Women at Work: P-C staff advocate for more women in construction

Man’s best kept secret.

That’s how some female employees at Plano-Coudon describe their careers in the construction industry.

Old stereotypes and outright obstacles to women in construction have diminished over time. Yet across the country, women still comprise just over 9 percent of the construction industry labor force. Advocates for women in construction – including women within Plano-Coudon – insist the industry offers a wealth of good career opportunities to women and those opportunities need to be more widely known.

Shay Felzener enthusiastically describes a construction career she never intended to pursue.  But after graduating with a degree in architecture, Felzener discovered that she was more interested in construction than design, and most interested in estimating.

“As an estimator, you are resolving real-world problems in a very small amount of time. It’s challenging and fast-paced and I get exposed to many different projects quickly,” she said.

The biggest problem with estimating is “nobody knows about careers in estimating and nobody goes to college to become an estimator, so we are facing a huge shortage of estimators,” Felzener said. “One thing I want to change moving forward is whenever there are job fairs, I want to be part of them and promote estimating, which I think is a great career for women. I think women tend to be very detail oriented and estimators must be detail oriented.”

The construction industry, Felzener said, needs to do more to inform girls and women about construction careers generally. Meanwhile, women interested in construction or women already in the industry can advance their careers by following some best practices.

Learn about job options – Students interested in construction should approach construction companies and ask to shadow a professional or apply for an internship. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity or other construction-related nonprofits can also help students understand tasks and careers in the industry.

Ask questions – A long-time performing arts teacher, Pippa Duggan changed careers and now works as a project coordinator with Plano-Coudon’s Small Projects Division. One key to her successful career switch is her habit of asking questions.

“It’s important to constantly ask questions and educate yourself as much as possible,” Duggan said. “I keep learning more about the business and I regularly go out to job sites to become familiar with the projects I am involved in. At Plano-Coudon, I feel I can ask anything and the staff, especially the project managers, are great at sharing their knowledge and mentoring me.”

Lifelong learning – Plano-Coudon CFO Janet Delaney had studied accounting extensively before she entered the construction industry. To advance her career, however, Delaney needed to keep learning new things, such as the nuances of construction budgets and the technologies used by the industry.

“As a CFO, I need to know not just accounting, but also IT. You cannot progress in this career without embracing technology,” she said.

A prime way to learn those technologies, Delaney said, is to volunteer for special projects. In a previous job, she volunteered to work on a five-year technology upgrade initiative.

Lifelong learning is vital across construction careers, said Felzener and Duggan. Both regularly enhance their professional skills by participating in seminars and other educational events offered by industry associations.

Be bold – Speaking up, tackling a challenge or setting a professional goal can be intimidating (especially if you are the only woman in the room) but it is also an effective way to show your capabilities and advance a career in construction.

Originally a construction company receptionist, Sue Radtke now works as a Plano-Coudon project coordinator. “At our annual reviews, we set our goals for the following year and your supervisor will help guide you to achieving those goals; whether it be through seminars, additional training or hands-on experience. That has pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it has also been a good thing.”