Build Better Podcast

Women in Construction

March 07, 2019 Season 1 Episode 6
Build Better Podcast
Women in Construction
Chapters
Build Better Podcast
Women in Construction
Mar 07, 2019 Season 1 Episode 6
DIRTT
Why aren't women applying to fill the many high-paid jobs available in construction?
Show Notes Transcript

In spite of the desperate need for more skilled tradespeople in construction, where wages are higher than many other industries, women are not applying. The reasons range from safety concerns to blatant sexism to just simply not thinking they even can apply. 
Shannon Boe and Staci Piasecki are DIRTTbags who come from the world of construction. In this episode of Build Better they talk about how things are slowly changing and how DIRTT, as a method of construction, could help change things faster. 

Speaker 1:
0:05
Welcome to the build better podcast. It comes to you from DIRTT, a custom prefab interior maker. I'm Julie Pithers your DIRTT bag host today. This episode is a special topic because we're recording it around international women's Day and in the world of construction where only 10% of the workforce is female and of that 45% are in administration positions rather than on the job site. There isn't a lot to celebrate and women's Day in 2019 my guests here to discuss why this is the case and what we need to do about it are Shannon Boe and Staci Piasecki, both DIRTT bags. Shannon is our project management training lead here at DIRTT and Staci is our rep in St. Louis. They both joined the company after spending several years in the conventional construction world. Shannon, tell us a little bit about your background and how you even got into construction in the first place.:
Speaker 2:
1:00
Sure. I kind of got into it by mistake. I have a geological mining engineer degree and I didn't feel so much, when I was looking for internships and things like that. Back in the day, I didn't feel so much like mining and going to live out in the middle of nowhere, was, was my cup of tea and at that point we had a bunch of heavy civil contractors that we're coming up to my college to give internships and that would have been like a Kiewit or Granite. So I actually got into it by mistake and I went to work for granite construction, down in palm springs where they told me that the, the winters are really nice but didn't tell me about the summer. And, and here I am at 21 years old riding a paving machine down the middle of a highway, learning how to pave and putting in pipes down in the sands and all of that.:
Speaker 2:
1:58
And I just absolutely fell in love with it. And then eventually worked my way to finding the general contractor and then counted, on way back when when there was this thing called monster.com and a GC had posted on there saying like, oh, we need a project manager. This is your responsibilities. And I'm like, I can do like half that right now. I think I can do it. They gave me a shot. I don't know why. And I learned all of the trades from the ground up and started with really beautiful historical building, Santa Barbara. And then as I needed to challenge myself, moved to Phoenix and worked for a design build contractor for eight years or so here building some midrise buildings, which brought me to DIRTT and I built a factory and I was like, I can do that.:
Speaker 1:
2:52
How about you Staci How'd you get into this business?:
Speaker 2:
2:55
I was born into it actually my whole family, blue collar trade men here and St Louis. Very, very heavy union town. So you learn very quickly, kind of the lines that you, uh, follow in. So my dad is a union carpenter. He is actually the master, welder for the joint apprenticeship program for the, for for the carpenters here. My cousins and uncles, they're all pipe fitters, plumbers and electricians and kind of grew up with a screw gun in my hand and a tool belt on my waist. I just really dove in immediately like I take to tinkering and shaping things and being responsible for really like kind of starting conceptually and making sure that it, that it ends how I wanted it. So the whole construction piece really, was something I always was connected to. Funny enough, I actually decided to go to architecture school for College, which my family was appalled with you're in bed the devil, so I was like totally and completely going against the grain of what everybody knew to be right.:
Speaker 2:
4:00
And it actually was a huge benefit for me because I, I got to see the other side. Got to understand where all the thought process came from. I am a huge fan of process and methodology and so the architecture school, I actually went for industrial design and architecture. So I did product development and worked in the woodshop and built furniture for half of a year each year for the five years I was there and then, architecture, drafting and autocad and things on the other side doing, um building an interior work so I got a pretty, very, I would say well rounded education came out of that, got a job in architecture and realized that was way too practical for it and then I didn't like to be only conceptual and send my designs out to have people build them and not see it come to fruition and really stand there.:
Speaker 2:
4:47
