Fresh Take: Building a better world for women in construction

Our new "Fresh Take" op-ed series invites Clevelanders to share their insights and opinions on issues and topics that matter in their neighborhoods, professions, schools, and civic life. The first installment is by Turner Construction's Tara Lindholm, an empowering voice for women in an industry that is overwhelmingly male (91 percent, to be exact). If you're interested in writing a Fresh Take, drop us a line here.

With 2018 being dubbed the “Year of the Woman” (sparked by the #MeToo movement in 2017), women around the world are gaining courage, voices are growing louder, and people are listening.

It’s encouraging to see what is happening globally, so I’m curious about how this year can impact perceptions within male-dominated corporate industries. You see, I’m a civil engineer by education, and I currently work for the largest construction management firm here in Cleveland. As a young professional, I notice when a female is the CEO and I’m inspired by female leaders. What’s sobering about many of their experiences, however, are the double standards they face in their rise to power. So I’m not at all surprised when I look around my own industry and see so few female leaders.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who was elected to her City Council this past year. Traditionally in her town, this seat was held by middle-aged, Caucasian males. Because she didn’t look the part, she was told, “You’ll never win,” and questioned whether she was sure about moving forward.

I expect challenges in my job every day since I’m juggling expectations of my coworkers, our clients, and subcontractors. But I also empathize with the adversity that the City Councilwoman faced. Sitting in the office at our construction site, I notice every time when people walk in, look me straight in the eyes, then direct their question to our assistant engineer—a younger male who sits beside me.

As a female construction manager, I help to make up only nine percent of the women in the construction industry (Bureau of Labor & Statistics). While some may push to see this percentage increase, I also want to see the “Year of the Woman” help us to be seen as competent leaders.

For more than 35 years, National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) has been honoring women in construction annually with its Women in Construction Week every March. In my nine years in construction, I’ve never noticed this week amplified as loudly as it was this year. My social media feeds were filled with posts recognizing and honoring women in construction.

NAWIC’s Cleveland Chapter even held a panel discussion that featured four women in different stages of their career. About 60 women attended the event; and at the end of session, the moderator invited us to each share a goal we were trying to accomplish, and identify someone in the room we would like to talk to. What resulted was an explosive networking session. Connections were made, information was shared—it was electrifying!

While the spotlight on women in construction is nice for the moment, I don’t want to let it fade. I’m a take-action kind of gal, and I want to see a real impact in 2018.

If you’re even remotely tuned in to this topic, here are my two simple asks to anyone—male and female:

Think before you speak or act; don’t be a barrier. Doubt and preconceived perceptions are barriers to helping women succeed. Advocates and mentors are part of our path to success. So welcome the different perspectives that women bring. After all, diversity is good for business! Studies show that staff diversity correlates to company prosperity. (Just Google “diversity helps business!”)

Make an introduction or connection. Especially for those of us who work in male-dominated industries, women often forget to support one another. The reminder to connect with others who are working, or have worked through, similar experiences can be uplifting.

Tara Lindholm is currently the President of the National Association of Women in Construction’s (NAWIC) Cleveland Chapter. During her career at Turner Construction Company, she has worked on construction projects for local and high-profile clients such as KeyBank and the Cleveland Clinic. Tara graduated from the University of Akron in 2010 as a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, and is currently pursuing her MBA at Cleveland State University.
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