OSU Project Delivery team advancing gender equity in construction

If asked which career holds the most promise and opportunity for women, the construction industry is likely not on most people’s radar. Historically, jobs in construction have been dominated by men and women have felt unwelcome in work environments that are not designed to accommodate or include them. But the current reality for women in construction is trending in a positive direction.

Capital Planning and Development’s efforts to recruit a gender inclusive workforce have been a success, with the number of women working in construction management at OSU far outpacing the national average of just under 18%.  Capital Planning and Development is part of OSU’s Division of Finance and Administration, which is committed to equitable hiring and eliminating structural biases.  The Project Delivery team, in charge of managing a range of capital and small construction projects across all of OSU, is almost evenly split with women representing 45% of project manager or construction manager roles.

Project Manager Julie Drolet is finishing up overseeing construction of the Patricia Valian Reser Center for the Creative Arts building, which opened in April 2024. She said she knew she wanted to be architect when she was just 13 years old. After graduating from a degree program that included only two women, she applied for a competitive role at large firm in Portland. In 1983, she became the company’s very first female architectural employee.

“When I became licensed architect, I could count the number of licensed women architects in Portland on both hands,” she said. Although Drolet said it has been difficult to see women in the field treated unfairly over the years, she has witnessed incredible progress as well.

“The firm where I was a principal had 50% of our team that were women and that was over 15 years ago,” Drolet said. “It has been nice to see the change.”

While being in the minority can be challenging for women, Capital Planning and Development Intern Alicia León, who will be graduating from OSU this spring, sees her career choice as an important step toward greater representation.

“I enjoy being one of few women,” she said. “I feel like it is a step in the right direction and that I am impacting the industry positively … I greatly enjoy the coworkers and support systems I have from within the job.”

In 2022, the Washington Post reported that women have made significant strides forward in the construction industry over the past several years. That progress has been driven by labor shortages, focused effort on the part of advocacy groups and other factors. The growth has been led by Hispanic women, who have increased their presence in the industry by 117% since 2016.  

But there are larger forces pushing for change as well. In 2022, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo launched the Million Women in Construction initiative to increase the number of women working in the industry. The initiative is part of a broader effort within the Department of Commerce to invest in semi-conductor manufacturing and expand high-speed internet service across the country. To meet these goals, more construction workers will be needed than currently exist.

OSU Construction Manager Scylise Little started college intending to study civil engineering but then discovered construction engineering management with the support of her college advisor. Although statistics show that the construction industry is opening up for women, Little was one of only five women in her graduating class in 2019. She is a member of the National Association of Women in Construction, which is an organization that provides professional development opportunities and resources through a network of local chapters across the United States.

“I can say that it takes a certain amount of empowerment and confidence to stand out so much in the group and stay on the path, especially when your perspective is so much different, as well as your priorities,” she said. “Even as a student I had to stand against quiet misogyny and not every person is empowered to do this.”

Little, who is currently managing OSU Pride Center Renovation project, believes that having women contribute to the design and construction process is critical because when women are underrepresented, “the unique perspective of half the population and how that translates to user needs” is lost, she explained.

“This translates most into spaces like restrooms, lactation rooms, lighting and all the way to the shape of seating. You can’t effectively design for a group of people without their input,” Little said.

University Architect and Director of Capital Resources Libby Ramirez agrees that successful projects rely on everyone’s voice being heard.

“I see a strong sense of inclusive design where women are a part of the process,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez, who led the recent Completing Reser Stadium project, also stressed the importance of mentorship as a critical key to success for women who want to pursue a career in construction. She said her own mentorship experience helped her build confidence and taught her to unapologetically embrace her role as a leader.

“Nine times out of ten, there will be a woman in the field you are interested in that will be willing to serve as your mentor, or at least be a sounding board,” she said. “If there isn’t a woman in that role, find a woman in a similar role or a man that has shown evidence of promoting equity.”

Project Manager Carrie Trant recently completed a roof replacement at Milam Hall and is managing an ongoing telecommunications project at Valley Library. She identified multiple barriers for women in construction – sexist attitudes, having to work extra hard to prove oneself and the perception that women are out of place in the industry. However, she also believes that women encourage “a heightened workplace environment that demands respect across the board” and that younger women who want to enter the field should do so confidently.

“Take yourself seriously or no one will,” she said. “Do not give up.”

Project Manager Christina Vinson, leading the Withycombe Hall Renovation, sees the construction field as meaningful and rewarding and would encourage any woman considering it to jump right in. She said she enjoys solving problems and seeing projects come to life.

“I love making stuff happen. I love helping to deliver projects that meet the user’s needs,” Vinson explained. “The schooling isn’t always the easiest or the most fulfilling, but the workforce is the best. Teamwork, problem-solving and making things happen.”

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