Women are helping to pave the way to great things in construction.
By Lisa-Ann Marchesi
The shifts in the construction industry over the past decade have been profound. Digital technologies aiding in the advancement of energy efficiency, sustainability and safety; monumental feats in design and building skyscrapers to staggering heights, once dreamed of as purely science fiction; and a discernible influx of women in the construction space altering the demographic make-up of the workforce. The changes are head-spinning.
While the Building and Construction Trades Council in Greater New York City indicates that four percent of women comprise the construction union’s workforce, more anecdotal evidence suggests this trend will continue to grow and intensify. From project management and architectural engineering, to analytics, to finance, women are excelling in critical roles while becoming more conversant in digital technologies (such as wearables and artificial intelligence) and manual labor (such as drilling, paving, and building).
These two forces – the growing proportion of women in insurance and construction and the rise of digital technologies – reflect and reinforce an evident reality: As automation and more advanced forms of artificial intelligence profoundly shape the construction industry, it’s critical to tap into all groups within the U.S. workforce — notably, women. Progress and growth depend on confronting long-held biases and opening the floodgates to the many talented women who can help to transform the future of construction.
It’s no secret that the rise and pervasiveness of new technologies necessitate a degree of reskilling. Construction organizations must also source new types of talent to ensure they are driving operational efficiencies, safety, compliance, and overall health and wellness. As automation pervades every aspect of the construction industry, organizations are seeking a range of diverse talent inclusive of different genders and ethnicities to address these new issues.
As such, the emergence of these technologies represents an exciting opportunity to not only drive more awareness around the need for greater diversity and inclusion within construction, but tap into the full pool of talent to fill the jobs of the future.
Now, this is a great development. It’s something that will undoubtedly benefit every aspect of the construction industry and the hundreds of thousands of people that continue to enter the field. However, one thing that can’t be overlooked, and necessitates the same level of patience, understanding, tolerance and determination fundamental to D&I initiatives, is preparing and responding to the intended and unintended effects of greater inclusion.
How is Technology Changing Construction?
Skeptics have made the argument that technology is here to replace many manual jobs. But I’m confident it’s only here to help. It can’t be used as a replacement for human intelligence, and we’ll always need a person behind the technology to help manage it. It will take time and patience for full technology adoption in every industry, but especially in construction. At its core, our goal for technology is to create better value for clients and safer environments for workers. There will always be a need for the human touch.
In each industry, companies need to see the true value that new technology holds before adopting and implementing it. In construction, there’s currently a mix of traditional practices and new ones where new tools have woven themselves into legacy practices. Technology needs to continue proving itself to create confidence in workers, which, by extension, will help to drive further adoption.
Additionally, new technology helps to reduce losses and injuries through a variety of safety benefits. This also reduces premium and policy pricing for construction companies. The frequency and severity of claims drastically decline. It’s no secret that even minimal job-site injuries can impact bottom line premiums — this keeps them competitive in the marketplace. Technology aiding in loss prevention can serve as a proactive solution for a better, more accurate insurance rate for construction companies. Beyond the efficiency advantages, the potential for cost savings are immense after initial investment.
Facilitating an environment of open-mindedness and a willingness to welcome new things is essential in elevating the construction industry with new technology. As a workforce, and as leaders in the construction industry, we need to be more inclusive by bringing in new talent, skills, insights and backgrounds to offer and integrate new perspectives, build better products and address the widening gap of job vacancies wrought by new technologies.
It takes many people to champion the need for change — with the intent of enriching work and customer experiences with folks from a range of diverse backgrounds and skill sets. People need to cultivate leaders within the construction industry who set a good example and encourage inclusive behavior across many platforms and aspects of the industry to achieve true inclusion.
As a new generation steps into the construction industry, I’m confident we will continue to see an influx of open-minded professionals who are ready to embrace digital transformation. Tools such as artificial intelligence and wearables will continue to help reduce costs and improve operations.
The same open mindset that opens the gates of technology adoption is needed for greater inclusion and diversity. How we lead the construction industry today will affect what the industry looks like a decade from today. We need to look forward instead of staying focused on how things have been done in the past. Together, with this open mindset, we’re on our way to building great things together.
Lisa-Ann Marchesi brings more than 25 years of insurance experience to the construction and commercial insurance industries. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Women Builders Council of New York City and a vice president of property and casualty at NFP.