Women break barriers in construction: Surge in numbers and leadership roles

Feb 1, 2024, 4:00 PM

women on the job....

(AP File Photo)

(AP File Photo)

Women are making significant strides in the Construction Sciences industry.

According to a report by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), 1,173,000 women now work in construction and comprise 9.9 percent of the construction industry in the United States.

Roles Women Play Today

Today, more women are architects, estimators, superintendents, and project managers. Whether they wear hard hats or keep things organized behind the scenes, they bring value to the job site and the office. Women are breaking down gender barriers and bringing a fresh perspective to the construction industry.

Women working in construction numbered 10.9 percent of the entire U.S. workforce in 2022 and the path that led them there often differs.

Sefora Onye, Lead Project Manager, Rosie Right | Design. Build. Remodel., a Rosie on the House Certified Partner, was introduced to construction at a young age through hands-on experience.

“I helped my dad to rebuild our family house after it burned down when I was 12. Since that time, my passion grew, and I thought it would be really cool to see work in construction. So, here I am today.”

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that the share of women working in construction trades is the highest in two decades. More than ever, women are promoted to leadership roles and owning their construction businesses.

Rebecca Derendal, owner of Arizona Chimney & Air Ducts, and a Rosie on the House Certified Partner, shares her story.

“My story may be a bit different than most. We started as a chimney sweep because we had a chimney that needed to be swept and we thought what a great part-time gig that could be. It started small but quickly grew. Our son was just two years old when the company was founded. We grew and so did our son. We added dryer vents and air duct cleaning through the years. It was a sad day when my husband passed away. It was also a day of exploring my beliefs, passions, and aspirations for my future and the future of the company. Along with my son who was an adult by this time, we chose to move forward and never look back. We were going to make his dad proud of the little chimney sweep company that was started in 1985 with a homemade trailer pulled by our family station wagon and evolved into four full-size Ford Transits. I was proud that I chose a career in the service/construction industry, and it was there when I needed it the most.”

Sefora says the most rewarding part of working in construction is “Seeing the transformation that can take place, such as taking a dated kitchen and making it look new is really rewarding. However, being part of someone else’s change and the significant impact is what I enjoy the most.”

Overcoming Challenges

Being a woman in construction has its own set of challenges to overcome.

“It’s silly, but one of my challenges was learning how to use the portable toilet, but like everything else, I learned to deal with it. Being short and a female is also a disadvantage that created intimidation in my mind. I had to tell myself that construction should not be different than any other job,” Sefora says. “If I show respect, people have to respect me, and I could use my female shortness to my advantage in other ways. The terminology also scared me when I started, thinking that guys would think I was dumb if I didn’t know the lingo. But I was surprised to find out that guys actually care and want to help out, especially if they see you want to learn.”

Rebecca faced her own challenges, too. “The biggest challenge is people not thinking I know what I am talking about because I am a woman. Know your trade. I was never afraid to get my hands dirty. I was always reading and listening to others in the trade. Customers are always saying ‘Wow, you know what you are talking about,’ or ‘We really appreciate your advice and help.'”

How You Can Celebrate Women in Construction

On average, women in the U.S. earn 82.9 percent of what men make. The gender pay gap is significantly smaller in construction occupations, with women earning on average 95.5 percent of what men make.

In addition to their pay, opportunities for women in construction are on the rise. To showcase these opportunities, NAWIC holds WIC Week™ or Women in Construction Week™.

This annual event celebrates and promotes the role of women in the construction industry. NAWIC held the first WIC Week in 1998. It has grown and expanded each year since. Many of NAWIC’s local chapters hold WIC Week events, which include presentations to high school classes, job site tours, luncheons, and virtual events.

There are two NAWIC chapters in Arizona; Phoenix #98 and Tucson #122. Both chapters will hold WIC Week events in their respective communities.

This year’s theme, “Keys to the Future,” celebrates “the strength and knowledge of women and the vital role they play in shaping the future of the construction industry.”

WIC Week 2024 will be March 3-9, 2024.

If you are interested in a career in construction or would like to share the opportunity with a young woman looking at her career choices, visit NAWIC National’s, Phoenix Chapter’s, and Tucson Chapter’s websites.

Not all construction jobs are with a construction company. Before joining us in 2017, our staff writer, Susan Stein Kregar, managed multiple construction associations. She and Rosie knew each other from their work on the Arizona Registrar of Contractors Industry Advisory Council. She also served as president of NAWIC Tucson in 2021-22.

A long time ago Rosie was seeking a female, bilingual superintendent for Rosie Right | Design. Build. Remodel. A Rosie on the House long-time listener led him to Sefora. The listener called to collect his referral fee. They are still negotiating the payment terms.

Sefora offers this advice to young women considering a career in construction. “Don’t be afraid to try it. If you have the slightest interest or passion for construction, don’t think that construction is not for you just because you’re a female. Dream big, have a positive attitude, and put your learning ability to work. Give it a try. Allow yourself to make mistakes, and don’t think of them as failures. Yesterday’s mistakes made me who I am today, and I hope you can say that too.”

Rebecca enthusiastically adds, “Do what you love and never work!”

Join Rosie on the House every Saturday morning from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. on KTAR News 92.3. If you’d like to send us questions or comments, email Follow us on Twitter and “Like” us on Facebook. For more do-it-yourself tips, go to An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program. Call 888-767-4348 with questions & comments.

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Women break barriers in construction: Surge in numbers and leadership roles