City to start the firm’s Chicago office singlehandedly. After years of trying, "I found a company that wasn’t afraid of women."

This year alone, six engineering societies and at least three major construction organizations are led by women. In November, the 151-year-old American Society of Civil Engineers will install its first female national president (see p. 30). By contrast, there are not any women at the helm of equivalent organizations representing construction trades.

Women professionals also have more than fledgling advocacy groups. The Society of Women Engineers is 53 years old. Construction Women’s Owners and Executives is 20 years old and the National Association of Women in Construction is 48 years old.

"We’re trying to figure out how we can target [tradeswomen]."

Of NAWIC’s 5,800 members, only 5% are tradeswomen. "We’re trying to figure out how we can target this particular group," says Luci Roberts, NAWIC’s 2003-04 national president and executive secretary of White Construction Co., Austin. So far, NAWIC is not even talking to TNT, however.

Among the states, Maine, Washington, Oregon, New York and California stand out as progressive among tradeswomen. Maine’s highway and bridge construction work force is 11% women, a figure that is up from 2% in 1991. The goal is 15%—likely to be reached in two years.

Many women, like civil engineer Judith Nitsch (left), have chosen to own their firms. (Photo courtesy of Judith Nitsch Engneering Inc.)

The open-shop Cianbro Corp., Pittsfield, Maine, also is considered progressive. Of its 1,475 craftsworkers, 65, or 4.4%, are women. The goal is 15%. Of 16 apprentices in an electrician’s training program, three are women.

All in all, women in construction rightly feel they have a long road ahead of them to reach parity with men. "It’s not nearly the kind of closed club it was in the late 70s," says author Susan Eisenberg, "but it is still very much a male environment."

Women Take Leadership Positions

Galloway is first female top leader of civil engineers. (Photo courtesy of American Society of Civil Engineers)

Engineer Patricia Galloway believes that serving as the first woman president of the 151-year-old American Society of Civil Engineers–a historically male bastion if there ever was one–makes her a role model to women in the industry.

The message that Galloway, who takes the reins Nov. 15, is broadcasting is that women can make it in a male-dominated society. After all, even before winning the ASCE presidency, she already was CEO and president of management firm Nielsen-Wurster Group Inc., Princeton, N.J. Galloway plans to target women and young girls, and has started a 2004 task committee on K-12 outreach.

She believes that as a woman, she’ll get more attention than male ASCE presidents. She plans to use that to the society’s advantage, pushing women’s issues and others. Already, the Society of Women Engineers has announced Galloway is receiving its Upward Mobility Award.

It’s high times for women leading construction-related engineering groups, with three others currently in high office. The same goes for construction organizations. Nova Group’s Carole L. Bionda is chair-elect of Associated Builders and Contractors. Anne Bigane Wilson, owner of Bigane Paving Co., Chicago, just served as the fourth women president of the American Subcontractors Association. "ASA recognized leadership qualities in women earlier than some other organizations," she says.

Bigane, like many subcontractors, thinks the situation for women is changing but there are still barriers. "The perception remains that if a women is in construction, there must be a man behind her," she says, because women are not always considered equal partners.

Christine Keville, president and CEO of Keville Enterprises Inc., Boston, also is making history as the first female national president of the Construction Managers Association of America. One of her goals as CMAA president is to increase the number of small, minority- and women-owned firms.

Keville has seen women advance to higher levels of project management within established firms but says there needs to be more progress. "I welcome the day at a senior-level industry event when I have to wait in line to use the ladies’ room," she says.

Bumps, Bruises Mark Executives’ Journey
By Debra K. Rubin

That female construction executives have faced the same career highs and lows as men over the past two decades may be the best indication that women are making it in the business.

1986-era women execs still face bumps.

Sticking with an industry career has brought women execs first profiled in a 1986 ENR cover story financial reward and high profile (ENR 10/16/86 p. 28). But success hasn’t come without corporate setbacks, unplanned career shifts and impacts on family life.

Fanny T. Gong (second from left in photo) was restless enough as a rising young architect to gain an MBA degree and join the client side of the business, first for a New York City developer and then as head of project management and design for giant Citigroup Corp. in 1992. "They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse," she says. Gong relished the chance to manage work on its global real estate projects, but lamented the impact on two school-age children. "I traveled a lot of red eyes to get home quicker," she says.

Like others caught in changing corporate priorities, Gong was "downsized" by Citigroup in the late 1990s. She is now a partner in New York City architect-engineer HLW. "In the last few years, I’ve really learned how to network," she says.

Perhaps no member of the 1986 group had a more meteoric rise, and departure, than Diane C. Creel (not pictured). Then a marketing vice president at Long Beach, Calif., engineer Earth Tech, she went on to be chairwoman, growing the $16-million firm into a $1.5-billion giant, taking it public and selling it to conglomerate Tyco Corp. in 1996.

But Creel also experienced the lows of high-profile corporate life as she and Earth Tech endured the tax evasion scandals of Tyco’s one-time CEO Dennis Kozlowski and other executives. Creel left Earth Tech this year to take over at AnAerobics, a startup technology firm in Rochester, N.Y. "Everywhere I’ve been, things have to change," she says. "I’m not a status quo person."

Katherine G. Farley (third from left) has stayed at Manhattan developer Tishman-Speyer Properties, where she is now senior managing di-rector for Latin America with additional responsibility for global marketing. At one time, she was the only female partner. Today, 11% of company senior directors and above are women. "You don’t feel so much a lone wolf in a sea of men," says Farley. "There is a meaningful proportion of women...."

Joan B. Calambokidis, then communications director at the bricklayers’ union, eventually left to take high-ranking political jobs in Washington, D.C., including political advisor to ex-President Bill Clinton.

But she returned to construction in 1995 as president of the International Masonry Institute, the bricklayers’ labor-management cooperative. Calambokidis (not pictured) has tripled IMI’s $8 million in annual revenue, to $27 million in 2002. But she says that at receptions, "people still think my husband is in the industry, not me."