What will it take to increase the number of women working in the construction industry?
That’s a question Alison Stanton, the Regional Director of Community and Citizenship at the Boston office of Turner Construction faces every day.
Despite the challenges, Stanton is driven to succeed by her desire to bring about changes, both inside the company and out in the communities surrounding its projects.
For the past nine years, Stanton has served as the Regional Director of Community and Citizenship for the Boston office of Turner, one of the largest construction companies in the world. She describes her position and herself as “a communicator.”
Builder of Relationships
With a background in psychology and sociology, Stanton is a builder of relationships. Her energy and confidence are infectious, and her words are filled with inspiration and heart.
“I look for opportunities to connect people, to involve and engage them,” she explains. “I want to empower others to find their spot and to feel supported and connected.”
"I want to empower others to find their spot and to feel supported and connected.”
Creating an inclusive and diverse workforce — with minorities, women, other underrepresented groups, and local residents — is the main responsibility for Stanton. What’s more, it’s usually required by local governments for large construction projects.
Inclusion goals versus the actual numbers are often two different things. Quite often, one might face the gap of not having enough qualified workers in the pipeline. Historically, minorities and women did not often see people like themselves working in the construction industry in large numbers.
Stanton can relate. When she first joined Turner almost 18 years ago in 2000, it was the first time she had ever considered a career in this male-dominated field.
“I had no previous exposure to the variety of opportunities in construction,” she says. “When I was in college, I wanted to become an educator. I was always encouraged by my teachers to go into that field due to my personality, so I went for it.”
Her first job after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst was teaching at a preschool. After a year, she realized that she wanted to pursue a very different career path. She was intrigued by a job posting for an administrative assistant at Turner in the Interiors Division/Special Projects.
“I thought construction would be an exciting industry to get into, an industry where people were outspoken and encouraged to speak their minds,” she recalls. “I applied and was hired.”
An educator at heart, with the passion for connecting with and supporting others, Stanton moved into the Community Affairs department three years later. She started as a coordinator and was later promoted to director, and four years later advanced to regional director for the department now called Community and Citizenship.
“The program truly is about opening doors and creating strong partnerships with those in the community surrounding our projects and beyond,” Stanton says.
“The impact is felt both externally and internally. All of our project teams develop initiatives that help sustain community relationships that we already have in place or help to develop new ones. We are involved where there is a need within the community and within the areas where our staff are passionate about.”
Inspiring the Next Generation
Reaching out to youth to improve their educational opportunities, especially in case of those considered at-risk, is a priority for Stanton and Turner. One program addressing this goal is Youth Force 2020, which introduces students to career opportunities in the construction industry and helps them improve their science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills even more.
“We work with schools, after-school programs, and students also have an opportunity to work on Turner projects. It’s the way to build up the pipeline,” Stanton explains.
“Having a diverse and local workforce on our sites also supports the pipeline. Kids can see a future for themselves in construction when they can see men and women, who look like them or who they can identify with, working on the job site,” she adds.
"Kids can see a future for themselves in construction when they can see men and women, who look like them or who they can identify with, working on the job site."
To grow the number of skilled workers, Turner partners with programs like Building Pathways, a pre-apprenticeship organization in the Boston area committed to helping minorities and women prepare for construction careers. Stanton also works with Massachusetts Girls in Trades, a group that coordinates with career technology education (CTE) schools to connect high school girls to resources and mentors to further inspire them to pursue skilled jobs in construction.
The trades are a largely untapped point of access for women, Stanton says. “It’s been a huge missed opportunity. We’re encouraging women to enter the trades to build a career and a life for themselves and to support their families.”
Construction trades offer women a way to earn wages that are nearly on par with men. In all industries nationwide, women are paid about 19 percent less than men. In construction, however, women earn 95 percent of what men earn, according to the National Association of Women in Construction. Unfortunately, as the Boston Residents Job Policy office claims, women comprise less than 10 percent of those employed in the construction trades in the Boston area.
Stanton also manages Turner’s Minority and Women Business Enterprise Program, and she has high hopes that the youth outreach and pre-apprenticeship programs will translate to more women starting their own construction companies in the next decade.
Within the Turner organization, Stanton says she has seen changes for women since she joined the company. There are currently four women in senior vice president and executive vice president positions out of 33 in Turner’s highest ranks.
“More women now have the power to influence change through their roles as leaders in our company” Stanton says, recalling her earliest days in the industry when it was rare to see women in leadership positions. “Women have made great progress at Turner, especially in engineering and project management, but as a company we are always looking for opportunities to do more. A Safety First philosophy, of course, is always our priority and our teams take care of one another. Nevertheless, taking care of one another means we also have to continue to grow our inclusive culture.”