The construction industry is typically thought of as a male-dominated industry with less than 10% consisting of women. The National Association of Women in Construction, also known as NAWIC, wants to see this change. Doreen Bartoldus, NAWIC’s National Treasurer, and NY Chapter President, tells us how they are empowering and supporting women within the industry today.
Let’s go back to where it all began and tell us how was NAWIC founded?
NAWIC was founded in Fort Worth, Texas in 1953. A group of 16 women, all working with different contractors began talking on the phone. Knowing that women represented only a small fraction of the construction industry, these women organized NAWIC as a support network. Today NAWIC has 125 chapters, almost 5,000 members, a National Chapter in Guam and affiliate chapters all over the globe.
Tell us about your journey from Member to Regional Director?
I found NAWIC in 2004 when I was working for an Architectural Engineering firm. The company had just started their diversity initiative and I was asked to find a Women’s Organization to join.
The first NAWIC event I attended was their 50th Anniversary National Convention. I was so impressed by all the wonderful women who I met – all from a construction background and all from different areas including admin and estimating to field work. A short time later I relocated to California where I was immediately put on the Board of the California Chapter. Upon moving back to New York I was put on a job working Lower Westchester . While I was there I decided to start a new Westchester Chapter which later merged with New York.
I became Director about three years ago. People were always encouraging me to run for Director but I had never pursued it. Then one day, one of my female students came to me very upset because she had been harassed in the field. It infuriated me that this was still happening and I began to think to myself that the one place where I could have an impact is within NAWIC. After I stepped up to Director, I ran for National Treasurer and this year I was nominated as a candidate for President Elect.
How does NAWIC enhance the success of women in construction?
NAWIC encourages women to step out and follow their passion in construction. It provides a safe place for women to step into a leadership role on the chapter and regional, or national level. When I was part of the California Chapter and I was growing professionally I was encouraged to build my public speaking skills by taking part in NAWIC talks and speaking at their events.
This week is NAWIC’s Women in Construction (WIC) week – how did this come about?
NAWIC launched their Founders Week in September early in its history. In the early 2000’s, the Board then decided to move this celebration to March as March is Women’s Month. Since then the first week in March has always been known as NAWIC’s Women in Construction week.
Are there any special events taking place during WIC?
Yes there are tons of events taking place within every chapter. As a National Organization we think of New York Build as our main event for WIC and this takes place in the Javits Center on March 12th and 13th.
How important do you think it is for women, especially in an industry dominated by men, to have women mentors or mentors in general?
I think it is very important. I was in the construction industry without a lot of women so I have always been very interested in how women in construction got to where they are. Women relate a lot easier to other women than we relate to men because we have different struggles. Back in the day many of us toughed it out, but that is not how it has to be anymore. A lot is happening with diversity which is great, but I still think it is important for women to have both male and female mentors. For example, my student who came to me upset because she was being harassed – would she still have come to me if I was a male teacher?
There are some other associations targeted towards women in the construction industry, what in your opinion makes NAWIC stand out?
NAWIC welcomes women in all areas in construction, not just women in the field and not just executives. It is also very Democratic – we give all of our members a vote and a say in where the organization is going, which is quite unique.
Since you began your career in construction, have you seen many changes in diversity within the workforce?
Unfortunately not as much as there should be. Women now make up 9.1% of the construction industry in the U.S.A. A huge part of what we do at NAWIC is outreach to girls in High School encouraging them to follow their dreams in construction if that is what they want to do. Women are definitely more accepted today but I would like to see a higher percentage of women in the industry.
And finally, what advice would you give to the next generation of women aspiring to be construction leaders?
Stay with it! I had to tough it out at the beginning but I stayed with it and I could not be happier. Once you love what you do and work hard you will be happy. And of course, look for a mentor.
NAWIC’s Women In Construction Week 2019 is taking place from March 3th – 9th, visit NAWIC.org, to find your local chapter and events taking place near you.