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Leadership and Advocacy in the Construction Industry

Leadership and Advocacy in the Construction Industry

By Luke Carothers

The construction industry has made tremendous progress in terms of the number of women represented.  Not only are there more women in the construction industry than ever, but the number of women in the industry has increased steadily since 2016.  Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, as of August 2022, women made up 14 percent of the construction workforce.  While this represents a significant increase on the lows of 12.4 percent in December of 2015 and 12 percent in 2005, there is still a lot of work to be done in the way of progress.  Part of the steady increase in the number of women in the construction comes as a result of an increase in women in leadership positions.  As more women enter the workforce, there are more opportunities for women to fill leadership roles and support other women looking to advance their careers.  There is also the opportunity to alleviate the current labor shortage by hiring more women in the industry.

There have been significant changes in the AEC industry during the last fifteen years, and Danielle O’Connell has not only experienced these changes, but has been a driving force.  O’Connell is the Senior Director of Skanska USA’s National Emerging Technology team.  A 15-year year veteran of the AEC industry, O’Connell has spent the last five and a half years with the global building and development company Skanska.  Prior to taking her current position, O’Connell held a number of different roles including BIM/VDC management, project manager, and owner-side positions as well as spending a short time with a technology company.  O’Connell points out that, when she first started in the construction industry, there weren’t many women in the same roles as her, particularly within BIM/VDC and construction technology.  

This realization was a catalyst for O’Connell’s drive to be a resource for other women.  This means paving a path for women looking for similar roles, and encouraging them to incorporate “their passion for these things into more traditional operations roles.”  And, to develop these leadership skills, O’Connell says that she has not been short of outstanding examples of leadership and advocacy to look up to.  While O’Connell points to leaders and advocates within her career that have shaped her professional life, the same leadership and advocacy can come from outside forces and shape one’s professional life.

Ankita Ramakrishnan is an Assistant Project Manager for Lendlease Construction.  Ramakrishnan grew up in the Bay Area in California, having recently relocated to New York to pursue her passion in construction and development.  As a woman of color working to level the playing field in these fields, Ramakrishnan is focused on the sustainable environment, social responsibility, and resource conservation.  Growing up in the Bay Area, she gained firsthand experience with gentrification and expensive housing, which shaped her interest in building affordable homes rooted in ethical community development.  Ramakrishnan is focused on ethical community development because it means providing safe, clean places for people that will enhance their standard of living.  She believes it’s as simple as this: we need to service communities’ wants and needs.

Ramakrishnan understands that, while this goal seems clear, the process to provide these resources is “oftentimes tied up in red tape and difficult to expedite.”  This difficulty prevents resources from being allocated to communities that need them most.  Ramakrishnan believes developers need to have stronger relationships with local governments, and that these local governments need to be motivated to create positive change for their communities.  She points to community organizations like RYN, which “have been incredibly useful for me to organize grassroots movements in order to propose long term changes that better communities at large.”  Ramakrishnan points to her upbringing in the Bay Area as a big influence on her unique perspective.  She says that sustainability was not only encouraged but was actively discussed and innovated upon.  This framework allowed Ramakrishnan to pursue her passion for sustainability with active support from teachers and peers.

Whether leadership and advocacy come from teachers, peers, coworkers, managers, or anywhere else, these elements are essential to continuing progress in the AEC industry’s journey towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’ve even seen technology partners like Autodesk step into the conversation with DEI efforts such as the initiative in which they funded safety harnesses specifically designed for women.  As Ramakrishnan points out, there is a direct link between our industry and the lives of people in communities all around the world.  Our ability to effectively respond to the challenges of the future hinges on our ability to respond to the communities we serve.  By demonstrating leadership and advocacy, we can grow our industry to include more voices that will help solve our coming challenges.