Engineering is a male-dominated field. However, as women are increasingly finding their way into STEM careers and on up to the C-suite, alternative project delivery teams, including design-build/engineer-procure-construct (EPC), also are becoming more diverse.

With crumbling infrastructure, an aging workforce and financial constraints affecting businesses, change needs to happen. We need to look at our challenges from a different perspective for better solutions. By tapping into different backgrounds and unique experiences, teams can bring innovative ideas, pragmatic problem-solving and creative solutions to design-build/EPC projects. It also provides a competitive advantage, allowing teams to look beyond the status quo and break through the “we’ve always done it this way” mold.

According to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the gender pay gap is tightening, more so in the construction world, so females are seeing more value and almost equal pay. But, even though there’s an increase in women in the construction industry — an 80 percent growth since 1985, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — it’s still less than 10 percent of the entire population in the U.S. There are even fewer women, however, in leadership roles or management positions, an interesting stat when compared to the fact that women score higher on key leadership competencies, including initiative, drive and integrity (per a 2012 study by the Harvard Business Review).

Women think differently, design differently and lead differently than men. Bringing female professionals to the table to discuss alternative project delivery options is in perfect alignment with what’s happening in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) space. But to gain more gender-balanced design-build teams, we need to make it part of the conversation.

What I try to do is empower new graduates entering the workforce, especially those interested in the water and wastewater industry. I want the next generation to be better, more efficient and achieve success faster than I was able to. And that can’t happen without teaching, listening and providing guidance.

It’s not surprising to hear that women need more female role models, but I think men in this industry also need more female role models. In fact, in a recent Construction News survey, 93 percent of participants said working with a female leader would have a positive effect on their working environment — so let’s keep the needle moving!

From what I’ve seen, employee commitment and client loyalty are positively influenced by gender parity in the decision-making process because women tend to be relationship-focused in their strategic thinking. More regularly, our clients are requesting minority- and women-owned businesses be included on their projects. When technical skills and experiences can be brought to the table, along with a diverse perspective, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Women and diverse-structured teams are making steady progress in design-build, but most companies have a long way to go in seeing that women are equally empowered at the highest decision-making levels. That’s why it’s important to instill confidence and experience early on and continue to create an easier path for those who follow.

Interested in helping blaze the trail for others? Numerous STEM organizations — including Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN) and the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) — are empowering women in the workplace and women in leadership, allowing female engineers to help chart the path for the next generation.

Kerrie Greenfelder, PE, DBIA, is a municipal water department manager at Burns & McDonnell. She has more than two decades of experience in design-build for water/wastewater treatment, and in landfill design and construction. She's been involved in providing design and management for design-build projects for a variety of municipal, public, industrial and federal clients. She is an active leader with the Water Environment Federation (WEF), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers (KSPE).