Women Reflect on Their Experiences in the Glass and Construction Industry

Women make up 10.3% of the construction industry, despite totaling 47% of the overall workforce, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And contractors reported in the Q4 2019 Commercial Construction Index that just 7% of their onsite workers are women. While their numbers may still be low, women are becoming increasingly important to the industry as it battles the labor shortage. Several women in the glass industry shared their experiences as construction professionals for Women in Construction Week in early March.

Kim Deibel is a project manager for the contract glazing company Empirehouse Inc., a certified Women’s Business Enterprise in Mounds View, Minn., recognized by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. She has been in the industry for 18 years, and says that while there are still some barriers, it’s becoming more common to see women in the business.

“As women in the industry, often we need to prove to whomever we are working with that we know what we are doing. It has always been assumed that construction is a man’s job. I believe it’s time for that to change. I might not be able to lift 75 pounds, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand how the building is put together,” says Deibel. “… I will never forget a few years back when I brought a male intern with me to a jobsite to show him the current project I was working on. I had walked away for a minute and the superintendent asked the intern if I was good at my job and if I knew what I was doing. I was in the decision-making position and the gentleman with me was an intern. This happens a lot and it can be very discouraging to women starting out in the business.”

While Deibel has had negative experiences, she believes women can bring a different perspective to the industry.

“I think the ability to multitask is a must in this industry and no one multitasks better than a woman,” she adds. “There are definitely opportunities within this industry, especially right now as companies continue to grow.”

Rachel Yechout, project manager for Empirehouse, agrees that women can bring something unique to the table.

“It also takes a variety of people and personalities to get a job done right,” she says.

Deibel recommends that companies that want to recruit more people, including women, get their current female employees in front of young girls to describe what the industry is all about.

“The interest in your career choice often starts at an early age,” she says.

Yechout echoes this sentiment, encouraging companies to begin at the high school level, as her company has done.

“I know Empirehouse has been to a few high schools within the area, but it’s hard to find schools promoting the trades,” she says, adding that the construction industry is a great career path. “The great sense of self-accomplishment in contributing to building structures that give people places to live, work and learn is a great feeling … The contract glazing industry tends to be a smaller and more specialized industry, but there is always a great and challenging variety of work.”

Deibel also points out that with new technology, glass manipulators and the communication channels available today, there is equal opportunity for women to participate in the industry.

Linda Harris is the Virginia area manager for Binswanger Glass. She was hired by the company in 1988 to work in the accounting department. Her 32-year career has seen her promoted from branch manager to area manager after time spent at her husband’s construction company.

“There haven’t been many female area managers in our company’s 148-year history so when the role was offered to me, I took it,” says Harris. “… Construction and the glass business have always been male-dominated industries. I’ve learned how to work with men in the field.”

Now she is mentoring four women at the company’s branch in Richmond, Va.

“The women at our branch are learning the business faster than my generation did. If you are working at the right company with the right mentor and right people, you are set up to succeed and can learn the business fast,” she says.

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