There’s an old adage that says, “women can do anything men can do,” and for the 1.2 million U.S. women currently employed in the male-dominated world of construction, that statement couldn’t be any more true. And why wouldn’t women want to work in construction—a career that offers competitive salaries and benefits, opportunities to advance, and a wide range of roles and responsibilities.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2012 the number of women employed in construction has increased 54.7% from 802,000 to 1.2 million in 2021, with the majority of women holding sales and office positions. Although there are still challenges for women to overcome, the number of women pursuing careers in construction is increasing at a steady pace.
During Women in Construction Week (March 6-12), St. Louis-based general contractor KAI Build asked several of its women employees to share their stories and opinions on the future of women in construction. KAI Enterprises, one of the largest minority-owned design/build firms in the country, proactively supports women in construction through its recruitment, training programs and outreach to women-owned businesses for project collaborations. As an ambassador of diversity, KAI Build’s workforce includes 20 percent women, with 25 percent of women holding leadership roles.
KAI Build Senior Project Engineer Jasminn Jones, LEED AP BD+C, said times are changing for women in construction because of more available opportunities, education and knowledge about careers in the industry.
“Today, women have more opportunities in multiple avenues that we once didn’t have,” said Jones. “Given the opportunity to venture into construction can influence other women to pursue a career in construction, just by representation or word of mouth. With this exposure, women are more educated and knowledgeable about construction, and they’re pursuing more careers in the industry, instead of assuming what it’s about.”
Jones, who has worked in the industry since 2011 and at KAI since September, said growing up she had not considered using her math skills for a career in construction.
“In high school, a mentor of mine suggested engineering because of my love for math, and ultimately I chose civil engineering as it incorporated design, structures and buildings. I initially wanted to design, but after an internship in college with a construction management company, that quickly changed,” she added. “I loved going on site and seeing the project progress. I became curious about the process and coordination it takes to implement a project. I wanted to learn how to manage a project and how to build.”
Jones said people are either shocked or impressed when she tells them about her career choice.
“There aren’t many black women in construction management, and there is a stereotype that we aren’t interested or knowledgeable about it,” she said. “At the same time, others find it impressive that I am in the industry and managing projects as a black woman, as it is rare.”
For Lynnette Bryant, a Superintendent at KAI Build, a career in construction where she can work with her hands and be outside was the perfect fit for her. She landed her first job as a carpenter 24 years ago after attending a job fair with a friend.
“A lot of people can’t believe I work in construction because of my size, until I show them pictures of me working on a jobsite,” she said. “The aspect of the job that I enjoy most is starting and completing a project and being able to look back or drive by a project that I was a part of. The experience is amazing.”
Bryant believes more and more women are now entering the industry because the opportunity it provides.
“I think more women are pursuing construction because of all the different avenues you can pursue,” she said. “It’s not just physical labor on a jobsite, there are a lot of important behind-the-scenes positions needed to complete a project as well.”
Marisol Ramos, Project Engineer at KAI Build, said she never imagined a career in construction, but she just kind of fell into it six years ago, with no regrets.
“I got an internship for a demolition company, and I fell in love with all the moving parts of the industry,” she said. “I thought it was super exciting, and I knew from that moment that I wanted to stay and grow my career within the construction world.”
Ramos said she enjoys the project management aspects of her career, learning the project scope, planning, scheduling, reviewing the plans and watching something come together from start to finish.
“I like having a team that allows collaboration and making decisions together. Building relationships and networking is one of my favorite aspects of the job. I like projects that can change peoples’ lives, even if they don’t know it,” added Ramos.
KAI Build Controller Kimberly Horskins said she initially pursued a career in architectural drafting before shifting to the financial side of the business. Her first job was bookkeeper for a sheet metal/heating and cooling company, then for an asbestos abatement company and other women-owned construction and demolition companies.
“To advance my career, I went back to school, worked full-time and transitioned to a larger construction company. As an Accounting Manager and now Controller, I have supported engineering and construction staff in the design, build and rehab phase of many projects,” she added. “As a Controller, my job gives me a different view of the field. I support a project from a financial standpoint and ensure that the job cost and financial integrity of the projects are on track and stay aligned.”
Now with 18 years under her belt working in the construction industry, Horskins understands the importance of supporting other women who want to enter the field.
“I am a strong advocate and supporter of women in the construction industry,” she said. “I have spent my career encouraging and supporting women as they grow their companies and careers. That has meant offering guidance and counsel on the upkeep and management of project controls and financial matters to sustain both projects and companies.”
KAI continues to make hiring women a priority. In recognition of its efforts, KAI was named the 2021 Breaking Barriers Contractor of the Year by the Missouri Women in Trades (MOWIT) organization. The award is given to the nominee who can demonstrate programs, initiatives and efforts that have supported women entering and succeeding in these programs. KAI reported a 20 percent increase in its female workforce participation in 2019.