Partnering With Industry: DRI Construction Meets Leaders of the National Association of Women in Construction
Originally published in DRI - The Critical Path, Volume 23, Issue 2
The Defense Research Institute ("DRI") is the largest international membership organization of attorneys defending the interests of business and individuals in civil litigation. Diversity is a core value at DRI. Indeed, diversity, which includes sexual orientation, is fundamental to the success of the organization, and DRI seeks out and embraces the innumerable benefits and contributions that the perspectives, backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences a diverse membership provides. Inclusiveness is the chief means to increase the diversity of DRI’s membership and leadership positions.
Among DRI's 29 Substantive Law Committees, whose focus is to develop ongoing and critical dialogue about areas of practice, is DRI's Construction Law Committee. Led by Committee Chair, Diana Gerstberger of Axis Insurance Company in Alpharetta, GA, and Vice-Chair, David Jones of Wright Lindsey & Jennings LLP, in Little Rock, AR, the DRI Construction Law Committee is dedicated to enhancing diversity and inclusion of ideas, including valuable input from members of other organizations in the construction industry.
With this goal in mind, DRI's Construction Law Committee has partnered with the National Association of Women in Construction ("NAWIC"), which originally began as Women in Construction of Fort Worth, Texas. Sixteen women working in the construction industry founded it in 1953. Knowing that women represented only a small fraction of the construction industry, the founders organized NAWIC to create a support network. Women in Construction of Fort Worth was so successful that it gained its national charter in 1955 and became the National Association of Women in Construction. Today, NAWIC provides its members with opportunities for professional development, education, networking, leadership training, public service and more. For more information on NAWIC and how to become a member or participate in a construction industry event, you can visit online at NAWIC.org to find a chapter near you.
In this edition of The Critical Path
, we have the pleasure of introducing you to some of the leaders in NAWIC, including the Association's President, Dove Sifers-Putman, and its Vice-President, Anne Pfleger. Following my interviews for this article, NAWIC held its national elections for its 2019-20 Board of Directors. Ms. Sifers-Putman is now NAWIC's Immediate Past National President, and Ms. Pfleger is now NAWIC's President-Elect.
Ms. Sifers-Putman, Construction Bookkeeping Technician ("CBT") is the Southeast Market Manager for Environamics Inc., where she works in the company's headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Founded in 1980, Environamics Inc. is an interior specialty contracting company that also markets, fabricates and installs two product lines of full-height partition systems, Symbio® and Slimline. Formerly NAWIC's Region Director, National Secretary, National Vice-President and Current President, Ms. Sifers-Putman was the 2015 NAWIC Member of the Year. Ms. Sifers-Putman was described by a colleague at Environamics as "a conscientious, very hard-working and detail-oriented Market Manager who oversees the South Market for Environamics. Her devotion to her job and her friendly manner win her many repeat clients."
Anne Pfleger, Construction Industry Technician ("CIT"), currently handles Estimating, Safety and HR Administrator at Charles Construction Services, Inc. in Findlay, Ohio, where she has been since 2014. Ms. Pfleger had previously worked as a Senior Project Administrator for Charles Construction Services, Inc. between February 2005 and December 2011, following which she worked as a Senior Construction Manager for Bodie Electric, Inc. for approximately two years. Ms. Pfleger has a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Findlay. In addition to her success in her construction industry career, Ms. Pfleger is a leader within NAWIC, serving as its current Vice-President. A NAWIC Member since 2006, Ms. Pfleger has risen through the ranks via the Association's North Central Region (OH, MI, IN, KY, WV, Western PA) where Ms. Pfleger served as a Board Member, the Treasurer and President of the Lima Ohio Area Chapter. Thereafter, she advanced within NAWIC to serve as the North Central Region Director and then as the Association's Treasurer before being elected as Vice-President. In 2018, Ms. Pfleger was NAWIC's Member of the Year Award winner.
