Celebrating Women in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industry

10 March 2021

As part of Women in Construction Week, Focus explored gender diversity in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry and sat down with some of the women leading Focus to discuss their experiences and offer advice for other women in the industry.

Women in the AEC industry today

In 2020, 46% of the US workforce are women but that percentage starts to become less representative when analyzing the AEC industry specifically. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 27% of professionals who specialize in the Architecture and Engineering are women and in Construction, the percentage is only 10.9%. This underrepresentation extends to leadership in the industry with only 16% of AEC firms employing women in c-suite level positions.

While the statistics show that women continue to be underrepresented in the AEC industry, there are some indicators that suggest positive change is occurring. For instance, Randstad reported in 2018 that nearly 1/3 of AEC Firms in the UK promoted a woman to a senior leadership role and in the last 5 years, the number of firms owned by women has grown 64%.

Why having more women in the industry is a good thing

Beyond the fact that equality in the workplace is morally pertinent, diversity drives performance. Countless reports have shown the positive impacts of championing diversity in the workplace like this report from McKinsey + Company which highlights that gender-diverse companies are 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability compared to less diverse organizations. That benefit only becomes more profound when women are more represented in executive leadership.

What are the barriers for women in the AEC industry and what can be done?

The issue of diversity in the workplace is often confounding. Women are less likely to seek out careers in an industry where they are undervalued and underrepresented and so addressing this lack of diversity requires two areas of focus -

1. Recruiting more women

2. Supporting female leaders

As firms work to remove bias from there hiring process and elevate women leaders, potential female employees will see the potential for greater opportunities in the AEC industry.

Women at Focus

At Focus, we recognize the value of diversity and work to support and seek out female leaders in the AEC industry. In honor of Women in Construction week, we sat down with some of the women who are making an impact at Focus today to ask a few questions about their experience and advice.

Did you always want to be in this industry? What led you to starting a career in AEC?

Jillian Fiandaca (Project Manager): I’ve known since I was 17 that I wanted to have a career in construction. My senior year of high school, I took a building construction course in which we built a house from the ground up. Every day for a few hours I would be bussed to a location in Itasca, where I learned how to frame walls, hang drywall, lay tile, install flooring and everything in between. It was bliss. After that I was hooked.

Yolie Miarmontes (Project Coordinator): My construction experience began in 1994 at RME who at the time was renovating Navy Pier. That was my first exposure to the AEC industry, and being a part of such an iconic project inspired a lot of pride for me. Soon after I was offered a position with Lend Lease where I was involved in some of the largest and most interesting projects this city has seen from high rises on Lake Shore Drive, to the amazing Children’s Museum and Shakespeare theater at Navy Pier. It was a sink or swim environment in which you had keep up with all the phases of construction on multiple projects from start to finish. My current adventure in construction has been with Focus where I am working on a variety of exciting projects across the city from Logan Square to Fulton Market alongside some of the most experienced of construction and development professionals in the business. Over the last 25 years in the profession, I can say there isn’t another like the AEC industry.

What is it like being a woman in the AEC industry?

Aisha Johnson (Controller): Being a woman in AEC has been a challenging yet very rewarding experience. Having not always envisioned myself at an AEC firm, I can say I am glad to have stumbled into this industry. It is niche field and having experience in it can really set you apart and put you on a path for success. Once you have mastered real estate accounting, the rest is somewhat of a breeze.

Courtney Brower (Senior Development Manager): I have not experienced challenges that are unique to the industry that are different from any other working professional woman. Representation of women in architecture schools has been steadily growing and I think we will soon see similar trends in engineering and construction fields which, with rising representation of women in leadership roles, will lead to more opportunities for women.

Anna Voyles (Assistant Project Manager): It’s like being a woman in most other aspects of life; there are unique challenges and opportunities alike. When it comes down to business, my peers respect me, and my work speaks for itself. It’s a good sign that the notoriously old-fashioned culture of the AEC industry, particularly within construction, has evolved over time and continues to do so.

Yolie Miramontes (Project Coordinator) : Being a woman in construction is much different today than it was when I began over 25 years ago. I am amazed to see the progression of women into leadership roles across the industry, helping to build the Chicago of today. Where in the past the industry was dominated by men, there are more and more women being recognized for their contributions and adding value to their firms in their areas of expertise.

What advice do you have for other women starting their careers in AEC?

Courtney Brower (Senior Development Manager): To be open minded about career opportunities. I started in this field as an architect and transitioned into real estate development. I didn’t think I would be here 10 years ago, but this was a good career move for me.

Aisha Johnson (Controller): “Don’t be the YES woman!” As women we sometimes feel this need to overly prove ourselves in predominantly male dominated industries. This results in overloading our plates and not wanting to turn a project down. Work hard but know your limits so that you are not stressed and overworked.

Yolie Miramontes (Project Coordinator): Be confident, be tough, and be direct. You have just as much value to add as the next person and even the hardest problems have a solution. The process of finding that solution creates invaluable experience. Plus - there is no better feeling than driving downtown and pointing to a beautiful high rise and saying I had a small part in building that!

What resources or industry organizations are you a part of that you feel support women in the industry?

Anna Voyles (Assistant Project Manager): Phi Sigma Rho is specifically helpful for women pursuing careers in STEM. The alumni network consists of women across the country with varied experience in different sectors and roles, and we keep in touch through online groups. A recent grad can get advice on excelling in her new job. An experienced engineer can learn how others navigated a career switch. A recently promoted project manager can ask questions on leading her own team for the first time. The like-minded network will provide value wherever my career takes me.

Courtney Brower (Senior Development Manager): REFF – Real Estate Finance Forum is an organization for women in real estate finance and development. They offer education and networking support and philanthropy aimed at raising up women in the industry.

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