More than 90 percent of those in construction management are male, but FIU is working to change that. When the FIU construction management program began, more than 46 years ago, few, if any, women enrolled in the program or could see themselves working in a male-dominated industry.
Today, close to 40 percent of the program’s master’s degree students are female, and the number of those enrolled in the bachelor’s degree are growing in face-to-face and online-only formats. With the effects of coronavirus and remote learning, the numbers are climbing.
“We are proud of our increasing diversity and top rankings,” says Jose Faria, interim chair of the Moss Department of Construction Management. “Many of our students are from our community and end up working on projects within South Florida, like the new guitar-shaped Hard Rock Hotel.”
In 2018, the Moss Department of Construction Management ranked No. 2 in Florida; No. 9 Construction School in the South; and as the No. 34 Construction School in the United States, according to Construction-Colleges.com.
Florida is cited as one of the top states experiencing the fastest construction growth. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the industry has continued working unabated, according to Carina Cortes, a project manager for Link Construction, a Miami commercial construction company. Cortes holds an FIU bachelor’s degree in construction management, which she earned in 2019.
In the field, Cortes feels respect for women is very high. It’s not like it may have been decades ago, she confirms. As a project manager, the construction workers rely on Cortes to coordinate and stagger staff and jobs to ensure laws and rules about social distancing and safety are upheld. While some things are a little more complicated to schedule, other things have also become easier, explains Cortes. Processes have sped up with the instantaneous nature of Zoom meetings and DocuSign capabilities, she describes.
“Since construction is essential, we haven’t stopped,” she recounts. “Everyone is running like before. It’s truly been eye-opening for me that even in a crisis like this, I still have a job. It says a lot about the career I chose."
In general, reports indicate the disparity between the sexes remains in the construction industry. However, there is a gender shift occurring, asserts Faria. Nipesh Pradhananga, assistant professor and graduate program director in the Moss Department of Construction Management, agrees and cites the department’s efforts to build momentum and introduce girls to the industry with the free “She Builds” summer camp. The department created the camp in 2019 for girls in grades 9 to 12. While the current pandemic has stopped plans for the camp this year, there are intentions to reschedule the event in 2021.
Pradhananga emphasizes that it’s not just increasing the number of women in construction management that’s needed. Increasing the use of technology is a must to attract the younger generation. Technology also increases efficiencies, like those Cortes indicated with Zoom and DocuSign.
Alumnae aren’t just found in hard hats at construction sites, stresses Pradhananga. Many women fill professional roles within the industry in addition to becoming managers. With the availability of online learning, the master’s degree in construction management can be pursued 100 percent online, which may be the game changer for many women who work or have family obligations, and it certainly helps at this time amid COVID-19, he rationalizes.
The online master’s degree program is designed for working professionals, adds Faria, and helps those who want a career change as all disciplines are welcome to apply for the program.
Cortes took several classes online while pursuing her undergraduate degree and loved the flexibility of being able to work and choose when she studied. She cherished the ability to re-watch videos to solidify the material in her memory.
“I could do my coursework whenever I had time during break or on the weekends,” she recalls. The degree is well-respected and recognized, she says. Several of her employers have been FIU graduates.
With positions that pay master’s degree graduates more than $90,000 on average and predicted growth to be much faster than average for the next decade, the demand for education persists—especially for online programs, and even out of state, explains Faria.
The wage gender gap in the construction management industry is much smaller than most other industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and this adds fuel to the growing female population of students.
Addressing industry needs
“What I love about being in a male-dominated field is it pushes you to prove yourself,” states Cortes. To make it in the industry, women must not be afraid to ask questions, learn from your mistakes, study those plans and find a mentor, she sums up.
“We have achieved extraordinary growth in the last decade because our undergraduate and graduate construction management programs fill a great need. We are changing the face of construction management,” affirms Faria.The Moss Department of Construction Management is within FIU's Moss School of Construction, Infrastructure and Sustainability.