Women now make up approximately 47 percent of the workforce, but only 14% are involved in the construction industry overall. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in the construction industry are still severely under-represented. Many of the women in this feature represent different roles in the industry.
W&C interviewed several women in our industry on their personal experiences and impressions on their respective positions. Women in the construction industry experience a higher earning capacity than their sisterhood in other industries, coming in at 94.3 percent of a man’s earnings, compared to 81.5 percent elsewhere. Here are their insights:
Product Manager of Insulation and Wall Systems
Holcim Building Envelope
Rachel recently joined the Holcim Building Envelope team in 2023, which was her first foray into the world of construction and, specifically, building envelope materials. She says her previous work paved a smooth transition to her role with Holcim, with experience in industries including oil and gas, infrastructure, plants and facilities, and rail.
Holcim Building Envelope delivers high-performance solutions that make the entire building envelope more sustainable for customers around the world. The company is committed to raising the standards of building solutions by delivering quality and innovation while addressing industry needs. Its offerings cover a range of residential and commercial roofing, wall and lining systems, insulation and waterproofing solutions for a variety of industries, from construction to marine and aerospace.
“While workforce diversity—particularly our predominantly female leadership—is something we take pride in, it’s important to foster the growth of all valued teammates, regardless of identity,” DeMeio says. “For women specifically, we can encourage participation in women-centric groups and organizations so we can not only recruit skilled workers to Holcim Building Envelope but also highlight other careers that are available in the construction industry.”
According to DeMeio, the major challenges companies face are no different from those one might see across the industry: optimizing supply chain logistics, decarbonizing operations and attracting workers. However, she says the company views all of these challenges as avenues to build a more sustainable, efficient and diverse industry.
“We are working hard to make our products eco-friendlier and drive the use of lower-impact solutions in construction,” DeMeio says. “We also draw our strength from hiring teammates from various backgrounds and experiences and strive to be the model that shows there are opportunities for all individuals in construction and manufacturing.”
Is DeMeio a part of any women-centric groups as it relates to business or construction? “No—but I am certainly interested,” she says. “It is important for me to encourage and support women across construction disciplines—which I informally do frequently. In my brief experience as a woman in construction, I’ve heard great things about the work of Professional Women in Construction and the National Association of Women in Construction. Previously, I worked closely with local colleges to help students learn about the career paths and opportunities available to them. It is critical that people entering the workforce have practical insight so that they can truly understand how careers can advance in both traditional and non-traditional ways.”
In DeMeio’s view, the scarcity of women in construction fields stems from longstanding stigmas that take several forms. Many perceive construction as a male-dominated industry, which is discouraging because a) construction jobs scope much wider than manual labor, and b) women are perfectly capable of manual labor roles. Recent advancements in machinery, particularly automated equipment, have also made manual labor much more inclusive and safer for all.
“To attract more women, we increase education on the wide-ranging opportunities in construction, highlighting career paths rather than just jobs,” DeMeio says. “Communications personnel play a critical role in spreading awareness of the successes of women within their organizations, which can inspire other women and showcase construction as a viable career choice. And, for human resources teams, highlighting the array of roles beyond fieldwork, such as management, technical support and safety, can reshape perceptions.
“The industry is open to everyone, regardless of identity, and offers a large array of career opportunities,” she adds. “However, we need more ways to share this with women and the younger generations. There is a common preconception that construction and manufacturing are just for men, but anyone has the capability to achieve success and make a difference in this industry. There needs to be more visibility into these opportunities and the fulfillment these jobs can bring. In terms of retention practices, companies should be transparent and supportive of growth opportunities and always acknowledge the hard work and effort that valued team members put into driving their organizations forward. This should apply to everyone, regardless of sex, ethnicity, background, etc.”
CEO and Co-founder
Mountain View, Calif.
Lau got into construction because she was looking to start another robotics company. She witnessed the inefficiency and dependency on skilled manual labor endemic to the construction industry. She knew there would be opportunities to introduce robotic automation to improve the industry.
“I am drawn to fields where my work can have an impact,” Lau says. “I love problem-solving. It’s why I studied computer science originally. I got into robotics when I realized that computer software is limited to displaying bits on a screen, whereas robots can move atoms around in the world.
“When I got into construction five years ago, it was for the same reasons,” she adds. “Construction is the largest industry on the planet. Every single day, people touch and use products of the construction industry. The roof over your head, the hospital that cares for you and your loved ones, the data-center that sends that TikTok video to your phone—those are all products of the construction industry. I love the opportunity to help build the robots that build the world.”
Dusty Robotics is on a mission to improve the construction industry’s efficiency by developing innovative products that challenge the status quo. One area of the status quo is layout—where the digital model is transferred out to the field so that builders know what to build where. Lau saw an opportunity to increase the efficiency and accuracy of the layout process significantly, which results in less risk for builders and faster project completion.
