Through her non-profit Hope Renovations, Nora El-Khouri Spencer is inspiring women to pursue living-wage jobs in the construction trades through a 12-week training program.

June 29, 2022

Women in Construction Making Steady Gains, CNN Hero Says

Featured in the critically acclaimed series CNN Heroes, Nora El-Khouri Spencer says companies such as Haskell are helping promote diversity.

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While it’s true that construction remains a male-dominated industry, women are more commonly breaking new ground to make it more diverse and inclusive. They are even breaking news as they’re doing it.

Recently, the long-running and critically acclaimed CNN Heroes series focused on Nora El-Khouri Spencer. Through Hope Renovations, her Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based non-profit, she is forging a path for women to join the industry. The organization inspires women to pursue living-wage jobs in the construction trades via a twelve-week pre-apprenticeship training program.

“I started doing some renovations to my own home and then bought a couple of other properties,” Spencer said. “I enjoyed the work, and I was good at it. Over the years I realized there was a gap for women in this industry and it bugged me. So later in life, when I went back to school to a get a Master of Social Work, I thought, ‘Well, this is an opportunity for me to share my skills and help women find their path in this industry that I have grown to enjoy and have a passion for.’ I want to empower them in this world and help them access these great jobs that we just don’t have enough people to fill.”

Spencer’s company, Hope Renovations, provides repairs and renovations that enable older adults to stay in their homes as they age. Trainees gain hands-on practice in the trades by assisting with this aging-in-place work alongside an experienced construction crew. While in our program, trainees also receive social supports to help them overcome barriers to employment.

Her efforts are paying off. Since 2020, more than 40 women have graduated from the program and two-thirds of them have found work in construction. Meanwhile, the industry as a whole has seen similar success in integrating and empowering women.

As reported by the recruitment site Movity.com, women are making substantial statistical gains in recent years:

  • They’re gaining fast in construction management roles. In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 10% of construction managers were women, which was a 70% increase since 2003 and represented 30% growth in 2018 alone.
  • From 2014 to 2019, the number of women-owned construction firms increased by 68%, and the revenue of those firms increased by 31%.
  • In construction, women earn 95% of what men earn, meaning the gender pay gap is among the lowest in the United States, where the average female worker makes 81.1% of what their male colleagues earn.
  • In 2017 and ’18, the percentage of women in construction trades increased by 17.6%, five times the overall industry job-growth rate of 3.7%.

Expanding diversity, equity and inclusion is a central pillar of Haskell’s strategic plan. Since 2020, 36% of the company’s senior lead hires have been women or minorities, and two women have joined its Board of Directors.

“It’s hugely important to have companies that are going to be the trailblazers and not just talk the talk but walk the walk," Spencer said. "I would love to have a thousand small employers jump on board and start hiring women, but having one multi-thousand employer company do that is just as good, if not better, because of their visibility.

“Companies like Haskell can really make an impact in this industry by doing the things they are doing to make space for gender minorities and make sure everyone is represented.”

Kierstin Beaumont started at Haskell as an intern in 2013 and advanced through the construction management ranks to Project Manager. In 2021, she transitioned to her current role as Manager of Project Controls Systems.

Beaumont said that male teammates in the field had accepted and championed her and that female leaders who preceded her, such as Stacey Barton, Vice President and Federal Division Leader, and Denise Ramsey, Vice President and Chief Engineer, set outstanding examples.

“We have systems in place where women can look up to other women; I have had people like Stacy Barton and Denise Ramsey that I look up to for the standard on professionalism and consistency in servant-leadership,” Beaumont said. “There can be a lot of things you deal with, in terms of the nuance of being a woman on the job site, like being underestimated, not being heard or not feeling respected. You need to find your advocate, and several superintendents and project managers have been that for me on-site.” 

Haskell has more than 110 women in construction-related roles ranging from Project Manager to Project Superintendent to Senior Safety Coordinator. Overall, women make up roughly 15% of construction roles, a ratio that climbs to nearly 30% when those in design and engineering roles are included. Through the first six months of 2022, Haskell hired 11 women in construction positions. When women see more representation in construction roles, it becomes easier to recruit them and Haskell, is committed to providing that representation.

“There is a movement that has been happening for some time, and I think it has picked up speed the last few years,” Spencer said. “We find that women often end up in administrative, office and design roles, but the women we meet and talk to have many times had the belief that they could do the hands-on stuff but didn’t know how. That’s where the gap is. Girls and women aren’t being told about this stuff early on, they aren’t getting tools put in their hands. If we were doing a better job at that, I don’t think we would see this disparity. I always say, if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

Haskell delivers more than $1 billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,000 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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