BOSTON–The focus of Women in Construction (WIC) Week, which began March 1, is to highlight the hardworking women of the construction industry – a typically male-dominated field.
WIC Week also provides an occasion to raise awareness of the opportunities available for women in the construction industry and to emphasize the growing role of women in the industry.
On this occasion, two women executives from the Boston office of Skanska, a leading commercial development and construction firm, talk about what it means to be a female in the construction industry.
Kylie Williams and Brigitte Perera are both assistant superintendents at Skanska, and are currently working on the company’s Brookline High School project site in Brokkline, MA.
Q: What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
- Kylie: In the workplace, to me the achievement of diversity and inclusion means communicating and working productively with people based on their integrity and skillset regardless of their gender, skin color, physical ability, etc. and at the same time recognizing that people of differing backgrounds might be able to offer new or alternate insights – and harkening those insights because of the recognized differences they stem from.
- Brigitte: For me diversity and inclusion means ensuring that everybody’s perspectives are valued and encouraged on a team.
- How do diverse teams improve how you work?
- Kylie: By nature of the differences among us, our thought processes are shaped by our views of the world around us and the world’s views toward us. It’s sort of inversely proportional – when diversity and inclusion is lacking, there tends to be a lack of understanding of differing views. This leads to counter-production on a number of levels. When diversity and inclusion is rich among us, then there tends to be a transition from a lack of understanding to a broader and deeper understanding. The positive benefit of this in the workplace is a more complete and thorough understanding of client needs, more creative and well-rounded project pursuits, and project execution by diverse crews.
- Brigitte: Working with people from a variety of backgrounds brings new perspectives in collaboration. If all team members feel their opinions and variety of experiences are valuable, they will speak up and contribute, which encourages healthy discussion and effective problem solving.
- What advice would you give a young woman interested in joining the construction industry?
- Kylie: Be yourself, understand your limits and your strengths, and use all the tools you’ve amassed throughout your life to be successful. By nature of being a woman, we have to sometimes implement different kinds of tools than a man in this industry, and that’s ok. I was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years to 3 kids. The skillset I gained from that experience has helped me in immeasurable ways in my role as an Assistant Superintendent. Women have some strengths that men don’t have, and men have some strengths that women don’t have. All ok. The key is to learn how to implement those strengths to be successful.
- Brigitte: Work hard, be curious, and spend time in the field.
- What advice would you give a woman in the industry who is looking to advance in her position/take on more responsibility?
- Kylie: Always be yourself, and don’t be afraid to show and exercise confidence, to make decisions, and to speak up; and know what you don’t know. This can be intimidating if a woman is the only one among a group of men on a job site. Overall it’s about being confident enough to use your skillsets and knowledge to make the right decisions and listen to others’ thoughts and ideas, giving and receiving respect. Once you are able to do this on a job site, then you earn respect as a professional regardless of your gender.
- Brigitte: Learn beyond your role. Get your day-to-day tasks done then help peers out with their tasks to broaden your knowledge on other areas within the industry. Get involved in professional organizations that interest you and always make sure to network!
- What is a common misconception about females who work in the construction industry?
- Kylie: I think it would have to be that women just don’t know as much as men about the business, and that they can’t physically get it done like the guys can. This is a very ‘old school’ business with a lot of traditional ideas about the roles of women and men, but I think that is rapidly changing as more and more women enter the business and break down those misconceptions. The ultimate goal would be for Women in Construction week to become a thing of the past, when it’s no longer a relevant and needed tool for advancing women in traditionally male jobs. The construction industry will hopefully, one day, be an industry where having a lack of diversity and inclusion is the exception and not the rule.
- Brigitte:I think a misconception out there is that it’s tough to be a woman in the field. Being a young female in a field supervisory role typically throws people off when I first meet them. I’m often mistaken for a field administrator or project manager. I find that I have to prove my knowledge of the project and scope of work before being taken seriously in comparison to my male peers. The role itself isn’t about being a man or a woman being tough, it’s about your personality, grit, and perseverance.