The construction industry is still filled with inefficient tasks that are done by a limited number of skilled workers, Lau says. She says that when she sets foot on a construction site, she sees a different workflow that would be improved by robotic automation. Robot-powered tools will enable the modern construction workforce to do their jobs more efficiently, with higher accuracy and more safety.
“I belong to a group of female construction tech CEOs who meet regularly for dinner to share stories and advice with each other,” Lau says. “I am beyond grateful that even in a male-dominated field, there are several women who are killing it in this industry and that I can count them as my friends.”
So why aren’t there more women in the construction field? Lau says she hasn’t gotten any pushback from the industry despite being a female of Asian descent making inroads. One of the things she loves about construction is that it’s full of very pragmatic people. If the product works, they don’t care how you look or where you come from, she says. The construction industry is all about solving problems and getting things done. The construction field is open for business, and it’s open for women who are interested in solving complex problems.
“I love features like this one that celebrate successful women in construction because having more role models will pave the way for more women to enter the industry,” Lau says. “One of the reasons I love robotics is because it evens the playing field. When you’re operating a robot on a construction site, it no longer matters if you’re the strongest or the most dexterous or the tallest person on the site. Robotic tools give everyone an equal chance at completing the same job. I see automation as eventually creating as many opportunities for women in construction as men have today because women can operate robots just as well as men can.”
Lau says the adoption of robotics is changing how work is done on a job site. With robots doing the manual labor, the responsibility of construction workers becomes more about directing the robots to do the right jobs at the right time while collaborating with each other to solve problems. That shift will naturally attract more women to the industry because they will see it as more of an equal playing field for their talents, versus a place where they just need to be stronger and louder to be successful.
“One of the best pieces of advice I heard in grad school was to follow your passion,” Lau says. “My passion led me to software automation, robotics, construction and now growing and leading a company. If you default to doing what you find interesting and are passionate about, you will build a career you inherently love. Right now, I have the best job in the world, doing everything I love. I could do that because I followed my passion and it brought me here.”
Director of Sales Operations
Nichiha USA Inc.
Johns Creeks, Ga.
Diaz’s career in building supply began in customer service and after-the-sale warranty support at a wholesale distributor for high-end kitchen appliances. During her time there, she grew into inside sales and corporate communications, interacting with builders, interior designers, kitchen specialists and custom woodworkers.
Currently, she heads up the sales operations teams at Nichiha and enjoys working with the construction community on diverse projects that have contributed to the growth and development of communities. Throughout her career, she has been committed to delivering high-quality projects and fostering collaborative relationships with colleagues and stakeholders.
“On the business side, Nichiha USA manufactures architectural wall panels that are specifically suited for commercial construction, custom-built homes and multi-family developments,” Diaz says. “We believe the product offers an immense value proposition to construction stakeholders of all kinds — builders, developers, architects, installers and owners. Made of fiber cement, our AWP solution can very closely reproduce the look of traditional building materials for exterior cladding, but because they are not comprised of wood or concrete, AWP circumvents the typical pitfalls that come with their natural-made counterparts. The panels are also very easy to install and provide a rainscreen solution for everything from restaurants and retail locations to single-family homes.”
Similar to other companies in the construction industry, Nichiha faces challenges that include a skilled labor shortage, evolving market demands and continuously adapting to changing regulations. Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative approach and ongoing investment in workforce development.
Diaz is involved in professional affiliations that include:
- Previously serving as a member of the Atlanta Chapter of Professional Women in Building.
- Previously serving as a member of the AIA Atlanta Chapter.
- Serving as a member of the National Association of Home Builders Leading Suppliers Council for about nine years.
In addition, she has recently been a speaker for an International Women in Leadership forum in Atlanta, hosted by several international chambers of commerce.
“In my observation, the construction industry has traditionally been male-dominated, which may have contributed to fewer women entering the field,” Diaz says. “However, I think that by actively promoting diversity and providing support and mentorship to aspiring female professionals, we can attract more women to join the industry.
“I have been in this industry since 2004, and I have seen it change to become more inviting to women in the past eight years or so,” she adds. “This is due to some tremendous outreach efforts I have seen from other women in the construction field that make this industry more appealing. This involves everything from starting local Professional Women in Building chapters, to being part of organizations like the National Association of Women in Construction, to writing children’s books and introducing the many job opportunities of our industry to girls at all ages, from elementary kids to college students. When girls or women see other females in this field, it becomes more accessible.”
To attract more women to the construction field, she believes in actively engaging with educational institutions to promote career opportunities in construction. Additionally, offering mentorship programs, professional development initiatives and flexible work arrangements can create an environment that appeals to a diverse talent pool.
Principal/Strategic Marketing Consultant
Long Beach, Calif.
