Creating a culture where all can thrive in the construction industry

While women in the United States make up a little more than half of the population, they are often underrepresented in male-dominated industries like construction. In October of 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that a mere 14% of the construction workforce were women.
In West Michigan, a number of organizations are working to change that and increase women’s representation in construction.
The Construction Careers Council of West Michigan is an organization focused on addressing the current and future talent needs in the construction industry. This includes increasing the industry's diversity. When asked, Construction Careers Council’s Industry Council Lead Mac Dodds, was very clear on the organization’s future goals.
“Diversity isn't just a buzzword for the Construction Careers Council; it's an integral part of our core work. Our mission is rooted in the belief that everyone deserves a fair shot at success in the construction industry,” says Dodds. “We recognize that our industry's strength and resilience lie in its diversity, which is why we're committed to not only making opportunities readily accessible but also actively shaping an inclusive future. The construction landscape of tomorrow should reflect the diverse communities we serve, and we're steering it in that direction every day.”
Courtesy of Freedom Construction 
With the number of women in construction on the rise, there are a few organizations doing their best to get ahead of the curve and encourage diversity and representation. Rapid Growth recently connected with one of these trailblazing construction companies, Freedom Construction. Starting the business with her husband, who is a licensed builder,co-founder and CEO Carrie Wilson was able to utilize her knowledge of the industry to run the strategic side of the company. She shares her thoughts on the construction industry and changes taking place throughout the region.
Rapid Growth: How did you get your start in construction?

Carrie Wilson: I kind of grew up around construction. My dad kind of was a jack of all trades and, as a teenage girl, he would have me go with him to build barns and extensions to houses and really any odd jobs for neighbors. I think that really taught me the value of our own hard work and what we can produce but also taught me that construction is something that is so immediately validating and that you can see the physical results of what your work can accomplish.
RGM: Would you say the construction industry is diverse?

CW: I think we've made progress in the industry, and a lot of that progress is really about breaking down stereotypes and assumptions people have made about the industry. There are a handful of groups particularly in this area that really kicked up a lot of the awareness. I think women traditionally have avoided the industry for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest reasons that I still see today is implicit bias. I think when groups of people come together, the majority will make assumptions — silly things like women are too emotional. Being able to discuss these biases openly is making it a much safer place for women to join the industry and make subtle changes to the culture.
 Courtesy of Freedom Construction
RGM: Has diversity and women’s representation in construction always been important to Freedom Construction?

CW: Absolutely. The reason I started the company was driven by my own experiences. It was a toxic work environment, and as a woman I was treated horribly. And I saw how myself and other minorities in the workplace were treated. I knew one day I was going to start my own company because I recognize that an employer has the ability to make or break somebody's livelihood, and I mean that in the holistic sense. If you're not able to go to work and have a psychologically safe environment, it impacts every other part of your life. It was really important to us that we are creating a culture where people can be different and thrive because of it.
RGM: You mentioned some other West Michigan organizations you feel do a good job with diversity. What are those organizations?

CW: The Grand Rapids Chapter of NAWIC is doing a good job. CREW West Michigan is doing a really good job in this area. I think the ABC Western Michigan chapter has kicked up their efforts for awareness. And the West Michigan Construction Institute is putting a lot of effort toward increasing that diversity.
 Courtesy of Freedom Construction
RGM: Mac Dodds of the Construction Careers Council mentioned their dedication to diversity and inclusion starts early by reaching out to middle and high school students during their diversity and inclusion week. Do you think it is important to encourage girls to take up trades like construction earlier on?

CW: I think the earlier that we're having these discussions and presenting the trades and skilled trades, the better. Women might think construction is swinging a hammer when it's actually multiple industries. The earlier we're introducing this in the classroom as a viable option to traditional academia, the better.
RGM: What does Freedom Construction do specifically to encourage a more diverse workforce?

CW: On any given project we would work with anywhere from three to 10 to sometimes 30 trade and specialty partners. What's happened traditionally in West Michigan is that general contractors like us end up working with the same trade partners over and over because they're reliable, but for us it's about making sure that we are getting these bid opportunities out so that anyone who is qualified to do the work gets a chance. It's not about handouts. These minority-owned companies want a fair opportunity to work for a general contractor on these large impactful West Michigan projects.
 Courtesy of Freedom Construction
RGM: Is there anything else you want the community to know about Freedom Construction?

CW: A lot of construction managers treat the owner of the project as an outside stakeholder and we treat them like a collaborative partner. There's 1,000 moving pieces to every project, and at any given moment something can go wrong. A lot of construction managers fight through these little kinks and find solutions, but then at the end, it might be at a cost change, or an adjustment needs to be made to the plans and this blindsides owners and eats away at that trust. What we do is communicate all along the project, and we bring them in as a part of the solution, treating them like a valued stakeholder throughout the process.
Ashley King is a born and raised Michigander. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Duke Fuqua School of Business. Ashley loves a good book, free time to paint and all things to do with Black women.

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