At the end I actually was working for a design firm doing some work with a contractor that I really liked and just kind of slid to the other side of the table and became an, estimator project manager for that same contractor. I was really fortunate to have an amazing boss who understood that I needed to be somewhere else and also valued me on the team and knew that me becoming the contact side of the same team, building these spaces together. Made a lot of sense though. I, I just was really fortunate to have really great mentorship and that kind of transition from design to construction and have been in it ever since. I used to be a project manager for a construction management firm, both in Chicago and then in St Louis when I moved back home to raise my family. I've always just been in that trailer and muddy boots until I came to DIRTT.:
Speaker 1:
5:38
Well, uh, the reason we're talking today is first of all, it's, we're going into international women's Day, uh, and the state of construction and the ratio of men to women is, it's probably the, the most imbalanced in the world. Uh, you know, maybe mining, I don't know. But even like the 10% of women who are in construction, about 50% of them are in administration situations. They're not on the tools. What, what do you think has brought us to that point or it hasn't brought construction any further along because they're in desperate need of labor.:
Speaker 2:
6:14
I actually look at it on a daily basis. It's funny, one of my DIRTT techs has a daughter who just graduated from high school and she doesn't know what she wants to do when she's really great with her hands, like building things and tinkering and I keep asking her when, when can I introduce her to my dad and look at maybe going to the carpentry apprenticeship program. It's really kind of piqued her interest and also been an ongoing discussion of because girls are not exposed to that or understanding it that the path to travel down, I think they don't realize they can think about that or have it as an option. And I would say I see it more now than ever with the strain that we have on our, on our workforce. We don't have men going into the trades. We don't have skilled workers.:
Speaker 2:
7:03
I feel like the women workforce is a huge one to look at from the perspective of understanding like you have a set schedule. If you have a family to raise and you need to manage that, it's something that is totally manageable as far as like you go in at seven 30 get done at three 30 might work some overtime. You get paid for that. Just understanding what that looks like on a daily basis and how that's reflected into your lifestyle. I think that it's just been an unfortunate lack of information or communication really. I think all of this comes down to a lack of communication to the greater marketplace to understand the value of of what it could be to you to be a woman in the construction industry. I've actually had an amazing supportive community around me where I have never really felt like because I'm a woman, I can't do something and I just, I don't know that everybody gets the opportunity to have that, to know that they can screw stuff up and still keep going.:
Speaker 1:
8:12
What have you seen Shannon?:
Speaker 2:
8:13
Yeah, I was, I was doing the same thing growing up in a household where my uncle would hand me a hammer or a nail gun. I don't know why he did that. When I was, I was 14 years old. that's just the world that i came from. "I can do it. You can do it. We're going to learn how to put a roof on a house." You know, my, one of my nieces loves building things with Lincoln logs. So what do I do? I find new things to where it might be a little boyish, but they're coming out with girl colors, stuff like that. So then she can start to play around with things like that and figure out if it's something that she likes to do.:
Speaker 1:
8:51
But on the job site, I mean, it is a, it's a tough place for a parent to send a child. It's still like one of the least safe industries in the world. I think at the stat is a one in five. All workplace deaths are in construction. So what's it gonna take for the construction world to change to make it more open to women? I mean, the, the wages are great. Uh, obviously the hours are, are great and, and you get the fantastic satisfaction of saying, I built that today versus you know, almost everybody else who goes home from work and says today was okay, I guess.:
Speaker 2:
9:28
Oh yeah. I mean I definitely see the trend towards manufactured construction, which is why I'm sitting in this seat right now is I watched that day in and day out of, you know, where are you at with your reported injuries or your recordable, you know, how are we doing a better job at keeping guys from falling off ladders or what have you. And the reality is you can manage those with more people and more time and more rules and more regulations all day long. But if you don't change the way that you're doing things, it's not going to matter. And so for me, being at DIRTT or looking at manufactured prefab where you're mitigating so much of that risk, I actually see that as a huge component to seeing more women, get into the workforce because there is more of a controlled environment. And I'm not saying that from the perspective of that's what they need in order to get into this industry.:
Speaker 2:
10:24
