Every year in March, our industry celebrates Women in Construction. This year, in spite of all the distractions and worries we are facing as an industry and a nation, we want to make sure that we are not losing sight of the amazing progress these women have made. We will continue to not only celebrate their contributions but also to raise awareness of the opportunities often overlooked by young women searching for a career. With a nationwide shortage of trade contractors and the many opportunities for growth available, construction may be an excellent choice for smart, hardworking women who want to pursue what was, until recently, considered an uncommon path.

The good news is, at Continental, women are represented at every level from executive management to fieldwork. The landscape of the job site is changing. Kate Penn, a veteran of the industry and a project manager at Continental Contractors, shares, “When I started (more years ago than I like to admit), many of the men I worked with had never worked with a woman who wasn’t support staff. I rarely saw women working in the trades 20 years ago, but now I see women represented in almost all trades – still not enough, but a noted increase.” 

Penn admits that it was a rocky start. “As a woman, and especially as a young woman, it was absolutely true that I was held to a higher standard to prove my abilities and nothing was taken for granted. What I liked, though, was that once I got past that “testing,” I was generally treated as an equal in most cases (except, always, systematically and unapologetically, in pay). I was also fortunate to have had advocates and mentors along the way who kept me in the game.”

But there’s better news on that front for women entering construction.  According to the National Association of Women in Construction, overall, the national pay gap on average shows women earn approximately 81 cents on the dollar as compared to male counterparts. In construction, however, that gap narrows significantly, with women earning 99.1% of what men make.

“There is a craziness to it, and the days are long sometimes, but I love it,” says Karen Krause, assistant project manager at Continental. As a busy mother of two children and an animal rights advocate, Karen is used to multitasking, and that is one of the aspects of the job she loves. “Every day is a little bit different.”

Helen VanAlstine joined Continental just two months ago but brought more than 15 years of architecture and design experience with her. She joined Continental as an assistant project manager because she always loved the time she was able to spend on-site during installation days. “It is a satisfying job where you get to see something physically built from your efforts. You see drawings transformed into a built environment and know your efforts helped make that happen. It is a job that requires problem solving, teamwork and multitasking which I think a lot of women naturally excel at.”

Newspaper clip of Kate Penn on-site in Virginia

Indeed, while many workplace cultures have yet to embrace the collaborative nature inherent in many women, construction demands and celebrates it. In a typical hotel renovation, there are so many individuals involved in making the project a success. The hotel owner, management team and housekeeping team, as well as the designer, architect, purchasing agent, and multiple subcontractors all have roles that must be choreographed by the general contractor to stay on schedule. Communication is key, as is relying on the expertise of each of the individuals involved.

Wafa’ Issa Glaus and Kristi Matzek are both project superintendents for Continental Contractors. Finding women on the front line of a job site, managing the day to day construction, is still rare, and both Glaus and Matzek excel in their roles. Glaus has been in construction for over 20 years and got her start because she loves a good challenge. “I wanted to prove to myself that I can do any job I set my mind to.” 

Kristi started more recently and has found her eye for detail and a positive attitude to be an excellent asset to her projects. The travel can be tough, and some days are hard. But she would still recommend a career in construction to other women: “I absolutely would steer woman into this industry. I have spoken to my own daughter about it, and she is proud to see her mom succeeding. There are many positions in construction… a girl can learn a trade and with continued hard work and learning can build a resume leading towards a supervisor position. You just have to be willing to work hard and absorb as much as possible daily.”

Thank you to all the women-in-construction trailblazers! You enrich our lives with the work you do!

PHOTOS (left to right): Karen Krause, Helen VanAlstine, Kristi Matzek and Wafa’ Issa Glaus

Women in Construction Week is a holiday dedicated to changing the stereotypes that women face when it comes to careers by giving them new opportunities to look at; the construction industry has many places where women can advance and built a career for themselves. Women’s History Month commemorates and encourages the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history. Women’s History Month and Women in Construction week are important reminders of how thankful we are for the women at Continental who do groundbreaking work every day.