Support, encourage, grow.
These words are important in building a workforce in any industry, but to the women of Heating and Plumbing Engineers, Inc., they are a way of life.
“Support, encourage, grow is always something that’s at the forefront of everything we’re doing,” said Leah Walton, talent specialist at HPE, where women are encouraged to enter the construction industry. “We collaborate and set each other up for success; it wouldn’t benefit us to say, ‘every woman for herself.’”
Within the past five years, women have made up no more than about 8.9 percent of the nation’s construction workforce, according to the National Association of Women in Construction. Kelly Eustace, HPE chairman and COO, would like to see that number grow, so HPE celebrated National Women in Construction Week March 6-10 with themed days such as Admirable Women and a women’s wellness event.
HPE is a Colorado Springs-based commercial and residential contractor specializing in high-performance, energy-efficient buildings in health care, technology, retail and multifamily housing, to name a few. The company was founded 70 years ago by Eustace’s grandfather, and Kelly became an owner in 2005. Her husband, Bill, serves as president and CEO.
Eustace grew up around construction, as did intern Brittney McClain, a senior majoring in construction management at CSU-Pueblo.
“I wanted to expand my career [opportunities],” McClain said.
“Every year at HPE, we do some activity to recognize women who work in construction. There was an acknowledgment of all roles at HPE because we have women in every department across the organization,” said Eustace.
“It’s not just Women in Construction Week; women get recognized here all the time,” added McClain.
Many women don’t see construction as a viable career choice, according to Eustace. But those who enter the industry have the opportunity to hone their skills, whether they work in human resources, accounting or as project managers.
According to Walton, exposing women to these careers while still in high school is an important factor in growing those workforce numbers. Of HPE’s 300 employees, only 23, or 8 percent, are women. But Eustace and her team are encouraging young women like McClain to consider careers in construction.
“Educating women and the public is important. With more exposure opportunities, we can grow that [number] to much higher. I’m trying to be more active with high schools,” said Walton, who is planning a construction networking event for the fall.
For McClain, coming out of the classroom into the industry has confirmed the importance of mentors, she said.
“Everyone wants to teach people around them. If you have open ears, you’ll find no one who won’t teach you,” she said.
Compared with other industries, the pay gap between men and women in the construction industry is rather small — women make 93.5 percent of what men make and, according to Eustace, there are a multitude of opportunities available for women to work in the industry, including as project managers and recruiters. Women who start as interns, like McClain, can go on to be hired after school.
“A construction management degree is different than engineering. Project management is coordinating and communicating; women are good at all of those skills,” said Eustace.
For Eustace, it’s the people that drew her to industry.
“When you get the opportunity to work with craft workers, you feel an intense sense of pride in their work,” she said.
As for career setbacks in a male-dominated industry, Eustace, Walton and McClain say that they haven’t experienced any challenges and that the men they work with have all been very supportive.
“I’ve never been looked at without confidence,” she said. “There haven’t been challenges other than that construction moves fast. Every day is different, but the support is great.”