One, is that builders, increasingly, are engineering, tech, and data companies. The other is that more women in more significant strategic roles will improve these companies.
Widely reported is the fact that people skilled at various parts of the craft, process, and management of residential construction are in short enough supply that both the cost predictability and the time-to-deliver homes add up to one of every home building enterprise's No. 1 risks.
In thinking of solutions over time to the fact that skilled trades are in too short a supply, and that age demographics will only worsen that shortage, it's reflex for many of us to think about ways to try to grow a new breed young practitioners skilled in one or more of the specialty disciplines it takes to build a home ... and to see that new breed as predominantly male.
That's a blindspot.
Materials, equipment, tools, sub-assemblies and workflows make most trades accessible and doable by whomever, as long as they're skilled. It's mostly only common practice and biases that keep most construction job sites so predominantly male, very likely constraining labor capacity far more than necessary.
What's more, at strategic levels of home building design, development, and construction, diversity, balance, freshness, and boldness of perspective, analysis, judgment, and creativity make for competitive advantage and compelling appeal to prospective home buying customers.
It's interesting that Fortune yesterday should spotlight General Motors ceo Mary Barra and the importance she places on her organization's alliance with Girls Who Code, whose purpose is to close the gender-gap in technology. Home building and its wider community should model GWC in its broad effort to lure next generation talent, skill, and commitment into its ranks.
We found in our recently completed NEXTadventure program with Taylor Morrison, a new focus for the company in the past three years or so on a strategically core push into 55+ community development, women largely led the charge. Perhaps, not by accident, the high strategic stakes in getting this product, program, and opportunity right the first time mean that organizations must give women roles, responsibilities, accountability, and recognition for leadership, execution, and management.
Inspiration and imperatives around the initiative came from the very top of Taylor Morrison, president and ceo Sheryl Palmer. Too, critical roles around the design--ranging from research point-person Elizabeth Kopp, to lead architect Deryl Patterson, principal at Housing Design Matters, to lead interior designer Lita Dirks, principal at Lita Dirks & Co., to Carol Thompson, vp and national director of strategic sourcing at Taylor Morrison, to Taylor Morrison national marketing director Stormy Rasmussen, to our own Jennifer Castenson, director for thought leadership content at Hanley Wood.
Now, the NEXTadventure Home is done, and the ideas and the learnings, thus far, are baked in. Practical must-haves for 55+ adults include storage, highly functional livability solutions like a "messy kitchen" prep area connected with the public "hub" kitchen, a sophisticated beverage center, clever adaptability of a den that converts to an extra bedroom, and immediate connectedness between indoor and outdoor living, as well as a hybrid blend of optionality around privacy and social interaction in community amenities, etc.
What happens next with NEXTadventure equals in importance the advanced research that tapped into focus groups, surveys, social media polls, and observed behavior. Now, comes the discovery based on consumer feedback, comparing and contrasting NEXTadventure's portfolio of features and experiences with other "model homes" in the community. Now, comes the part where Taylor Morrison can capture insight into what consumers may not have known to say what they wanted going into the process. After all, Taylor Morrison's stated intent is "inspired by you."
Both Henry Ford and Steve Jobs have famous quotes about the fact that if you give consumers only what they demand it's not enough. In new home community design and engineering, it's the same thing. Homes and neighborhoods need engineering and functionality and an experience level in features that all meet unstated needs for delight, for relief, for the feeling that there was care and anticipation for needs that evolve and emerge over time.
This is where the women leading this year-plus project--Sheryl Palmer, Deryl Patterson, Lita Dirks, Carol Thompson, Stormy Rasmussen, Liz Kopp, Jen Castenson, Jenna Hart, Cammie Longnecker, Debra Riggs, Denise Hodgdon, Lisa Blecker, and a village of others--truly led, and wisely so.
So, as we graze the IBS show floor and take in the sheer magnitude of innovation and improvement manufacturers, materials suppliers, data companies, visualization and building information management programs, take-off management software, it's a vision of transformation going on right before our eyes. Home building is truly, more and more, a tech, data, and advanced engineering occupation and vocation. It's the kind of high-tech business that should attract young talented, super-intelligent and ambitious engineers, and analysts, and technicians, as well as people trained to cut and join and assemble wood and concrete and metal and glass into the places we call homes and neighborhoods.
And clearly, this emerging generation of talent of all stripes could and should comprise men and women in balance at every strategic, executional, operational, and management level. This is one of the ways building will get better.