Last summer Maymead, a paving contractor operating out of Tennessee and North Carolina, began a unique initiative: developing an all-women’s paving crew.
The idea started when Mary Katherine Harbin, the area manager for one of Maymead’s divisions, began honing in on statistics regarding workforce diversity presented at various industry conferences.
“Everywhere we were, we were talking about how there are only a handful of women in construction,” she says. “[The industry wants] to be very proactive about that, but is really struggling to bring more women on.”
Between declining employment across the industry and the number of women in construction continuing to remain low, Harbin began searching for a way to make a change.
“We have 50 percent of a viable [female] workforce out there that we do not tap into well...what should we do to change that? That was the question,” she says. “We know we need more people, and we know there are qualified individuals out there. How do we make it easier and more attractive for women in our industry?”
In an attempt to combat the negative statistics, Harbin decided to develop an initiative that would focus exclusively on hiring for an all-female crew at Maymead. The company began running employment ads tailored to women, reinforcing that new recruits were not required to have prior paving knowledge.
“This is a training crew,” Harbin says. “It really doesn’t require the brawn of a super in-shape man to pave anymore, so we’re really trying to play that up. Anybody willing to work hard and learn about the construction industry, we want to join us."
Job advertising had proven successful in the months that followed, and the ladies paving crew was up and running in August of 2018. The team was also given brand new equipment to use on site, specially marked with a pink racer stripe.
Harbin says the team is “doing a fantastic job.”
“Last fall they paved a municipal contract for us, it was all paid for,” she says. “We retooled this winter, in North Carolina we do a winter shutdown anyway, so they have [also] been patching on DOT work.”
Although Maymead has always employed women for various roles, Harbin felt women were not entering the industry in the numbers that were needed.
“I felt really strongly that [we needed to] make it less intimidating,” Harbin says. “So that was how the idea of the all women’s paving crew was born: to lower the barrier of entry to make it more welcoming to women, and it really seems to be working.”
Harbin says although building the female paving crew was Maymead’s focus, job seekers don’t have to join the crew to land a job.
“We have women tanker drivers, we have women lab techs, we have women roadway techs, that are all coming now saying ‘hey, we hear there’s all these other ladies here, we want to join the team,’” she says. “It’s really opened a lot of doors for us.”
Although the paving crew has been active for close to a year, Harbin says the initiative has continued to help bring in potential Maymead employees across the board.
“We’ve always had women on the payroll, it just hasn’t been the numbers of women on the payroll,” Harbin says. “For years there have been ladies who have been willing to run rollers, or been roadway techs on the traditional crew that are mostly men, but to me, that is the exception to the rule. We’re trying to make it the rule.”