Insight
Championing Careers for Women in Construction
construction team members pointing at crane

Read time: 13 minutes

Breaking Down Construction Industry Misconceptions

Stories of gender-biased attitudes and discrimination around construction sites have long-recreated negative perceptions of an industry culture that is unappealing and uninviting to women. For many women considering a career in construction, the thought of going into a traditionally male-dominated field can be intimidating or feel restrictive. At first glance, employment numbers seem to reinforce this misconception, as less than 11% of the construction industry workforce and 4% of all tradespeople are women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.1

However, there is good news. A deeper look at the same employment data also shows significant progress in female participation in the industry over the last decade.

The number of women in construction has doubled in the last 10 years. 

Whether the result of skilled labor shortages or positive steps towards diversity, equity, and inclusion in recent years, a call to greater inclusivity within the construction industry is front and center. While acknowledging the disparities is a starting point, intentional approaches to inclusivity and championing careers is essential to increased female participation and equity.

“The only acceptable percentage of women in our industry is 50 percent,” emphasizes Dan Johnson, chief executive officer at Mortenson. While there is still much work to do, this continued improvement - along with more stories of accessibility and empowerment - will pave the way and fuel the next generation of female construction leaders.

Women make up 31% of Mortenson’s non-craft team members and 13% of Mortenson’s craft workforce.
The only acceptable percentage of women in our industry is 50 percent.

Nurturing Leaders from Within  

The historical foundation of women in leadership at Mortenson started in 1954 when the company was founded by Mort Mortenson, Sr. When reflecting on the company’s humble beginnings, Mort Sr. offered, “This would not be happening if it weren't for my wife, Jennie. God bless her… she signed up – without pay – to be the telephone operator, stenographer, payroll clerk, bookkeeper, and chief morale builder for our little company. Yes, with Jennie's help and encouragement, I thought we would be okay."

Today, the number of women in Mortenson’s craft workforce is nearly 13% and non-craft workforce is 31%. These numbers were not achieved by accident. We’re intentional about providing spaces for women to grow supportive networks, share their unique experiences, and advise on improvements to create a stronger female workforce. Some of these include:

Women’s Business Resource Group (BRG): The Women’s BRG at Mortenson has 14 different chapters and over 650 members across the organization with a mission to support, celebrate, engage, and energize women in the company and their allies.

Women in Construction (WIC) Week: Established by The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) in 1988, WIC Week is a dedicated time to recognize and promote the significant contributions of women in the construction industry. At Mortenson, this week is celebrated and filled with events, networking, and team discussions focused on how careers of women in the industry can be advanced.

ACE Mentor Program: A national program for high school students that many Mortenson team members participate in as mentors. Reaching around 4,000 female students annually, the ACE program introduces the next generation to careers in architecture, construction, and engineering.

Annual Women’s Event: Attended by nearly 350 Mortenson leadership, female team members and allies, this two-day internal event celebrates the accomplishments of women in all positions of the company while building relationships and facilitating dialogue on various experiences (women in the field, working moms, intersectionality, etc.).

Held ahead of the 2024 WIC Week, Mortenson’s Annual Women’s Event highlighted the significant impacts women are making across the entire company. “We received over 1,300 nominations of many amazing Mortenson women and allies by their peers for recognition at this event,” said Lois Martin, Mortenson chief financial officer. “What great evidence of the growing presence and influence of women here at Mortenson!”

Ahead of the national Women in Construction (WIC) Week, Mortenson’s 2024 Annual Women’s Event gathered nearly 350 women and company leaders for networking, panels, breakout sessions, and a keynote speaker.

Showcasing the journeys of female leaders across our organization is extremely important, as this representation breaks through the previously perceived glass ceiling in the industry.

Leader Spotlight: Ashley Clark, Project Executive

Ashley Clark, project executive at Mortenson, is a great example of someone who has taken full advantage of support opportunities to propel her career.

While attending college in 2012, Ashley completed an internship at Mortenson working alongside two female leaders — something she sees as a great example of how the company has been supporting and empowering female leaders for many years.

