By Mary Culver
As a partner and long-time employee for Bardstown-based construction company BCD Inc., I've lived most of my life immersed in the unique rewards of working in the construction industry. If you are a resident or have ties to our region, you may not know BCD Inc. by name, but you’re likely familiar with some of our work.
A few of the projects in our portfolio include Thomas Nelson High School in Bardstown, Modern Kids Dentistry in Elizabethtown and all of the Five Star Food Marts in Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana. For me, the greatest reward of working in the construction industry is the ability to help build the dreams and futures of so many. Often, you see a project that begins as a pile of dirt and the end result is something the community will utilize and cherish for generations.
I first began working as a Contract Administrator with BCD Inc. after graduating high school, balancing my role at the company with night classes at the University of Louisville to pursue my degree in accounting. I eventually decided to study full-time, and after graduating in 1996, I accepted a position with BCD, Inc. as a Controller and worked in that position until 2015, when I became a partner.
My career trajectory with BCD, Inc. and in the field of construction has been one of stability and great rewards. But as a woman, my story is unfortunately not the norm.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women only make up about 11 percent of those in the construction field. Only about 2.5 percent of tradespeople are women, and women only make up about 14 percent of staff executive positions and 7 percent of line executive positions.
So, why are these numbers so low? Several factors are at play, but based on my own experience as a woman in the field, one major obstacle is a lack of mentorship for women who want to pursue a career in construction. This comes down to the lack of women in leadership roles, and because the industry is so male-dominated, it can be discouraging for women who are considering a career in the industry.
Christy Childers, co-owner of the Elizabethtown-based ICON Engineering, has a similar perspective on the obstacles women may face in the construction industry. Christy has served as a co-owner of ICON Engineering, a business responsible for the architectural design and structural engineering of local buildings such as the Hardin County Government Building and Baptist Health Hardin’s North Tower expansion, for the past 16 years.
“I believe most women aren’t exposed to building sites or construction projects, much less encouraged to get involved,” she said. “And it can be difficult to be the lone female on a site full of men sometimes.”
Though construction has traditionally been a male-dominated field, there are many women who are breaking ground on changing gender dynamics in the field. And as these women make their way into leadership positions, it will signal to other women that the construction field is a viable career path for anyone, regardless of gender.
With the current labor shortage, there are more opportunities than ever for women to enter the construction field. Highlighting a company’s safety, culture and the training that is provided to new employees, as well as the culture of diversity within the company, would make construction jobs more appealing to women.
In addition, it would also be helpful if more high schools highlighted the value of a construction career for women. This way, the construction field is seen as more of a viable career choice for young women considering their post-graduation options.
Emphasizing gender diversity when searching for prospective employees not only provides more opportunities for women in the workforce, but also can bring about great benefits to construction companies. Diversity is good for business. It brings different perspectives to the forefront, which helps with decision-making. It also aids in attracting a larger talent pool. In fact, gender-diverse companies are 25 percent more likely to achieve above-average profitability than less diverse companies, according to a report from McKinsey & Company.
Looking toward the future of the construction industry, gender diversity is going to be critical. Christy is in agreement.
“Diversity is the key to any successful team, and little girls only know what’s in front of them,” she said. “When they see a woman in front of them being a good leader, they know that’s what they too can become.”
Construction jobs are currently in high-demand in the region, and there are resources available to make that first step toward a career in the field, including the Kentucky Career Center - Lincoln Trail. KCC-LT can help you determine if tuition assistance or other types of training assistance may be available to you. Tuition assistance is offered by the U.S. Department of Labor via the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to individuals pursuing careers in in-demand fields like construction. Elizabethtown Community and Technical College offers training, and through the Work Ready Scholarship, you can earn a certificate, diploma or associate’s degree tuition-free.
To take that first step, visit ltcareercenter.org/why-construction.
Mary Culver is the Vice President of BCD Inc. in Bardstown.