Fornaro is the founder and principal of JMF Communications and, at this time, primarily markets herself as an independent consultant providing brand strategy, PR, marketing communications, social media and crisis communications counsel and services. She works with a number of companies that finance, invest in, develop, build or provide materials for any number of real estate projects across all residential and commercial real estate asset types.
There are countless opportunities for her within this industry as well as outside of it. One of the reasons she chose marketing as her profession is because it allows her to work in a number of industries. Even within real estate and construction, it has allowed her to cross numerous sub-sectors.
“Believe it or not, crisis communications is a growing area for me,” Fornaro says. “Unfortunately, all companies at some point will face a crisis event. For organizations in this industry, those might include the injury or death of a worker on a construction site, environmental issues, security breaches, community protests, animal activists, investor activists, labor disputes, fires or explosions, violence in the workplace, corporate restructuring and even online trolls.
“I’ve helped the leadership of many businesses navigate all of these and more,” she adds. “And I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a crisis communications plan in place before something unfortunate occurs so that, in the moment when things are incredibly stressful, it is easier to follow an established path to help reduce the potential impacts of negative press and social media commentary on the company’s long-term reputation, investor prospects and bottom line.”
The intersection of rapidly evolving technology and the decline of traditional journalism over the same period of time that social media moved from its infancy to being used prolifically by consumers and businesses alike, has led to the conclusion that the traditional model of journalism has been dying. Self-published content, via numerous mechanisms, has mushroomed. For professionals in Fornaro’s field, this means the onus has fallen to them to create insane volumes of content for the companies they represent. Keeping up with it all is a challenge.
She says AI is an important issue about which people need to chat. Everyone is talking about it, and it remains to be seen how AI will actually change the landscape. There is a fear it could make some jobs obsolete, but what she’s wondering is, “If its use becomes more and more commonplace, will it devalue content at large?”
In Fornaro’s mind, why aren’t there more women in the construction field?
“There are probably many answers to this question, but I am assuming an obvious one is that opportunities within the industry have not been marketed well to young women over the past several decades,” Fornaro says. “I’ve seen the ratios improve quite a bit over the past 15 or so years, but a lot of work still needs to be done to recruit women into the business.”
Fornaro has some ideas about how more women can be attracted to the industry. “Even though I entered the marketing profession before I entered the construction industry, what really helped direct me to my field was speaking with people in it when I was in high school and college, as well as having the opportunity to participate in my field before I graduated,” she says. “Thus, I feel like any programs that the industry can bring to the youth to get them involved and interested at a young age are key.”
One example that she cites is the Warrior Village Project (warriorvillageproject.com) in Southern California. The project is a collaboration between building industry associations, nonprofits serving veterans, high schools, colleges, businesses, private donors and community volunteers. The program has been working to build affordable housing for veterans while giving high school and college students a glimpse into the construction trades to see how rewarding they can be. Many students have actually pursued construction industry jobs following being involved in the program.
“I’ve touched on ideas for attracting women into the field,” Fornaro says. “In terms of retaining them, I think it’s really important that the companies within the industry provide growth opportunities for women. We are well beyond the time when women should have equal opportunities, equal pay and equal paths toward advancement.
“If you want to look at this from a different viewpoint, our industry is quite literally building the homes and structures that serve our entire population,” she adds. “If females are half of said population, why shouldn’t they have a seat at the table to help direct the design, development and construction of those homes and structures?”
Kruger started her career in public accounting as a CPA providing assurance, tax and consulting services to small to medium-sized businesses in the Des Moines, Iowa metro area. Many of them were general contractors or subcontractors in the construction industry. Serving as the CFO of Kinzler Corporation for the past four years, she has the privilege of leading the company through implementation of a new ERP business management software (automating capture of many operations processes and accounting functions), implementation of a customer invoicing and payment portal, and successful integration of four acquisitions, doubling the company’s size.
Kinzler is an employee-owned family of companies installing building products, distributing building materials, and servicing and installing garage doors. The companies, which include Kinzler Construction Services, Kinzler Materials and WD Door, provide industry-leading customer service in the construction of residential, commercial and agricultural projects.
“We are building on four decades of experience, founded by Kevin and Yvonne Kinzler as a small, garage-based, family-owned business,” Kruger says. “Today, Kinzler Corporation is led by their son, Tanner Kinzler, with locations that span across Iowa, Texas and Colorado.
“Our biggest opportunities I see are: 1) Leveraging our custom-built ERP to continue to acquire subcontractors who share our employee and family-owned company values, who are looking for succession planning and want to continue the legacy they built with their own company for their employees; 2) Investing in education and training of our employee-owners to create internal succession for our various department, branch, division and senior leaders while creating internal opportunities for growth for our team; 3) Continuing to diversify product scope as a subcontractor within the construction industry,” Kruger says.
