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Women of Action: Building Schools and Demolishing the Gender Gap
September 17, 2020
For far too long, the construction industry has been missing out on one critical component that could reap major benefits.
We need more women.
As the industry faces labor shortages and still falls behind in gender diversity, we find pride and joy in the success of the all-woman team at our recently completed school project in Vista. The team is a true testament to our people-first culture and the way that Balfour Beatty continues to stride forward to increase gender diversity in the field.
Originally built in the late 1950s, California Avenue School serves K-8 medical and special needs children within Vista Unified School District. Our project was a fast-paced, Lease-Leaseback summer modernization with a goal to improve the most used restrooms on the campus, making them more functional and ADA compliant. Implementing construction of the Sprotte+Watson designed improvements and completing it all in just two months was our skilled, all-woman lineup:
- Michelle Reiner, Vice President of Operations
- Katy Johnson, Senior Project Manager
- Mikayla Socia, Assistant Superintendent and Project Superintendent for this team
- Maria Filippov, Senior Project Engineer
District staff were very involved yet completely new to the process of working with our construction team. This presented the opportunity to institute best practices, starting everything off on the right foot. It can be difficult to build a relationship during a fast-paced project schedule given the short amount of time to establish a positive rapport, however, women often tend to possess "soft skill" strengths in collaboration and communication.
That was certainly true of the women on this project team. As such, it came naturally for them to maintain an “open book” policy with the District’s maintenance staff. The team provided frequent communication and assistance as needed each step of the way. The transparency in their process and honest communication helped them quickly build a positive, trusting relationship with the District. Further, close collaboration with the District to create solutions to unforeseen issues led to a better overall client experience as well as greater satisfaction with the end-product.
“I think women solve problems with a different mindset than men. Construction isn’t about making widgets or sitting in manufacturing and pushing a button for identical outputs. The industry will benefit from a different view. And the more diversity you have, the more mindsets and better outcomes you’ll have.” – Christine M. McAnney, Vice President & General Counsel, Balfour Beatty U.S. Civils.
After breaking ground in her construction career as a project engineer, Assistant Superintendent Mikayla’s experience brought an extra layer of quality control to the project. Applying her prior experience, she was able to manage the team and trade partners with better understanding, skills and foresight of what was needed to achieve success.
Regarding this project, Mikayla shared, “I think the most exciting thing about this all-woman team is that it was not a themed job or a request of the client, it simply happened naturally. We have so many women in our Balfour Beatty workforce that when the team was selected all of us just so happened to be women, and I think that is an incredibly powerful statement about our culture.”
As a company that strives to create a diverse and inclusive workforce, one of the defining values of the Balfour Beatty culture is the nurturing support of all our people, regardless of gender or background. We recognize that the unique perspectives of our diverse, talented staff make us a better business and create meaningful change.
In the construction industry, women comprise only about 9-10% of all people working on projects in the field. However, at Balfour Beatty women comprise 12% of operational project and field staff, tilting the scales higher than the national average. The all-female team for this project further indicates Balfour Beatty’s progress to remedy the age-old imbalance and bring change to gender perceptions.
All four women are actively involved in Balfour Beatty’s employee resource group, Connecting Women, which highlights the importance of mentorship in providing equal opportunities for all teammates to succeed. In order to create lasting positive change, it is crucial for men and women to continue to see each other as allies and mentors at all levels across the industry.