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WiOPS: Opening Doors for Women in Construction

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Women in construction today make up just 9% of the workforce, a figure that hasn’t changed much in WiOPS National Board President Holly Cindell’s more than three-decade career in the industry. Being in such an extreme minority presents some real challenges for women, who sometimes find themselves having to work twice as hard or be twice as good to earn the same recognition as their male counterparts. But sometimes just knowing you aren’t alone can make a difference. Women in Construction Operations(WiOPS) is a non-profit organization with the aim to help women in the profession connect with mentors and like-minded professionals in a male-dominated industry.

“A group of us got together to talk about what we felt were our challenges and what we needed in order to look at advancement. Through that came the idea of something we felt we were missing, which was mentoring and the aspect of how networking was a bit more challenging — a woman goes into an event of 500 people and for the most part they maybe see 10-15 other women,” said Cindell, president and founder of consulting firm Consults on Construction.

The women scoured the landscape for existing organizations of a similar mindset, only to find options were limited. “There really wasn’t a whole lot out there that addressed the unique challenges of women in the operations side of construction,” Cindell said. “So we decided to start an organization.”

WiOPS was formed in 2013 with just 14 initial members.

From those humble beginnings, WiOPS has grown to more than 1,000 members spanning two chapters, including one started in northern California last year to mark the organization’s five-year anniversary, with further expansion in the works. The group hosts regular events, featuring seminars, speaker panels and social outings where women in the business can come together in a supportive environment of like-minded people, all facing the same challenges in their chosen profession.

Their events often draw capacity crowds, and word is spreading fast.

“Hardly a week goes by that we don’t have someone new who’s heard about us and comes to an event. We find it encouraging that the message is getting out there,” Cindell said.

“It shows women they’re not alone. If you happen to be a woman in an organization where you’re just one of a few, you probably think all of your issues and the things that give you angst are unique to you and your organization. I think what you hear and find is that a lot of women are experiencing the same thing,” explained Cindell.

Although incremental steps have been made, construction maintains a reputation as a less-than-welcoming industry for women. Cindell stressed the importance of companies including a broader range of perspectives and opinions, particularly among senior leadership. Cindell said emphasizing diversity and inclusion brings fresh air into the conversation, eliminating exclusionary echo chambers while making the business better.

“We’re still an old boys network. It’s changing, but I’ve been in the industry for 30 some-odd years, and if you look at the statistics, our needle has not moved too much further above that 9-11% women make up in the construction field,” Cindell said.

“Before it was pretty much black and white, ‘the men” and ‘the women.’ But now it’s about the business. Every board in America is talking about the rate of return associated with having diversity of thought on your highest boards. If you have diversity in your boardroom throughout your ranks, you’re going to have better outcomes. No one can ignore that,” she said.

With women making up more than 50% of college students today, the old “not a lot of talent coming out of schools” argument no longer holds much water when it comes to recruiting.

“If you recruit at a school that has 60% men and 40% women in some kind of engineering or construction program, I would expect, at a minimum, you bring those ratios back to your organization in review of talent. At some point you need to make a conscious effort that you’re going to change the numbers in your organization. It has to be an active mission. It has to be a commitment.”

If you want to Procore in advancing women in construction, be sure to visit Procore.com/wic.

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