As Chair of the Construction Law Committee's Specialized Litigation Groups ("SLG's"), and also a member of NAWIC's Piedmont Chapter #109, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Sifers-Putman and Ms. Pfleger about their background, work in the construction industry, and history of leadership in NAWIC. The following is my interview.
Interview With Dove Sifers-Putman, NAWIC President and
Anne Pfleger, NAWIC Vice-President
First, some background…
I begin with you, Dove. Please introduce yourself, and include your job title, position in NAWIC, and some personal information about our background in construction and what you do outside of work.
My name is Dove Sifers-Putman, CBT. I am the current NAWIC National President 2018-2019 and Board of Director on Charlotte, NC Chapter #121. I enjoy time with family, friends and spending time on the lake. I am an active Carolina Panthers fan, WVU fan, and enjoy watching NASCAR and other sports.
When was your first real exposure to the construction?
I helped my father and brother around our farm with building and demo.
How did you became the Southeast Market Manager for Environamics?
I started as secretary with Environamics and later moved into our order entry for our demountable wall product. The company sent me for AutoCAD classes, and I began creating shop drawings for our installers and worked with our clients over the years. I now handle sales, estimating, project management and shop drawings.
Turning now to you, Anne, I was curious about your path to leadership and success in the construction industry. I saw that after working over 10 years as an Office Administrator for J-Star Consolidated, Inc., a medium-sized logistical company specializing in trucking, rail and warehousing in Walbridge, Ohio, you returned to college and in 2011, you earned a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Findlay. Can you describe your transition from the logistical/trucking industry to the construction industry following your degree? How has your degree helped you in the work you have done for Charles Construction?
My transition from the logistical/trucking industry to the construction industry has been very smooth for me and began six years prior to completing my college degree. My experience as an office administrator has given me a unique understanding of each industry’s complex governmental regulations providing me with the necessary knowledge to serve in the role of Estimating, Safety, and HR Administrator at Charles Construction Services. Earning my B.S. in Business Management has only enhanced my capabilities.
I understand that to fulfill the educational goal of NAWIC, the association created the NAWIC Education Foundation ("NEF") in 1973. NEF offers certification and educational programs for individuals who want to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of construction industry principles and practices, to include the CIT program you pursued. Would you elaborate on your experience earning your CIT and how that has enhanced your construction career?
The Construction Industry Technician ("CIT") program is one of six adult education programs offered by NEF. This self-guided program is followed by an exam testing your knowledge obtained from the textbooks. Upon passing the examination, you receive accredited certification of the program completed. The CIT designation represents an individual’s knowledge of the construction industry and its processes including construction, forms of business ownership, contractual arrangements, contract documents, and the construction process. Obtaining this certification played a significant role in advancing my career in construction from Project Administrator to Senior Project Administrator to Senior Construction Manager.
Currently I’m studying to become an Estimating and Scheduling Practitioner ("ESP") to augment my recent estimating promotion at Charles Construction Services, Inc. The ESP teaches about various types of estimates and the needed skills of an estimator. It also provides a step-by-step approach in preparing project schedules utilizing the critical path and precedence schedules.
What’s great about these certifications is you don’t have to be a NAWIC member to obtain them. They are open to anyone who wants to gain knowledge of the construction industry. For more information, visit www.nef-edu.org
Your respective involvement within NAWIC.
Dove, you have been a member of NAWIC since July 1996. Who and what led you to join NAWIC?
I was invited to a meeting by NAWIC Member Linda Heyworth and was in awe of the strong women in the room. I signed up the next day.
Can you describe your path to leadership within NAWIC?
I was nominated to serve on the Chapter Board my first year. I began working my way up the Chapter ladder. I served on Regional and National Committees before running for Regional Director in 2009. I served as Regional Director 2009-2011 and then as NAWIC National Secretary 2011-2013. I ran for National Vice President against others and lost two times. I knew that I wanted to be National President, so I continued to travel and campaign and was elected as Vice President in 2016.
