Operator Panel Discusses Obstacles for Women

March 21, 2024
Operators cite education and accommodation as important for recruiting women to the construction trades.

Education and accommodation are key obstacles to engaging more women in the construction trades, according to a group of female equipment operators. A panel of six operators made their observations during last week's Celebrating Women in Construction event, hosted by Caterpillar.

The two-day event, held at Cat’s Edward J. Rapp Customer and Training Center in Clayton, North Carolina, highlighted 18 women equipment operators and featured networking, a keynote speaker, and skills competitions. The women worked for construction companies and were hosted by their local Cat dealers.

Although more women are entering the construction workforce than ever before, they still only account for approximately one in 10 people according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This disparity in numbers was reflected in the experiences some of the women shared about their entry into the industry.

“As a woman in the construction industry, you have to show your experience and advocate for yourself and other women to try and prove yourself,” said Chelsey Holdosi, Carter Machinery. “You have to be more extroverted.”

“Even though I felt like equipment was the equalizer, you do feel the need to be perfect as a woman operator,” said Kait Burds, Ziegler Cat. “I was always thinking ‘how can I be less of a liability?’ I felt I needed to improve faster.”

Read also: Research Highlights Benefits of Women in Construction

Several panelists linked a lack of education and exposure for women specifically to the small number of women in the industry.

“I didn’t ever know construction was an option for me,” said Rondalee Wilke, Ring Power. “Covid led me to the industry because it was one of the only things that hadn’t shut down.”

One step in turning this lack of exposure around, according to the panelists, is through educational opportunities offered by equipment demonstrations and tools like social media.

“Social media, social media, social media,” said Wilke. “Getting in front of kids early can be a huge factor in gaining interest in construction. Socials are where you can reach young people.”

“Apprenticeship programs are really helpful if you’re interested in the industry,” said Holdosi. “It would be great for those to be promoted and to see people take advantage of them.”

In addition to education, a possible incentive to generate women’s interest in the industry is furthered efforts for accommodation in what is historically a male-dominated field.

“Maternity leave and daycare are roadblocks for a lot of women in the industry,” said Burds. “Accommodation for daycare, and diversity, equity, and inclusion training are necessary. Things look different than they used to.”

Read also: Report outlines ways to attract women into construction

Mackenzie Tackett of Ohio Cat concurred.

“Women face an issue in this industry when it comes to maternity leave,” she said. “If there’s no program in place, most can’t afford several months without pay.”

The event culminated in a competition that included skills tests: 

  • Using a small wheel loader to move material through the course to achieve 7.0 to 7.5 tons; then change to forks and use them to move a pallet.
  • Using a compact track loader to navigate an obstacle course using multiple machine functions.
  • Using a small hydraulic excavator to load a truck to achieve 10.0-tons payload.

The operators and event organizers expressed their hope that the Cat event could act as the exposure panelists described as imperative.

“The event is a celebration of female machine operators who build our world, advocate and drive awareness for their trade, and highlight solutions that address jobsite needs,” said Chrissy Metz marketing manager, in a statement. “Each competitor demonstrates advanced abilities operating the latest Cat construction machines and technologies, showing the world the invaluable role women play in the construction industry.”

“I hope this event gives women in construction more exposure and gives them the confidence to go out and do things that scare them,” said Burds, who finished as the overall winner of the skills test competition.

About the Author

Harlee Hewitt

Harlee is associate editor for Construction Equipment. She has a Bachelor's in English with a focus on technical writing.