“We had really strong female leadership on that project,” Ashley said. “Kelly McNamara, who is now our vice president of operations in Minneapolis, was one of those women and I still chat with her often.”

After graduating from Iowa State University with a construction management degree, Ashley started as a field engineer. After a short stint as an estimator, her first field project was building the iconic U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Ashley Clark (left) is a project executive with Mortenson. Her career has spanned some of the firm’s largest sports projects across the country, including U.S. Bank Stadium (right), Chase Center, and GEODIS Park.

After working on the $1.4 billion Chase Center Arena in downtown San Francisco and tying the knot while on that project, Ashley and her husband moved to Nashville where she led the construction of GEODIS Park.

“I really grew on that project,” she said. “We hit every measurable metric for financials, safety, and quality. I also got to spread my wings as a mentor — building those relationships and a strong culture is something I'm super passionate about.

Ashley’s leadership on GEODIS Park contributed to impressive diverse workforce achievements. This included 48% of the project’s work hours being executed by women and people of color and over $75 million of work awarded to Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE).

Now, as a company leader, Ashley is driven to empower women across the firm. As co-chair of the Mortenson Women’s BRG for the past two and a half years, she purposefully cultivated a community that supports one another and prepares the next generation of women entering the industry for success.

The servant leadership approach of our leaders is a key part of our secret sauce and is why people would want to work here,” she said. “Our leaders are always asking, ‘how can I make your job easier? How can I support you in your growth? Tell me about what you want in your career.’ I know our organization is rallied around creating an environment for all leaders to thrive.”

Building an Equitable Environment

The advancement of more diverse, equitable, and inclusive team member experiences requires challenging the status quo and making changes across the organization. Some notable examples of these shifts include strengthening pipelines for diverse talent, pay equity, family planning support, non-union craft benefits, work-from-home arrangements to support working mothers, and Mortenson’s commitment to propelling diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts internally and within our communities.

As one of the most recent examples, Mortenson recently raised industry standards by making a significant investment to deliver the most meaningful benefits package for non-union craft team members* in the company’s history, which includes:


  • More Paid Time Off (PTO)
  • Paid parental and maternity leave
  • Increased short-term disability
  • Increased life insurance
  • Free mental health care
*Craft team members who are part of a labor union receive benefits directly from their union and not Mortenson.

Continued Progress Through Partnership and Intentionality 

A recent comparison between 2015 and today provides tangible examples of how more women at Mortenson are breaking barriers and increasing their presence and leadership:

PROGRESS OF FEMALE REPRESENTATION
AT MORTENSON SINCE 2015

2X

More Female Forepersons

6X

More Female Superintendents

31%

Non-craft workforce is women

While the statistics show notable and exciting improvements, there are real and very deserving women behind those numbers.

“Getting more women into the industry starts with a concerted effort to hire more women,” explains Maja Rosenquist, senior vice president with Mortenson. “That means getting out into the community and helping more women and girls see the building industry as a viable option.”

Policies and programs that create a sense of belonging for all team members are part of the ongoing support and Mortenson works with many national outreach partners to further attract diverse talent within the company.

In addition to SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), SASE (Society of Asian Scientists & Engineers) and other organizations, Mortenson partners with GWIC (Groundbreaking Women in Construction) and the SWE (Society of Women Engineers). These organizations help develop women at Mortenson and attract students and professionals from across the country.

Mortenson team members attending the 2023 Society of Women Engineers WE23 conference in Los Angeles.

Even with more women in the organization reaching higher levels today than ever before, Mortenson’s leadership understands there is still significant work to be done to ensure our workforce reflects the communities in which we work.

“We have a lot of opportunities and remain committed to doing the work,” said Mortenson President Derek Cunz. “We're better when we have different voices in the room, and we want to make sure we're hiring more women to bring their unique experiences and perspectives.”

Are you an aspiring leader looking for your opportunity to shine and make purposeful impact? If so, start your journey and learn more about the benefits of exploring a rewarding career in construction at Mortenson.

people walking on construction site blue overlay

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