A search around the high-volume home building industry for a female powerhouse would nearly prove futile. There is Martha Stewart, but she is a brand, not really a production home builder (that would be KB Home, her partner, where the CEO is most certainly male). If the search were to go a bit deeper into the management ranks or expand to smaller, privately held companies, women would turn up in increasing numbers, yet the total would still be woefully low.
Although the lack of women in top leadership positions is visible, it's not unique to home building. It arguably mirrors what's happening in other traditionally male-dominated industries–manufacturing, high-tech, telecom, to name a few. However, as more companies realize how important women are as consumers, they are starting to recognize that they might want to incorporate female insight into the executive suite as well.
If just a finger in the wind, research from the Chicago-based global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas reports that the number of outgoing CEOs replaced by women grew 11 percent in 2006. More telling is that one out of three replaced men, a general trend that should continue in 2007.
A home remains the single largest purchase most consumers will make. Women are responsible for 80 percent of the home-buying decisions. Would it not make sense for more of them to be making important decisions at home building companies?
The Only Woman in the Room
The most oft-cited reason why there are not more women in top posts at home building companies is that the candidate pool for promotions and new positions includes few, if any, qualified women. Companies say they would have no problem choosing a woman for a leadership position but too few women apply.
True, women are a minority in this industry. One in 10 people employed in construction is female, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of those, roughly 25 percent are employed by the trades, leaving fewer than 700,000 women in management and administrative positions out of the more than 9 million people in construction.
Those numbers represent 66 percent growth in the female component since 1997. Still, construction management schools are churning out future female leaders in dribs and drabs. Professor R.D. von Bernuth, director of the construction management program at Michigan State University, says that despite targeted efforts to gain traction with college-age women, most schools have little success recruiting them.
Women account for 5 percent of students enrolled in Michigan State's undergraduate construction management program; in the master's program, the number rises to 33 percent, von Bernuth says. "It's still a lonely process for women in the program and in the beginning phases of their careers," he adds
That sense of isolation remains palpable even at the seasoned executive level.
Tina Guziek, executive vice president of MCZ Development, says the loneliness is something she's just accepted. From the summers in high school that she spent working at her grandfather's plumbing company to when she joined MCZ 11 years ago as a selections coordinator to her executive position today, she's always been a woman in a man's world.
"What I found being a woman in the industry, the men all have hard shells, but once you prove to them that you know how to do your job, you can do your job well, and you are going to make their jobs easier because of it, they respect you and listen to you. Then you can be heard. But there were years and years where I would not only be the only woman in the room, but I was the youngest person in the room. Even now that happens sometimes," she says.
Kitty Green, president and CEO of The Bonita Bay Group, a Florida-based developer of master planned communities, agrees. She says 18 years in the industry has taught her that being outnumbered by men is just something that comes with the territory.
"Even if you can pretend that there are no issues [with women in the business] anymore, the fact remains that it is mostly men in this business, so women who want to be in this business have to be comfortable being in that environment," she says. "Frankly, I think there are a lot of folks who just aren't comfortable in that situation. It's a personal preference or a personality thing. It's never been an issue for me personally, but I can understand that someone with a different type of personality would not be anxious to be the first one to jump into a meeting of all men."