Changing Times: Females Dominating in a Male-Dominated Industry
When Laurie Bush began working in the equipment rental industry 27 years ago, she recalls only two other females with similar roles in the industry. Today, as a 12-year veteran Sales Professional for RDO Equipment Co. in Austin, Texas, she says it's becoming more common to see women in the industry, in roles from equipment operators to owners of companies. And she's not alone in that observation.
According to OSHA, the number of women employed in the construction industry grew 81.3 percent from 1985 to 2007. While the economic downturn resulted in a total loss of more than 2.5 million construction jobs from 2007 to 2010, men and women, the recent rebound has created new demand for workers in the construction industry. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the need for construction managers is projected to grow steadily into 2024, resulting in the need for operators, service technicians, equipment sales, parts specialists, administrative support, and other related positions.
And industry growth isn't the only thing creating job demand. Baby boomers are retiring. Companies are always looking to attract and retain the best employees. Because of the proven upside of diversity in the workplace and the strengths women bring to different job roles, many male-dominated industries, including construction, are proactively seeking out female employees.
Leading the Way
Bush's employer, RDO Equipment Co., is one of the country's largest networks of equipment dealerships. While RDO Equipment Co. certainly falls within the realm of a male-dominated industry, the company is also one that is gender-diversified at all levels. Christi Offutt, Chief Executive Officer has been in various executive leadership positions for nearly 15 years. And across the company, everything from C-Suite to executive to director positions are held by females.
Outside of the corporate walls, the diversity also can be seen throughout RDO Equipment Co.'s 77 stores across 10 states. One area in particular that has benefited from a diversified work force is RDO Equipment Co.'s Texas region.
The Texas region is consistently a top financial performer in the company and boasts females in several types of positions including management, many of them among the region's highest performers. The success of the Texas region is a great example of the growing opportunities, potential, and place women have the in the construction equipment industry.
What's Bringing in Women
Like Bush and several of her colleagues throughout the RDO Equipment Co. Texas footprint have done, more and more women are trading office attire and computers for work boots and the roar of equipment.
"It's a great field," Bush says of the construction industry. "And it's no longer just a man's world. Operators, project managers, presidents of companies; there continues to be more opportunities for women in this growing industry."
While a very small percentage of the construction industry's labor positions are held by females - estimated to be less than 1 percent of the total workforce - there are so many other ways women can get into this growing field.
At RDO Equipment Co.'s seven stores in its Texas region, females can be found in positions from sales to rental to service. As much as they enjoy their jobs, many of them have found their skills and talents to be major advantages in their roles.
Maria Hernandez has been in the equipment industry for 22 years, 15 of those years as a Sales Coordinator at RDO Equipment Co. in San Antonio. Throughout the years, her knowledge, attention to detail and relationship-building skills have made her a go-to resource for colleagues and, often, the preferred point of contact for customers.
"I believe women are naturally strong in relationship building and that's a big part of my job," she said. When it comes time to close a deal, customers often want to work with her because they have a level of comfort and trust. Whether it's an owner or the wife of an owner making the decisions, Hernandez says this is especially true with female customers.
While only 7 percent of construction companies are owned by women, that number increased by 20 percent from 1997 to 2002, according to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). And, female roles in the industry tend to be those in management, operations, and business development - in other words, decision-makers - making team members with skills like Hernandez huge assets.
In addition to the chance to put strengths and abilities to work, unique work environments and challenging roles are also attracting more women to the construction industry. Norma Garza, Sales Professional at RDO Equipment Co. in Laredo says one of the things she enjoys most about her job is meeting customers and being out on jobsites.
"I'm not sitting at a desk all day, I get to be outside and work with customers," she said. While she admits she has had to learn a lot along the way, recalling, "I used to wear high heels and dresses; now, I don't leave the house without my work boots and hard hat," the ongoing opportunities to try new things - often taking her outside her comfort zone, "in a good way," she says - are among the things she loves most about the job.
Kim Tyrpak, Rental Sales Professional in Austin, came from the publishing industry and saw working for RDO Equipment Co. as an opportunity to do something different and challenging. Today, she's RDO Equipment Co.'s only female rental rep in the state of Texas and one of the top performers. She says one of the best parts of her job is also one of the most challenging - finding new business and customers.