Anne, you have also served in numerous leadership positions within NAWIC -- from your local Chapter to Region Director to National Office. What instigated your desire to take on these leadership roles? Can you describe campaigning for office?
NAWIC’s core values are:
- Believe in ourselves as women
- Persevere with the strength of our convictions
- Dare to move into new horizons
There is also an unwritten core value that NAWIC members possess; To possess stewardship like those before us to build a stronger association for future generations members.
These values and seeing the talents and skills NAWIC members share to enhance each other’s success as women in the construction industry inspired me to step into the leadership role on the national board. This role continues to inspire me, drives my desire, and strengthens my commitment to serve and remain focused on the success of others.
Stepping into a national board leadership role in NAWIC begins at the local level. Once you’ve served as Chapter President you have the option to campaign for Director for the Region your membership resides. Once elected as Director you will serve a two-year term and then may run for national office. Initially, most women choose to run for Secretary or Treasurer with the possibility of serving (2) one-year consecutive terms. If elected Vice-President, the member will serve a one-year term. When elected President-Elect, the member serves one-year as President-Elect, one year as President and one year as Past National President. Candidates are responsible for the cost of travel, hotels, and conference registrations. In the past, candidates have been able to obtain company and membership support through fundraising for these expenses.
Anne, in 2018, you won NAWIC's Member of the Year Award. Your peers described you as follows: "Anne’s passion and belief in NAWIC’s mission have carried her voice beyond being just a member. She leads and embraces NAWIC values by living them daily, and in doing so, elevates and challenges us all to do the same." How has your membership and leadership within NAWIC helped you challenge and encourage your NAWIC peers?
Everyone has trials and tribulations in their life. NAWIC came into my life at a time when my forward momentum had stopped and I didn’t know which direction to go. Becoming a part of this association gave me the drive to finish my college degree 20 years after starting, the confidence to be in front of others and serve as an advocate for women to achieve their goals.
Making a difference through NAWIC.
Dove, I read in the November 2017 edition of NAWIC's The Connection a quote from you, as President-Elect:
Webster’s definition of change is to “make or become different.”
The new blueprints for your chapter are going to be different. We need to make sure that the foundation built by past board members will support our new building. As chapter members, your job is to start building off that new blueprint.
NAWIC and the construction industry are changing. Without change we won’t grow. Just think of trees that start as seedlings. They wouldn’t provide us with shade and beautiful fall colors if they didn’t change and grow. Support your board and help with changes that your chapter is making this year. Now is the time to embrace the change.
Together we will grow as members, chapters and as an Association. Let’s all make a measurable difference. Share your NAWIC story.
In what ways do you see the construction industry changing from your vantage point as the President of NAWIC?
I am working with other construction associations to help bring the awareness that construction is a viable career. We all have resources and we should join together to promote construction.
Has the prevalence of women in the construction industry changed since you joined NAWIC?
The industry has changed in the sense that construction in no longer a male “dominated” industry but a male “populated” industry. Women are often seen more in the forefront of construction, both in the field with boots on the ground and seats at the table, influencing the direction of the construction industry.
How are NAWIC and other organizations working to increase that percentage?
NAWIC and other organizations are spreading the word and educating the younger generation that construction is a viable career. In 2017, Past National President Connie Leipard appeared on Worldwide Business with Kathy Ireland
explaining the importance of NAWIC in the construction industry (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=23&v=3xNFHPCBi-o
). Most recently NAWIC chapters from across the country have helped fund the production of Hard Hatted Woman
, the first feature-length documentary to tell the story of women in the construction trades (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=14&v=JlFZcSXSwpY
NAWIC takes an active role in schools through attendance at job/career fairs and teaming up with NEF to provide K-12 education programs such as Block Kids, Design Drafting and Create*Design*Build (https://nef-edu.org/k-12-education/
Block Kids is available to children in grades K-6 introducing them to the construction industry by creating a competition to construct various structures using Legos. This competition is sponsored by local NAWIC chapters and other organizations. First place winners move on to the regional and national competitions with projects they created at the local level.
