A New Normal: More women are finding, and loving, careers in the construction industry

Oh what a difference a decade makes — at least it has for women in the construction and real estate industry, according to several women working on a 107-unit multifamily townhome project in York dubbed the Oaks at Copper Chase.

Jillian Dorell, construction and design manager with real estate developer Larken Associates, one of the partners in the Copper Chase project, says the last 10 years have brought some significant changes for women involved with the construction and real estate industry.

“There are a lot of women who work for Larken now,” Dorrell says, “strong powerful women. It’s a growing trend in our business.”

Dorell is responsible for the design and renovation of common areas for Larken’s commercial and residential projects. For the Copper Chase project that means everything from “fitting out” all the fitness centers to purchasing the furniture for the common areas and selecting the finishes.

Dorell spent her entire career in the construction field, including the last six years at Larken, headquartered Branchburg, New Jersey. She has worked in a variety of aspects of the industry including residential interior design, commercial construction and solar in the engineering field.

“I’ve done a lot in the industry, a lot of the professional services that go along with construction,” she says. “I grew up in the industry. My father was a locksmith and I was always on jobs with him. That’s probably where I got my passion from.”

While Dorell says there are more women working in construction than when she first started out, a woman in her current position is still unexpected.

“It’s not common, I can tell you that,” she said. “I don’t know if it is as unusual now as it would have been 10 years ago. It’s becoming more of a norm. Society is more accepting of it now. My best friend works for an engineering firm, and when I was in school all the girls were in interior design and the guys were in architecture.”

In fact, Dorell says that about 40 percent of the Larken management team is made up of women and their presence is a welcome addition among their male counterparts.

“I personally have not experienced any type of awkward moments,” she said. “Our team is so female strong that the guys are 100 percent used to it. They respect the hell out of us. We do a lot for them and they rely on us a lot. It is not a gender thing, it is a teamwork thing. If you know your job and the goal is to get the job done, there are absolutely zero issues.”

Lindy Hitzel, who handles business development and marketing for York-based Copper Chase general contractor Campbell Associates, says it’s not uncommon to find a woman in her role in a construction company, particularly in the last couple of years. Plus, she says, more women are also taking on roles in construction sales, adding that it’s likely due to the fact that the both jobs are so communications-focused.

“There are also more women out in the field. It is certainly a growing area for women, in the past 10 years there are more women than ever. Female carpenters, Female engineers. I love it,” she says.

The Copper Chase project has a surprising number of women working on it, she said, although she didn’t even notice it at first. “The firms that are on the project brought good people together,” she says. “Larken has a lot of women on their team and they are leading the charge. I think it is amazing, but it is really just women doing what women do best, doing a great job.”

York-based Paragon Engineering designed the electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems for Copper Chase, according to Christina McCullough, business development and marketing manager.

McCullough was heavily involved with the marketing side of Copper Chase, including a recent event on site celebrating the women involved in the project. “When we do engineering design, we are actually nowhere near construction,” she explains. “We designed it a couple of years ago. When it went to construction we teamed up with our other partners, rented an ice cream truck and gave hard-hat tours. It was a cool way to bring more exposure to it.”

And, McCullough and Campbell Associate’s Hitzel teamed up to pull together another celebration of the project during Women in Construction week, which runs from March 8-13. The central Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction will be holding a ceremony on March 10 to recognize the women working on the project.

However, while McCullough says that while women in the construction industry have certainly come a long way, leveling the playing field still requires a bit more work. For example, she points out that only 14% of engineers are women, a disparity she is actively trying to do something about.

Three years ago McCullough launched “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” held on the third Thursday in February to coincide with National Engineers Week. Through the program she connects young female students interested in engineering with professional female engineers.

The past two years the event happened in person. This year’s event was virtual and McCullough was pleasantly surprised to have young women from throughout the state and as far away as Maryland register for the Central Pennsylvania event.

McCullough is always looking for more female engineers to serve as mentors and anyone interested in learning more about next year’s event can contact her by email at [email protected].