Empowering Women in Construction

Women only make up about 11% of the construction industry workforce, and only 1 for every 100 employees in the field. At Swinerton, women make up 15.2% of our total workforce and 3.3% of craft employees, and growing. While the construction industry has a ways to go in attracting and retaining diverse talent, progress is being made. Since 2012, the number of women in construction has steadily increased by 54.7%.

Swinerton is proud of its employee-owners who are fostering a culturally inclusive environment where all feel safe, respected, and able to thrive. With a strong support system and room for career growth, Swinerton is proud to not only have women in leadership roles all across the nation, but also to provide opportunities for women to shake up our business and help the industry make progress through our Women’s Business Resource Group (WBRG) and other opportunities for impact.

For Women in Construction Week 2022, we are highlighting women who are making strides—from the field to the office to the community at large—leading, mentoring, encouraging, educating, and empowering the next generation of women in construction.

Kaylee Knudsen, Superintendent

What do people say when you tell them you work in construction?

I wouldn’t say people are too surprised, I think people are more interested when they hear I work in construction. The first question I usually get is simply whether I work on a jobsite or in an office. I think most people assume an office, and that I am an architect or some type of Project Manager. Unless you’ve worked in this industry, I don’t think people know how many different roles are involved (engineers of every discipline, architects, estimators, project managers, superintendents, foremen, etc.) So when I explain that I work on a jobsite, I think most people are pretty confused at what I actually do.

What do you like best about being in the construction industry?

Construction is a mix of business and engineering, but also creativity and working with people. I started down a path of wanting to study architecture, then studying engineering, but was ultimately drawn to construction because I wanted to do something that was well-rounded and would keep me interested and engaged for years to come. Simply put, I’ve always wanted to build buildings and see projects start as an idea and become a real, tangible thing. It took a few years of going to school to realize that job I was looking for all along was to be a general contractor.

How does more diversity on a construction jobsite help teams solve problems better?

Every project is unique and will have problems you have never come across in your career. While there are many “right” ways of solving any problem in construction, the more diversity you have on a team, the more equipped you are going to be at identifying and coming up with creative solutions for problems.

Why did you choose Swinerton?

I started as an intern at Swinerton my sophomore year of college and have worked here every day since. By the time it came time to graduate and choose where to work full-time, there was no question. There are many reasons why I’ve stayed at Swinerton. I think our work product and reputation speaks for itself, but the number one reason I am here is because of our people. At Swinerton, I am surrounded by the most knowledgeable and hard-working people in the industry. The people at Swinerton very easily have become my friends and family. It’s very important when you work as hard as we do that you enjoy the people you work with. Being a 100% employee-owned company with an opportunity to become a shareholder is just a bonus on top of that.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Digging through a set of drawings and learning the project; conceptualizing something on paper and seeing it come to life; finding creative solutions or work-arounds to problems; coming up with ideas on how to make something more constructible or of better use; having control over decisions that will shape the final design or product; and the comradery on a jobsite between Swinerton, the trades, architect, owner, etc. are all what I enjoy most about my job.

What is your advice to women looking start a career in construction?

There is no industry, role, position, job that you cannot do or shouldn’t consider. I am so grateful to have mentors who pushed me to consider becoming a superintendent because I would not have connected the dots on my own. Starting out in any industry with limited experience I think its very easy to create your own list of prerequisites or assumptions in your mind and you have to challenge those. I hadn’t seriously considered becoming a superintendent based on my perception of what was required to do that job well.  Going back to diversity, I first worked with several superintendents who came up through the trades but later worked with a superintendent who had a background as an Architect – all were great at their job in different ways. This whole concept of diversity finally “clicked” and I felt empowered to go for that position.

Breawn Felix, Regional Virtual Design & Construction Manager

What do people say when you tell them you work in construction?

When I say I work in construction, people usually respond with a shocked face followed by, “Oh really? What do you do?” When I tell them, they are a little thrown off that I am in a virtual design and construction role.

What do you like best about being in the construction industry?

I love seeing all the work that my team and I do come to fruition. The majority of our work happens before construction starts. We build digital twins and work out the conflicts prior to ever breaking ground. This allows the trades to prefabricate, which is part of our coordination too. So it’s extremely rewarding to see a project get built the way we coordinated it.

How does more diversity on a construction jobsite help teams solve problems better?

In my position, I don’t experience a lot of diversity. 90% of the people I deal with are male. Usually the owners/clients, owner representatives, subcontractors, are all male.

Why did you choose Swinerton?

When I came in for an interview, I was introduced to a lot of people in the office. All of them were really nice. I picked up on the friendly/family-like vibe that they had with my later-to-be boss. I was afraid that I would feel like just a number joining such a big company, but I could tell right away that wasn’t how it was going to be. I also loved the idea of working for an employee-owned company. You really do have a voice and skin in the game.

What do you enjoy about your job?

My favorite part of my job is my team. I’ve built up a team from 2 to 10. Every one of them are like family to me. We truly enjoy working together and have fun with it. I also love that I’m given the freedom to blaze my own trail at Swinerton.

What is your advice to women looking start a career in construction?

For women or anyone looking to start a career in construction, remember that with everyone you interact with, you’re building a relationship. It could be a 5 minute conversation or years of working together. Build relationships everywhere you go with everyone. This will ultimately build trust, and before you know it, you’ll have an army of supporters that speak highly of you even when you’re not in the room.