I started at Warfel in 2011 as a Project Engineer, (our title for an Assistant Project Manager). I was fresh out of college with my shiny new Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Bucknell University. On my first day of work, I found myself in a cubicle in the Project Management department surrounded by males tossing around construction lingo and partaking in a pizza eating contest at lunch. As intimidating as it sounds for a young woman who has just entered the construction industry, I was un-phased as my college engineering classmates were 75% male. Warfel has only one other female Project Manager in our department, whom I look up to as a mentor in the company and the industry. But I wasn’t going to let some gender imbalance in my new workplace dampen my enthusiasm about being part of an awesome team, managing the construction of a beautiful new building. Almost six years later, I appreciate the opportunity to be the rare gender on our teams and to bring a female perspective to some of the challenges we face in construction. It’s not always easy to be the only woman sitting in a meeting in a trailer on a jobsite, but it is well worth the opportunity to build relationships with great people and accomplish so much as a team.
Looking at recent statistics in the U.S., only 18 – 19% of individuals receiving degrees in computer science, engineering, or physics are women. Careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are growing faster than any other type of occupation, but only a small percentage of females are pursuing them because, even as early as elementary school, young women are often steered into “pink collar” industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects the available jobs in STEM fields to increase 17% between 2014 and 2024. In comparison, non-STEM employment is only expected to grow by 12%. This topic is close to my heart because although I was fortunate to be encouraged to pursue my interests in science, math, and architecture during my formative years, I have many female friends and classmates who pursued their STEM interests through a barrage of adversity.
For the past two years, I have been a mentor for high school women through the Women in Business Mentoring Program run by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This has given me a platform to encourage young women to pursue their passions, no matter what field they may be in. It has also given me a chance to interact with those who know they want to pursue engineering, architecture, or construction, but are unclear what that looks like as a career or how to get there. I love being able to provide job shadowing opportunities for students because it is very exciting and gratifying to see the experience “click” for them and ignite a passion in them to pursue a career in a STEM industry.
When I think about my future at Warfel ten or twenty years from now, my hope is that gender inequality in our industry is only a distant memory. Women in STEM have the opportunity to earn 33% more money than women in other occupations. However, they are also 45% more likely than men to leave jobs in these fields within the first year due to isolation, lack of mentors or sponsors, inadequate feedback, and hostile employment cultures. Warfel does a fantastic job eliminating those barriers that scare many women out of the industry. I have never felt unsupported in my career and I relish the chance to provide mentoring and guidance to those employees joining our company behind me. With 86% of contractors reporting difficulty finding qualified and skilled workers, this could be the time for women to make the move to break through the high-rise ceiling in the construction industry.