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How To Get More Women And Diverse Populations Into Construction And Engineering

Diversifying the construction and engineering professions remains a crucial issue in commercial real estate. 

The profession is lucrative. The median salary for U.S. construction managers was $95K in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Still, despite growing awareness of the opportunities, only 37% of the construction industry are people of color, according to Associated General Contractors of America data.

The number of women remains even more abysmal, with female workers making up only 2.7% of construction trades in 2017 and only 9.1% of all construction workers in 2017, AGC said in its latest diversity and inclusion report. 

Skanska USA's Tiffany McCullough (center) with colleagues

Tiffany McCullough, construction giant Skanska's regional vendor diversity manager for Texas, has these types of statistics in the back of her mind as she focuses her company and the industry's attention toward International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Feb. 11. 

One of the main challenges, she said, is making young women feel comfortable joining the profession and removing stigmas around whether females have a place in construction or engineering-related trades. She is part of Skanska's national effort to recruit, mentor and find hidden talent both inside the company and outside it. 

"I preach this all the time, I have a pair of steel toes, and I have a pair of stilettos," McCullough told Bisnow. "Traditionally, girls don't know sometimes that they can have a career in construction; and it's not all hammers. I can have a leadership role and lead a project, or I can bring my creativity into designing an office tower or decorating an office, or I can be in a hybrid role."

Tiffany McCullough (right) with a Skanska colleague at a construction site in Nashville.

To ensure the next generation of construction and engineering projects have enough women and diverse populations trained to staff them, McCullough is taking the month of February to highlight her firm's ongoing effort to encourage the education and mentorship of women in STEM careers that lead to prosperous futures in construction, design and engineering.

While this month is specifically about celebrating women and girls in science, McCullough plays a full-time role in ensuring diversity continues to be a focus across Skanska and outside the business by fomenting relationships with women- and minority-owned subcontractors and vendors.  

She has spent years helping construction-related firms deal with diversity at the client and employee level, but racial tensions that escalated in the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis put the issue into much sharper focus.  

"I had a life-changing moment last year. I actually attended George Floyd's funeral, and in that space and in that moment, just seeing how profoundly affected everyone was from all backgrounds; it challenged me to say, 'Tiffany, you have this platform, what can do with it? How can you expand what you are currently doing?'" McCullough said. 

McCullough, who was recognized by the Regional Hispanic Contractors Association with the Luna Award for her accomplishments in engineering, construction and architecture, has found this last year one of the most pivotal in pulling the industry toward a more diverse and inclusive future. She said many companies have been revisiting their diversity and inclusion plans.

"It was already part of Skanska's culture, but some of our other peers and organizations, we have done things to be more collaborative, idea sharing, and I think the events of last year just accelerated the timeline for everyone," McCullough said. 

Many firms do diversity well, McCullough said, but many lose sight of the end goal when it comes to inclusion. 

She believes where they fail is in not knowing that diversity and inclusion are two different things. You can bring in diverse groups, but if they don't become part of the culture, you have failed at inclusion. 

"Diversity is 'OK, we have brought in 50% diverse candidates.' Inclusion is do they feel part of the team? Do they have a voice? Are they able to bring their whole self to work? That is inclusion," McCullough said.