The Design Drafting competition is for high school and college students and provides student recognition in creative design, successful problem solving and craftsmanship in preparing architectural drawings. The objectives of the contest are to introduce the student to the construction industry in a positive and challenging manner, while fostering a sense of self-worth and building confidence. Each local sponsor is furnished with a “design problem” laid out by a licensed architect or engineer and is generic enough to meet the needs of all areas of the U.S. and our international affiliates. First place winners from the local level move to regional and national competitions.
The Create*Design*Build is NEF’s newest program for junior high and high school students. This program is a cross-curriculum team project promoting awareness of the construction industry. Teams typically consist of three students working together to create their company identity, design a logo for business cards and stationery, write proposals and letters to customers, and then design and build a mock-up of the project they contracted to complete. The project targets general study and technical schools as well as home school, virtual classroom settings and youth programs including scouting programs and badges.
In addition to these programs, we also provide scholarships for undergraduate construction degree programs and construction trades through our NAWIC Founders’ Scholarship Foundation ("NFSF"). NFSF was established in 1963 by NAWIC to assist in providing the construction industry with trained employees through higher education. It is a self-supporting scholarship program and is a 509(a)(3) designated organization. Contributions are considered a charitable donation and are tax deductible. NFSF has the capability to administer scholarships to college or trade school students for companies, organizations or local NAWIC chapters. (https://www.nawic.org/nawic/NFSFScholarships.asp
What stories have you heard from NAWIC members about how the changing construction industry have provided opportunities for women to work and advance their careers in the industry, and what roles are they filling?
Women are looking to construction as a career. They can support their families by working this one job. We have owners, project managers and tradeswomen. We need to have more.
What’s even more exciting is that women are looking to construction as their second career because of the available opportunities. For example, on average, women in the U.S. earn 81.1 percent of what men make. In the construction industry, the gender pay gap is much narrower. In construction, women earn on average 95.7 percent of what men make. Source: https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-databook/2016/pdf/home.pdf
, Table 19.
Legal Issues Facing NAWIC Members
I understand that one of the pressing topics among NAWIC members is the issue of harassment / gender discrimination in the workplace.
How prevalent is Harassment and Discrimination?
Unfortunately this is still an issue. NAWIC's sexual harassment statement is that we condemn the acts of sexual harassment. Our core purpose is to enhance the success of woman in the construction industry.
In 2017, the NAWIC-OSHA Alliance Committee sent out a survey to the NAWIC membership about harassment in the workplace. A total of 432 women, which is about 10 percent of our membership, responded to the survey.
Demographically, the survey was almost equal in age and experience distributions. About 50 percent of the work sites were in urban areas. Overwhelmingly, the majority were employed full‐time.
About 10 percent were women from the building trades, and over 50 percent of the respondents were office/management/administrative personnel.
The number of women who indicated they had NEVER experienced bullying, sexual harassment or sexism was higher than expected, however, in the detailed section, we saw a number of “No, but…” answers.
That is, “No, I have not experienced sexism, but…I do get called Sweetie; the old guys like to hug; the guys say something, but then say they were just joking…” or, “I just learn to put up with it; I have thick skin, so it doesn’t bother me; I ignore it; they aren’t doing it to me anymore…” “I do get a little picked on…”
In reviewing the responses, it is our belief that sexism, bullying and sexual harassment is still present in the construction industry. In spite of educating the workforce, webinars, seminars, required harassment prevention training, etc.; these three issues still exist, although in many circumstances, it may be more subtle and less overt than previously seen.
Can you provide some examples of incidents that have occurred?
The following are some of the detailed responses from the survey.
What are some of the impacts of hostile work environments?
- Being asked to do menial tasks.
- Subcontractors asking to speak to “the boss.”
- Being ignored or talked over – instructions ignored.
- Told “not an equal unless I could stand up and pee.”
- Leaving pictures (graphic drawings) of a woman construction worker being bloodied up.
