A Chilean construction engineer recently asked me how his college-aged daughter might someday get to where I am. I want to show her the 150 megawatt wind farm we’re building in Texas. Our team has women working in engineering, construction, project management, environmental compliance, safety and recruiting.
America needs engineers and construction specialists badly. We are facing an infrastructure and energy crisis. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, our drinking water and sewer systems leak, and our century-old electricity grid is tired and susceptible to outages. Already vulnerable systems cannot cope with the added stresses of climate change. A shortage of skilled labor only drives up the costs and project delays.
However, America has a resource that can help us rebuild the essential building blocks of our economy: women. Women hold less than 10 percent of the more than 10 million jobs in construction, according to the National Association of Women in Construction. Of the 939,000 women working in construction, 45 percent are in sales and office jobs.
Last year, a Microsoft study that found that girls’ interest in STEM fields drops precipitously in high school, around the age of 15. We need to excite girls even younger. Let them know their lives don’t have to be spent behind a desk. They’re needed in the field.
Parents: Show your daughters construction sites, talk with them about the math, engineering and design at work. Answer their questions.
There are real perks for women in construction. According to the Bureau of Labor, women in construction get a fairer shake. While on average in the United States, women earn 81.1 percent of what men make, in construction women earn 95.7 percent of what men make. While it may not be equal, the gender pay gap is narrower.
I am one of those women. For the last three decades, I have worked to power the American economy. For the past 12 years, I have worked in renewable energy, leading a team that has added almost a gigawatt of wind power to the grid.
We need more women on our team. Come do the hard work to solve America’s energy and infrastructure crisis.
— Kim Smith, Vice president of engineering and construction, Acciona Energy US Global, Chicago
Originally published in the Chicago Tribune on March 14, 2019