This summer, Ryland Homes' Twin Cities division, along with several community partners, is redefining the term “women's work” and calling attention to the need for more women in the construction industry. An all-female team will complete the redevelopment of the blighted grounds of a former maternity hospital in north Minneapolis.

According to industry estimates, less than 3 percent of the building-trades workforce is female. Given the site's historic ties to Martha Ripley—one of the nation's first female obstetricians and a contributor to the women's suffrage movement—the project, known as Ripley Gardens, provides an opportunity to put women and their construction abilities in the spotlight while adding to the area's affordable housing stock.

Working jointly with both WomenVenture, an organization devoted to forwarding the economic development of women, and Habitat for Humanity's WomenBuild program, as well as with several other partners, Ryland's crew will build attached housing for a handful of needy families on the urban site. In addition to the eight townhomes, a community trust will create an additional 52 rental units on the land.

One of the triplexes under construction will serve as a capstone experience for five participants in a WomenVenture program dedicated to helping women prepare for jobs in the building trades. The five-week training program gives them a chance to develop skills to launch new careers in the construction industry. In the 11 years since the program's inception, roughly 500 women, many of whom have struggled with poverty, have graduated from the building trades program.

Tené Wells, president of WomenVenture, says working with Ryland and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter is proving to be a positive experience. With the site's redevelopment value interwoven with women's history and social activism, the project has inspired and empowered the women participants on both emotional and professional levels.

“The deal is, with this particular build, you really get at the core issue of poverty, which is that more women are poor,” Wells explains. “You're not going to give [participants] anything, but you are going to te^ach them something to make them some money.”