- Forced to work in conditions no one else would do or force lay‐off.
- Asking for sex after an out of town business meeting.
- Being encouraged to “get drunk and we’ll see what happens.”
- Knowing that you are the only woman on‐site and all the pictures and dirty little stories in the portable toilets are “you.”
Unfortunately, I have first-hand experience with a hostile work environment. For a short time, I worked for a company owned by a husband and wife. The husband had major anger management issues and there were instances when he became angry for no apparent reason. He would then become verbally abusive, slamming doors and even “accidentally” shot himself in the foot with his handgun while at work. At one point, this man behaved so violently that he raised his fist and stood toe-to-toe yelling at me for hand-delivering a charitable donation to a domestic violence shelter instead of mailing it. The work environment caused a constant fear inside me affecting both my mental and physical health. With my father’s encouragement and my faith in God, I quit my job without having another job in place. To this day, I still have nightmares, but because of my decision, I am much better off personally and professionally.
I share this hoping if another woman works in a hostile work environment and reads this story, she will find the courage to leave and pursue a new path in construction.
Can you elaborate on how the continuing issue of harassment/ gender discrimination is being addressed by NAWIC?
NAWIC has issued its sexual harassment statement. NAWIC and OSHA conducted a sexual harassment survey. We encourage women to tell someone if this is happening to them or they see it happen. Most companies do not want to see this type of issue and want to know if it is happening.
Below is NAWIC’s sexual harassment statement. (https://www.nawic.org/nawic/Code_of_Professionalism.asp
NAWIC's Position on Harassment:
The recent spotlight on sexual harassment of women in the workplace is an appropriate time to reiterate that the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) condemns the act of sexual harassment. It has been one of the barriers to increasing the number of women in the construction field and should never be tolerated.
It is also important to recognize that the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) opposes and condemns all forms of harassment in the workplace, regardless of whether it is based on age, ethnicity, race, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion or marital status.
NAWIC’s Core Purpose is to enhance the success of women in the construction industry.
To this end, NAWIC is committed to helping members via education and training, experience a safe workplace environment that is free of threats, harassment or assault, whether they are employees, managers, supervisors, employers or business owners.
Another issue that NAWIC is bringing to the forefront is the lack of, but need for, personal protective equipment ("PPE") for women.
Dove, I have some questions for you about this issue.
What are women experiencing in the field when they are using PPE?
Clothing that does not fit properly. Gloves that are too large. Boots that don’t fit and are uncomfortable. We need more companies that sell woman’s safety equipment and clothing made for women and that is affordable.
What are the dangers in using ill-fitting PPE?
Sometimes it keeps them from doing their job properly.
It can also cause injuries and accidents not only to the women wearing them but others on the jobsite because it doesn’t fit properly and fails to do the job it’s intended to.
What can employers, manufacturers and others do to help?
Make more affordable work and safety clothing for woman. Employers should seek out these companies and also help pay for these items that woman need to wear on jobsites.
What information do you have on progress NAWIC is making on this front?
We work to help make employers aware that this is an issue. We share information on companies that sell clothing and safety equipment made for women. This link can be found on our website for our NAWIC members.
Another issue relates to concerns for women in construction specific to mothers and pregnant women.
Are there any efforts underway within NAWIC or within the construction industry of which you are aware to make advancements in this area such as with assisted child care, maternity benefits, flexible work schedules, accommodations to avoid reproductive hazards?
During the last few years, NAWIC regional and national conferences have been facilitating panel discussions to review how their companies are increasing flexibility for mothers and fathers alike. They offer flexible work hours during the day and because of technology can even allow them to work from home some of the time. Companies have increasingly realized in order to keep good employees they need to be more flexible. NAWIC members are encouraged by these advancements in the workplace creating an open environment for continued discussion.
Thank you both for your time and input.
--Stephanie U. Eaton, DRI Construction Law Committee SLG Chair and
Member of NAWIC's Piedmont Chapter #109