"Especially in Texas, there's so much going on in construction, there are new companies coming here all the time," she said. "I love that my job is all about meeting new people and finding new avenues for business. It's a rush."
With all the different types of job roles in the industry, the opportunities to be successful are certainly drawing more women to equipment. Beyond the reasons many women are looking to get a start in the construction industry is the potential that lies ahead.
Why are Women Staying
Not only is there job security with construction activity expected to expand, both because of demands for new projects and improvements needed on national infrastructure, there are opportunities to grow professionally as well.
When Shawna Garza began working in a hardware store as a teenager, she had no idea it would be the start of a successful career that would lead to a management-level role.
Garza began working at RDO Equipment Co. in 2005 as a Service Administrator in Fort Worth. Soon after, when an opportunity came to move into a sales role, she took on the new challenge. While she enjoyed her time in sales, Garza realized her true passion and wanted to be back on the service side of the business.
"Working in service, you have to enjoy being the solution to someone's problem," she explained. "And that's what I love."
She was able to take on a new role of Service Advisor and shortly after, Garza was promoted to Service Manager for RDO Equipment Co. in Fort Worth - RDO Equipment Co.'s only female Service Manager in the state. Today she does what she enjoys most and manages a team of about 30 that includes service advisors, service technicians, and interns.
She appreciates the opportunities she's had that allowed her to work in various roles and see different aspects of the business, saying, "I like to grow and continue to learn, and in my time with RDO, I've been able to experience so many sides of this industry."
While Garza's drive to learn and be challenged has certainly helped her move up throughout the years, she's quick to share credit for her success with her management team and colleagues. The positive, supportive working environment, for both men and women, is something many at RDO Equipment Co. have also witnessed.
What It's Like Being a Woman in the Industry
One of the reasons females still make up only 9.3 percent of the construction industry is the perceived work environment. It's a long-standing stereotype that women in construction face challenges like doubt, discrimination, and harassment. While some of the women at RDO Equipment Co. admit it wasn't easy and recall instances of this early-on in their careers, all agree that male vs. female has no place in their environment today.
"I was nervous at first but now, I don't even notice," Tyrpak said when asked what it's like working in a male-dominated industry. Coming into her rental sales position with no previous experience in the equipment industry, Tyrpak was prepared to have to prove herself - more than a male counterpart. However, she has been quick to earn respect, from both colleagues and customers, with her approach of always learning, being honest, and building trust.
Bush echoes Tyrpak's approach, recalling a few times early on in her career where she felt tested by male customers, saying, "They would ask questions they thought I wouldn't know, almost like they wanted me to fail." Bush's response? Honesty.
"If I didn't know, I'd tell them I didn't know. But, I'd find out and I'd get them the right information. That goes a long way to earning trust, business and, ultimately, respect." That approach is one she has stuck with because she feels, regardless of male or female, sales professionals always need to earn their business, it's never a given. "Getting to know the people and product being sold is key," she advises.
Susan Harrod, Field Service Advisor with RDO Equipment Co. in Austin, spends most of her time on the phone, scheduling technicians and confirming service work with customers. When asked what it's like working in a male-dominated industry, she said, "It's funny, there are times I completely forget about it, then there are other times I've felt I had to work harder to prove myself."
She further explained that some men are used to dealing with other men, especially in the service department. But, "I find that once they talk to me for a bit and they realize I'm able to help them out, they're great," she said.
Beyond helping customers, one of the ways she has been able to help other females transition into the industry and earn trust of male colleagues is her involvement in training. Because the computer systems she works with in her role are crucial to most positions at RDO Equipment Co. stores, she's involved in training virtually every new team member.
"I take time with them and show them the system, but I also let them know I'm here to help in the future," she said. "That resonates well and people remember that."
The Future is Bright
Women looking to get into the construction industry today have the advantage of the strong females who have helped pave the way. In addition to mentors and current employees in a company, organizations like NAWIC are promoting the industry to women, both on a national level and locally through chapters, and offering support and resources to help them be successful.
While each has slightly different advice for females interested in working in the industry, many of the RDO Equipment Co. team members agree that a few qualities are key - be confident, be genuine, and be eager to learn.
With the opportunities for success, growth, and fulfillment, construction and equipment are emerging as ideal places for women who are eager to get their hands dirty, to learn and to work in an exciting industry.