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As a dominant building contractor in various sectors from residential and multifamily to health care and education, Suffolk is aiming to boost the percentage of women employed in its firm from 28% to 38% over the next 10 years.

By internally composing project teams that are 30% women and launching community initiatives that encourage young girls to pursue STEM careers, the contractor is also attracting recent college grads through its rotational program called Career Start.

To celebrate Women in Construction Week, BUILDER asked Maureen Henson, Suffolk’s vice president of people and culture for the Southeast region, for more insight.

What are some of the community initiatives Suffolk is implementing to encourage school-age girls to participate in STEM?

Women have creative ideas that can change the world. Unfortunately, women make up only 9.9% of the industries that design and build that world, and the future does not look much brighter. Despite some interest in STEM-related fields from girls at a young age, women continue to be underrepresented in STEM-related careers.

Suffolk believes it is time for that ratio to change, which is why it launched its Rebuild the Ratio initiative several years ago to engage in meaningful partnerships nationally with organizations committed to growing women’s representation in STEM. For example, Suffolk teamed up with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts (GSEMA), the largest girl-serving organization in the commonwealth, to create a STEM curriculum customized for girls 5 to 17 years old.

“Juniors Who Build” successfully launched in March 2023 for girls in fourth and fifth grade, and the two organizations will launch a similar curriculum geared toward girls in second and third grade, called “Brownies Who Build,” this month. The curriculum will help Girl Scouts understand the steps of the construction process and learn more about potential careers in construction. The goal of this initiative is to expose young girls to the fascinating world of construction and provide mentorship and experiential learning opportunities. By 2025, the Girl Scouts hope to bring an estimated 2.5 million girls nationally into the STEM pipeline.

In addition to its partnership with GSEMA, Suffolk has partnered with a variety of organizations throughout the country to support efforts to grow women’s representation in the construction industry, including DIY Girls, The Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles, and ACE Mentor Program. Through meaningful engagement opportunities, Suffolk hopes to connect with the future builders of our communities and shine a spotlight on the many exciting possibilities that await them in construction.

Why do you think it's important to share construction industry career options with young girls?

Construction is much more than an industry of hard hats, concrete, and bricks—it's a dynamic environment full of innovation and technology. By introducing young girls to the wide array of career opportunities available in construction, we can break down traditional gender stereotypes and inspire them to pursue paths they might not have considered otherwise. This benefits individual girls by opening new avenues for personal and professional growth, and it also enriches the industry by bringing in fresh perspectives and talents and a diversity of ideas.

What are some of the setbacks you see for young women who are interested in the industry?

Construction has historically been male dominated, leading to misconceptions about women's capabilities for roles within the field. These stereotypes can create barriers to entry, limit advancement opportunities, and contribute to a lack of representation at all levels of the industry.

That’s why it’s so important for women in construction to share their own stories of success, so that younger girls can learn firsthand how valuable women are in the industry. Employers also need to foster an inclusive environment, provide mentorship and support programs tailored to women's needs, and actively challenge gender biases to create equal opportunities for all individuals interested in pursuing a career in construction.

How is Suffolk aiming to find new ways to recruit women?

Suffolk’s Rebuild the Ratio initiative focuses on exposing young girls to STEM-focused careers and seeks to recruit women into the industry. We’re actively working with organizations throughout the country to grow women’s representation at all levels of the construction industry such as the Commercial Real Estate Women Network, the Nontraditional Employment for Women organization, the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, and many more.

What is Career Start, and how can it help recent college graduates in the industry?

Career Start is a two-year rotational program designed for recent college graduates who are passionate about the opportunity to grow and manage their careers within the construction industry.

Career Start participants complete three rotations geared toward mastering the fundamentals of estimating, project management, and field operations. The program helps the next generation of construction professionals determine the route that is best for their futures. Since its inception in 2004, Career Start has hired 482 individuals nationally. Many of these young people have grown to become leaders in the organization.

Are there any overlooked strategies you think could help in recruiting more women to the industry?

Mentorship can have an enormous impact on attracting young women to the construction field. By encouraging established female leaders in the field to work directly with women new to the industry, these mentoring relationships offer an invaluable level of support. Rotational programs, like Career Start, are also beneficial because they expose women to different areas of construction that they may not have considered before.

Is there anything you'd like readers to know about Suffolk?

Suffolk is an innovative contractor that wants to change the way buildings are planned, designed, and built by leveraging the most sophisticated technologies and tools in the industry. But beyond that tech “toolbox,” we also need the right people. To be on the cutting edge of our industry, we need to employ people with diverse backgrounds, creative ideas, and a passion for solving problems. This is why hiring more women to the construction workforce is critical to our value proposition and competitive advantage.