I don't mean that by any stretch, but I'm saying though is there is now a different way of doing things. Things are being done in the factory. They're managed. We're reducing the amount of different steps it's gonna take to make something safe in order to do something. I mean, we're talking about from a DIRTT perspective, Interior Tilt-up, right? So things are coming inside the walls or the way that we're tilting it into place. Just the process, the sequencing, the management of a job site. What I hear on a daily basis from our general contractors and CMs that we're working with is, holy crap. The management of how you're mitigating my risk and allowing my people to be safer is, is something that I can breathe a little easier throughout the day on. We can't affect right now the exterior of the building in what we're doing. So there's still going to be risk, right?:
Speaker 2:
11:18
You're still topping out yourself, hoisting steel, um, picking big stick on the job site. Like those things aren't going to change. But once you're inside, you're really flipping the script on what things have been done before. Do you see that Shannon? I mean, I feel like we're, we're really, we're really finding a happy medium between, oh my gosh, this process has changed. And holy cow, the process, like terrifying idea of it in the beginning and how exciting and is in the end of just being a cleaner, safer site. Yeah. And, and I would even say like women in general, sorry guys. But we're just better at multitasking and looking ahead. So the way I see it as women, as project managers as site superintendents is actually a better fit because we're always looking for what could go wrong and how, I know a lot of ways and we do that naturally.:
Speaker 2:
12:21
So I think it's really important that, the women and men that are in the industry now is to really mentor, um, younger ladies that are coming in. I know here at Arizona State, they have a mentorship program that goes out to the community that have been in the industry, can basically take on one of the young ladies that's in the construction program. It's helped mitigate their drop out because go get me to those classes around it. You know, one girl to 20/30 men and it can be really intimidating. So just having that person that they can call and say, "is this like how it's going to go?" Or you know, "has this happened to you?". And things of that nature as they move into internships, they have someone that had been in those shoes before as a female and they've seen huge success for that. So hopefully a lot of the other universities that have CM programs, will pick up on that.:
Speaker 1:
13:23
And on that note, I mean there's, there's the attitude on the job site that still, it's, it's astonishing the amount of sexism that's allowed to go on. And I'm going to, I'm going to read you, I sent you guys this letter that I received it. At first I thought, oh my God, that's me. But it's, it came from somewhere in the u s and, uh, it was, a typed letters, somebody who went to the trouble of typing it, printing it, getting an envelope and addressing it, finding DIRTTs address. And My name happened to be on the Internet, so they wrote it to me and got a stamp to send it to Canada. And here's how it goes. It's like three lines. "Pithers" me, "we don't need some fat, bitchy woman at our job sites. If bosses need to send someone, make it less hard on the eyes and skip the wrinkles, we work hard enough. Someone had to say it." What have you, what is that? Oh, is that in 2019?:
Speaker 2:
14:21
Oh, it's, it's very much still there. And it's, uh, um, you know, I would remember back to, subcontractor got angry with me because they put in their stairs wrong and I made them Redo them three times because they weren't level. I know, go figure. and they were so upset with me that I had to carry mace with me every time, anywhere I went on the job site because I didn't feel confident and safe. There was multiple other, other examples of that. Just making sure that if I didn't feel safe being able to call my site super so he could come or one of the foremen. Wow.:
Speaker 2:
15:06
How about you Staci? Have you seen anything crazy on the job site? I mean, you see things crazy. I would say I'm beginning to see a shift and I really honestly believe the shift happens when, you know, there's always going to be cowards send letters like that who aren't, who don't have it in them to even put their name on it or say who they are or have the discussion and face to face, which is really where you need to push things right. Is acknowledge that there's an issue and do something about it. Uh, sadly, you know, talk over drinks at the bar and not actually bring it up on the job site directly to me anyway. But, yeah, you're going to see it all the time. Or guys that just don't believe that there's a place for you or, you know, I had a guy ask me, he takes care of the children.:
Speaker 2:
15:54
My husband does, you know? Um, oh my God. Yeah. Right. And it's like we both have full time jobs. We're 50, 50 like what planet are we living on? But I mean, yeah, you're still seeing and at the same time I'm starting to see a shift and that's where I feel like I can confidently say I've seen women get into the job space to our construction sites. It is gonna start being more and more valuable open to guys that need help. Right. So I actually had an architect that lost his mind on me one day and was kind of like, hey look, honey, sweetie, sugar pie... And I let him ride it out because as he was talking, three pipefitters were walking up behind him waiting until he was done to basically say like, hey Staci, do you need us to take him out of here for you?:
