Break the Cement Ceiling in Construction by Marketing to Women
Why male-dominated industries like construction should change the way they market to women.
In the United States, full-time professional women still battle to earn wages equal to their male counterparts. Though the gap has narrowed slightly in the last decade, women earn on average just over 80 percent of what men make.1 But there are some bright spots. Women in the construction industry earn 99.1 percent of what their male peers make.1
So why do so few women pursue construction jobs? The answer may lie in how they are marketed. At Rhea + Kaiser, we have a deep interest in construction – from our historical work with household names like Caterpillar, to current marketing strategy for PoreShield, a soy-based concrete durability enhancer used in construction and other projects. We wanted to learn more about the industry’s workforce and help explain this disparity.
Gale Construction Company President Laura Pager says the field is misrepresented. “I don’t think women realize there are good-paying, 40-hour per week jobs you can raise a family on in construction,” she explains.
Gale Construction is a SBA 8(a) Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) General Contractor. Pager founded the company with friend Mike Gale in 1996. Today, she is the sole owner. They made their intro into the industry through small residential projects and municipal work. Bid by bid, they learned how to go after larger projects. Today, they almost exclusively manage federal projects out of six states and the District of Columbia, through offices in Joliet, Illinois; Maryland; Florida and one soon to open in St. Louis. Their biggest job to date supports the Army Corps in Florida.
“If you can do an Army Corps job, you can do anything.” Pager says, explaining the daunting procedures and paperwork behind federal contracts. “I didn’t know I was as tenacious as I am. I couldn’t have imagined in 1996 that I would enjoy the construction industry this much.”
As of December 2018, less than 10 percent of construction employees were women.2 Pager says the field is misrepresented to women, who do not realize there are desirable job opportunities in construction – even out in the field. “If you are a laborer, the work is physically difficult. But I have found over the years that women are better equipment operators than men. They are good with the machines, they are good truck drivers. Women have a lot of qualities that would make them successful in the trades.”
Pager says there is much room for improvement in the way the construction industry markets to women, and her own experience as a woman has changed the way she markets her business to customers. “I always say that I am a woman-owned construction company; it’s part of my tagline,” she explains. “I’m small business certified and certified as a WOSB, so contracting officers get credit for working with me.”
When she first entered the construction industry in the late ‘90s, Pager was mistaken for the stenographer in business meetings. When she walks onto a job site today, people know she is the prime contractor. Her advice to women who work in or are considering entering traditionally male-dominated fields is to prioritize knowledge and confidence. “As long as you know your business and your capabilities, you’ll put everyone at ease.
Now that she has broken the “cement ceiling,” Pager aspires to increase gender and racial diversity at all levels and roles in her organization and the industry at large. She is the director of the Federation of Women Contractors and has worked with legislators and lobbyists in Springfield and Washington, D.C. to improve female participation in state and federal contracts.
Significant strides will require reframing the way all prospective employees view the industry. “The well is drying up for qualified people who even realize these jobs exist – we need to get the trades back in schools,” Pager warns. She hopes to see continued interest in the field that has brought her professional success and fulfillment.
Pager says construction is challenging, but there is variety that many professionals crave. Most importantly, she adds, the community imprint is tangible. “I love that I can go back to an old job that we physically built – I can see it, touch it, feel it and walk on it. It is a very prideful thing.”
For more information about Laura Pager and Gale Construction, visit http://www.galeconstructioncompany.com/.
 National Association of Women in Construction