Helping organize A View From The Future, did not prepare me for what I witnessed and learned during the actual AEC industry event hosted by BWAF earlier this month. Recently joining the BWAF team, I have gained better insight of the culture of the building industry. I was pleasurably shocked to hear Edie Weiner talk about gender and neurology, in a non-disparaging way that builds the business case for gender diversity in companies. Furthermore, I was intrigued by the actions of companies like Forest City Ratner, who are giving working women in the construction industry new resources that will increase retention.
Central to the tenets and mission of BWAF, Weiner emphasized the crucial role women play in the economy. Specifically, women take broader approach to problem solving, the bigger picture and its effect, whereas men tend to think in a focused manner, efficient, however, limited. According to Weiner, these neurological distinctions appropriately allow women and men to innovate in different ways. The integration and advancement of women in male-dominated industries such as the AEC, will produce better innovation, thereby translate to profit. These ideas are parallel to some of the proponents making up the business case for women, a fundamental principle, advocated by the BWAF Industry Leaders Round Table (learn more).
After Weiner’s presentation, the panel discussed the impact of future trends she identified on their respective fields. Panelist, MaryAnne Gilmartin, Executive Vice President and Director of Commercial & Residential Development for Forest City Ratner Companies, shared her experience and knowledge of women in construction and development. Women comprise less than 3% of workers in construction. Gilmartin’s company is utilizing modular technology to build the tallest residential high rise in NYC. This method allows for the construction of large buildings inside of a factory, built one floor at a time, and assembled progressively at the site. Gilmartin argued that this method of construction not only is cost efficient, more predictable, sustainable, and safer than traditional on-site methods, but also empowering for women. For many women, particularly single mothers, the modular building method allows them to have more consistent and predictable work hours, convenience in location and daycare facilities, and overall, greater support and stability in this industry.
Women are and will continue to play a vital role in the economy—the advancement of women and their voice in innovative ideas is essential in adapting to this current building industry transformation. I am thoroughly inspired by Weiner’s keynote about the trends and potential for economic growth, but I am more appreciative of the rising technologies and strategies recently implemented to give women fair opportunities in the predominantly male building industry. Earlier this year, BWAF founder, Beverly Willis quoted an old saying, “Women hold up half the sky.” Willis asked everyone to imagine what our world could be like if women designed and built half of our environment—I am now beginning to think that our chances are forthcoming.
By: Nancy Nguyen, Oberlin ’08 and new BWAF Communications & Office Manager