Speaker 2:
16:52
Just because it's unacceptable. And they didn't say like, Hey, you know, leave her alone. She's a girl or wasn't, they were like, look, this person on our job sites, who's in this position, deserves your respect, you're being very disrespectful. If you don't know how to change your attitude, you should go. And it was like a tipping point for me of I wasn't a Damsel in distress. I was a person that they knew was supposed to be there. I earned my spot on that team and they weren't going to let somebody talk to me and act like I didn't earn it. Yep. And so for me, I also, I'm seeing that shift and also surround myself with teams that are that right. I have a woman on our team who was in charge of the team, who's our salesperson PM who goes to the job site.:
Speaker 2:
17:43
She comes from exterior masonry. It's like I, I think that we also as women have to do a good job supporting each other and get more of us on a team and go out and in sheer magnitude and force and know your stuff and make them listen to you. And as we do that one person has a time as Shannon's saying we mentor and bring more women into the construction community. The more of those kinds of opportunities that I had where it shifts and the conversation isn't about girl versus boy, it's about like, hey, this person is appropriate for this position because they know their stuff and deal with that.:
Speaker 1:
18:28
It's bigger than, than simply sexism that the construction industry is notoriously way behind every other industry when it comes to, uh, you know, ramping up productivity to innovations. Is it, is it a systematic problem?:
Speaker 2:
18:47
Well, I think in some ways, yes. However we're starting to see it now to where Staci was talking about at the beginning was it doesn't matter men or women, we're not, we're not advocating for our children could go into the trades. It's not the cool thing to do and now it's even worse. So they're, they're not innovation and construction on, on a consistent basis. And on top of it, it's not cool to be in the trades even though they can make so much money. And so, you know, it's filling the backend of once they've gone through life and they realize, oh I can't do anything. And then they go into the trades and they've lost so much time. I worked for a contractor that he came over as a is an immigrant. He built it. He was a framer and he built his own construction companies from the ground up back in the seventies and eighties.:
Speaker 2:
19:42
And he is such an advocate for the trades of just starting um, mentorship programs in the high schools. Again, he would bring like plumbers and electricians that made well over six figures at 18 years old and bring them in with him and say this is what you can do straight up. You don't, if you don't want to go to college, you don't have to. And this is what you can do as, as an alternative if that, if it interests you. And that goes for men and women. It's just, it's so needed and it's such a beautiful thing systematically the way that things have always been done. It. It is a hard place to bring in diversity or or some form of culture from the standpoint of it is a very kind of analog business and we have transformed that through design and using programs like Revit and autocad or BIM modeling and things like that and that that is getting more and more prevalent in the project work.:
Speaker 2:
20:39
But I'd still say the majority of what we see out there when it's a smaller interior fit out, the BIM clash detection or the technology that we have that we can leverage isn't being leveraged to that degree yet. It's almost like a scalability issue. I don't know, but, but with that, you know, okay, well then you do the same process over and over again and it's the same people that you see. It's not, it's not fun or exciting like the whole attraction and retention at a GC/CM fIrm people want to be technology driven. They want to be forward thinking and they want to understand how that relates to what they can post on social media. Especially if we're looking at millennials and I would just say I don't think that construction to date is really the kind of, industry that people are attracted to if they're looking at a tech driven industry as an attraction thing. Right. Even to get into a construct or into a college program. I mean all the project managers that we have, from construction management firm are college educated, they go through a construction management program that's still is not as, I don't know, flashy as what is, you know, bio science or something that might be taking the same kind of like minded people.:
Speaker 1:
22:01
So do you think that what we're doing is the kind of thing that would attract particularly young women because it's kind of a, it's a combination of the maker of the maker world is huge but also bringing in technology.:
Speaker 2:
22:18
