March 4, 2020 posted in Construction
In preparation for this article, I recalled a quote I read from an Austin Board meeting sometime around 1942. At the time, Austin’s sales were peaking at $285,000,000. The company grew from a staff of 571 employees to over 49,000 employees in just two years. The quote I remembered referenced workforce shortages and then complimented the resourcefulness of our construction executives, where “you will now find ‘girls’ working on our job sites.”
What an interesting perspective on how times have changed. Austin’s historic Fort Worth Bomber plant was likely where many of these “girls” worked. Coincidentally, Fort Worth was the birthplace of the National Association of Women in Construction just eleven years later.
In 1991, I sold a project at the Denver Airport. Austin was selected by the City and County of Denver to be the architect and engineer for a hangar, cargo facility, flight kitchen, and ground support equipment facility. Instrumental in our winning this work was the advice and counsel of Ginger Evans, who was the assistant director of aviation for the airport in charge of a $16B program. Ginger was one of the most impressive, genuine, and down-to-earth professionals with whom I have ever dealt. As this was early in my career, I had no preconceptions about women in construction. After working with Ginger, I knew without a doubt that women belong in this profession.
It is encouraging to see the continued growth of women throughout our projects and our company. I recently visited the Project Palladium site with Kajima USA Chairman Nori Ohashi. Project Palladium is one of the most complex, process-heavy jobs we have undertaken since the 1980s. Giving us a complete review of the project was Site Safety Engineer Daphnie Sharp; Design Team Captain for Mechanical and Process Engineering Sara Simpson; Area Superintendent April Harmer; and Document Control Specialist Ashley Shugar. Project Controls Manager Sandi Shubert was unable to join us that day. All of these team members—these women—bear the responsibility of wearing the Austin hard hat and continuing our legacy of Results, not Excuses®. They are a strong, cohesive team dedicated to the successful completion of one of our most challenging projects.
Last quarter, we awarded our first round of value coins. Value coins go to individuals who have been recognized by their peers for living one of Austin’s values in the work they perform. Those values are: Committed to Service, Passion, Innovation, Get It Done, Team Builders, and Own It. 25 percent of those first-round coins went to female team members for exceptional dedication to their roles at Austin.
All told, Austin’s female workforce totals about 20 percent of our ranks. When I began working at Austin in the early 80s, most women in the company were in administrative, clerical, or accounting roles with an occasional architect or engineer thrown in.
Today, almost 75 percent of our female workforce are in technical or professional positions in engineering, preconstruction, construction, marketing, and accounting. And, at the mid-management level, we have many women holding leadership roles in engineering, project management, and marketing. No doubt, these rising stars will change the leadership landscape in the years to come.
The design and construction industry needs to increase its efforts to educate and attract more women to participate in the creation of buildings and infrastructure. Just as it was in 1942, workforce shortages are a challenge we face today. By necessity, this shortage will force an end to old preconceptions and create many new opportunities for women to have an increasing impact on the future of our industry.
There is no room for the old preconception that this industry is not for women. Here at Austin, it most certainly is.
Article published in Results Magazine, Winter 2019.