Kruger says the company’s biggest challenges faced are historically low levels of unemployment, with new high school graduates less interested in construction trades and working outside an office; rising inflation, input material and labor costs accompanied by rising interest rates, putting pressure on the market to lower build prices and resulting in high pressure to reduce margins; and additional pricing pressure from smaller competitors who are not subject to employment, OSHA, insurance and other safety requirements that apply to Kinzler—requirements designed to protect employees and other contractors on job sites that add complexity and time to the installation process.
Kruger has participated in the Des Moines Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance. However, since her role with Kinzler shifted to a more strategic leadership position, she has refocused her professional time outside of work. She now participates in professional and leadership development with a group of Greater Des Moines CFOs, comprised of both men and women. It would be great if there was an opportunity to learn and network in a women-centric CFO group locally, but female CFOs in the construction industry in the Des Moines area seem to be less common, which she is hoping will change in time.
“The construction industry historically has been a male-dominated industry,” Kruger says. “There is a perception that construction requires physical strength, mental toughness, high production and possibly extended time away from home and family for completion of projects that require travel. I believe the industry became male-dominated due to the physical differences between women and men—and the fact that for decades, many women stayed home with young children in a one-working-parent home. However, as society changes, that has changed as well.”
“We’ve promoted women in operations and the support office and used compensation benchmarking to ensure that women are provided the same incentive and compensation opportunities as their male peers,” she adds. “Women leaders in operations and our support staff have a seat at their division or department leader meetings where their voice is heard. We offer our female operations leaders opportunities to participate in training others within the company. I feel these examples have invited others aspiring to similar positions to believe that achievement of such within our company—or the construction industry in general—is possible.”
What does Kruger think needs to happen to encourage and attract (and retain) more women to the industry?
“Highlighting and celebrating women who have had success in the construction industry is a great way to encourage other women, letting them know that a successful career in construction is possible,” Kruger says. “I’m thankful to work for a company like Kinzler Corporation that appreciates the women on our team every day and celebrates by recognizing them internally and externally during Women in Construction Week every year.”
Foster Insulation & Products LLC
Angela Luck’s history in the trades began when she helped her husband Chad Luck start Luck Insulation in 2019. In 2021, she went to help out at Foster Insulation on a part-time basis. Last year, she took over as office manager, handling all of the company’s scheduling, customer interaction, accounts payables, payroll, human resources, insurance and anything else that needed handling.
Foster Insulation & Products was founded by Lee Foster in 2006. Luck’s husband Chad became business partners with Lee in 2013. Chad, honoring a non-compete, opened a shop in Chattanooga in 2013. Foster Insulation installs insulation, online catering its services to new construction, residential, multi-family and commercial contractors. “The company is built on a simple philosophy of doing one thing great and doing what we say we are going to do” says Luck.
In regard to new areas of growth, Luck says “homeowner direct is a big area we can grow and big commercial is another field we would like to grow.” She says labor constraints, rising insurance costs and computer security are among the biggest challenges Foster faces.
Luck is a member of the Women in Insulation group, sponsored by Owens Corning, as well as Women in Leadership sponsored by Cobb County Chamber of Commerce.
“I believe that women are intimidated by the construction field because they view it as a man’s world,” Luck says. “During the hiring process, give women a chance to succeed. Train them properly, encourage them and give them the tools to succeed.”
Exterior Inspections Inc.
Rhondalyn Riley’s parents owned and operated a general contracting business and an air conditioning company. She was raised in the construction industry, and after a brief hiatus from work in construction, she returned to her roots. Her introduction to the plastering industry came about when she started working for a plastering materials supplier.
“My reason for starting Exterior Inspections Inc. was to assist contractors, advocate for the plastering industry, and promote quality work in construction by providing inspection and consulting services,” says Riley. “Today, we still conduct 3rd party inspections in all phases of construction, including forensic investigation on completed structures experiencing exterior cladding failure or leaks. Our customers are plastering contractors, general contractors, homebuilders, building owners, insurance companies, and/or other interested parties. We really like to be involved in the construction so that we can troubleshoot and identify issues before they become problematic.”
Riley sees some possible opportunities for the company, such as geographic expansions, education and training, and expanding their building science services.
“It is a common sentiment that inspectors are ‘here’ to police rather than educate and assist in building better products,” she says, adding that her biggest challenges are finding and hiring great people to inspect and educate.
Recently, Riley joined a Professional Women in Construction group within the Houston chapter of the National Association of Homes Builders.
“I have seen the number of women in the construction field grow since I started Exterior Inspections Inc. in 1997,” Riley says. “I think there is still a mindset that construction work is a manual labor job more suited to men. Schools do not have trade training like they used to. No one is steering women to the trades as a viable career. It takes an open mind from educators to steer kids toward skilled trades.
“I think that trade schools and contractors should actively recruit and market opportunities in the construction industry to women,” she says.