I, I do, we even have, you know, a lot of the design industry come through our green learning center here in St Louis and when they come through with the same thing, I kind of ran into where when you're in design you do all the really great, cool technology driven stuff on the front end but you don't see that carry through the end and a lot of people will walk through and just be like, are you guys hiring? What's the process? How do you transition of just understanding? And I think it's that attention connection to details like you were saying before, you know, um, there is a sense of detail orientation I guess when it, when you're talking about women getting into something, like you're just all these ways that we produce things in the way that they go together and how meticulous we are with those final details. You want to see that in the end game. I definitely think that what we're doing is starting to appeal to a different kind of mindset and even attraction and retention of being in a construction company that has a look and feel and an office space that's not just, you know, a bunch of private offices with doors closed and heads down work that we're open and we try to bring the community and to also understand that and with that comes a lot of women just trying to understand how can you get involved in that.:
Speaker 1:
23:43
And that's a different kind of construction:
Speaker 2:
23:47
and really it's exposure on both ends, right? Exposing people to the fact that exposing women to this industry that they can get in it and also exposing them to what this kind of construction is that you know, even more appealing. Right? Building on that, oh, I didn't really think about getting into construction, but if construction actually means this, this prefab meticulous detail, how it goes together, just a different way of looking at the process. Even more interest:
Speaker 1:
24:18
and it's, and it's, you know, it's not raw big, heavy, raw materials that you now have to tear apart and cut to size and and just all of that messy work as you say it, it's, it's really meticulous but it's also, it's not unwieldly like any one of us can pick up DIRTT wall frame or a tile and carry it up a couple of flights of stairs.:
Speaker 2:
24:42
Yeah, I would say that I'm always talking about finesse. the finesse of this. Finished carpenters on my projects that do the DIRTT to understand how to manage what we bring out to site from the beginning to the end because all of our stuff really is a finished product, right? You're not just banging in studs and drywall and covering up mistakes with mud and that's why I really think women would be great at it because they understand that attention to detail and that level of finesse from the beginning to the end, whether we're talking about just the guts of the wall going up to the finished beautiful tile that is the finished product for the client. It's kind of always present and we could use more finesse on the job site.:
Speaker 1:
25:31
Now one of the other things about construction unlike pretty much every other industry is a wage parity. If you're in a union and you're a carpenter you will get paid as the male carpenter does and that hardly happens at all anywhere.:
Speaker 2:
25:47
Amen Sister. No, it doesn't. And you're constantly having to go in and understand like Whoa, where are people at or what is their wage rates or how do I get that? How do I go in and renegotiate? It is right. So I mean for me, I only speak from a very heavy union town where things are managed that way. All of our labor here, majority heavy, majority of our labor here is is is the union and they are all controlled rates and everyone is on an equal playing field. You put in your hours and your time and as you progressed through and graduate up to you know, foreman, then superintendent work. Yes. You're on the same level doing the same work for the same pay. Yeah. And I think it's important too is, is mostly around unions is my father came from, he, he retired at 35 years and if women do that after 35 years. I'm working in the trade. You actually make more money because of your pension. He's Down here with me and Phoenix sitting around the pool, just get a few drinks, has got showed every once in awhile at sixty two years old. Is there, here's some benefits about it and while you're shipping your kids off to college and they're leaving the nest to retire right out the gate.:
Speaker 1:
27:16
Excellent. Well thank you both very much for doing this today. Do you have anything else you wanted to add on it?:
Speaker 2:
27:22
No, I would just strongly encourage anyone that is even thinking about it to reach out to anyone that you know or even to ask or to DIRTT enquire, there's always opportunity. You just have to ask for it. And, and I, I personally would like to see, um, all of us do a better job at trying to be more resourceful and more strategic in how we are building the workforce. And I really do believe that women in the workforce is, is a huge piece to what we're missing right now. Yeah, and lastly I'd say is if it's something as simple as, I like to build Ikea furniture and you think it's fun to put all those parts and pieces together, or You're the one that's under the sink trying to figure out like how can I make this leak, stop well then, you know, go to our website and check us out and say like, where do I fit in this? Maybe I need to go into a trade, maybe premanufacturing or whatever it might be, but don't, don't let it hold you back.:
Speaker 1:
28:25
Thanks for listening to the show. And if the guy who wrote me the letter is listening, we think there should be more women with wrinkles on the job site. If you have ideas for show topics or guests, drop us a line at hello@dirtt.net I'm Julie Pithers. This is the build better podcast. Hope you'll join us again.:
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