Women in Construction Week: Local women embrace opportunities in rapidly-evolving career field

There are many rewards that Becky Manson, Valley Electrical electrician, attributes to her career in construction: the satisfaction of mastering a male-dominated field, seeing projects through from start to finish, and knowing that you are helping to build, create, and give life to ideas.

“It’s very humbling and rewarding to start from the ground up and finish something and see it work and knowing that you have the knowledge to do that with help from others,” says Manson.

Becky Manson demonstrates a light switch teaching module.Manson, a Grand Rapids native, got her start by earning a degree in industrial technology and management from Central Michigan University. But landing her first job in construction was far from easy.

“When I graduated from college, I got a lot of job turndowns because people said they weren’t hiring or that it wasn’t a good time for them to hire women because they already had enough,” she explains.

After dabbling in the restaurant business for about five years, Manson learned through friends at her softball league that Valley Electrical was hiring. She ended up working at the company for almost a decade, specializing in commercial and industrial projects for customers like The Dow Chemical Company. In Manson’s experience, construction companies are becoming more open-minded about hiring women.

“The crews that I have worked with have been very forthcoming – they do not care that I’m a woman on the job as long as they see me working hard, pulling my weight, and wanting to learn,” says Manson. “I get treated like one of the guys, I’m in the conversations, and they don’t look at me like I am weaker.”
Becky Manson is an instructor at the Greater Michigan Construction Academy.
Manson, Bay City resident, teaches a hands-on electrical applications class at Greater Michigan Construction Academy in Midland on some evenings. The course allows her students — mostly young men — to gain direct problem-solving experience, applying basic concepts to electrical setups ranging from valve control to fire alarms.

In her years as an electrician, Manson has learned to try her hand at everything and not be afraid to ask for help when needed. She enjoys teaming up with a variety of people at job sites and mentoring younger workers while bringing a healthy dose of humor to the workday.

The value of a female perspective

Three Rivers Corporation architect and design manager Kristin Riddle is the only woman on her six-person design group and one of two licensed architects on the team. While Riddle’s responsibilities center on creating building designs, she often interacts with managers and builders on work sites. She describes communication as an essential factor in ensuring women can fit seamlessly into a construction industry workplace.

“I have to say that I don't personally run into a lot of hurdles seeing that I am a female,” says Riddle. “I work with men day in and day out a lot, and it's fine. It’s as if I was working with women. We're all human beings; we all have to communicate. So as long as we communicate well and make a point to voice our opinions, I personally don't see any issue.”
Kristen Riddle is an architect and design manager for the Three Rivers Corporation

Riddle, a Midland resident, believes women can bring an important perspective to construction work. She feels that the male-dominated industry is changing to allow women to speak up and voice their opinions when needed.

Companies like Three Rivers, which is headquartered in Midland, are adding more flexible work options and support for employees with families, including allowing time off for child care or family commitments. Such measures can make construction work more appealing to female workers.

Three Rivers Corporation celebrates Women in Construction Week

The annual Women in Construction Week provides an opportunity to recognize women like Manson and Riddle, sharing their stories in hopes of inspiring the next generation of skilled female workers entering these male-dominated trades. Hosted on March 7-13 by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), the event aims to educate the public about the growing opportunities for women in construction and related fields.

According to the Current Population Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women made up 10.9% of the workforce employed in construction and associated professions in 2020. Although this number is still low, female participation in building-related careers has increased relative to recent years. The BLS also reports that the gender pay gap is less of an issue in construction, with women earning 99.1% of what men make in similar roles.

Three Rivers celebrates Women in Construction Week each year through a series of posts on their Facebook page highlighting various female employees. The women represent careers ranging from office-centered jobs and manager positions to hands-on roles at building sites.
Becky Manson provides hands-on instruction to students at GMCA's electrical skills lab.
Manson advises girls and women considering a construction career to proceed with confidence. “If you want to be in this career, don’t listen to everybody that says you can’t do it because you are a woman,” she says. “Go in there and do it, because you will be surprised at how much you can do as a woman even though it is male-dominated.”

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Marta Manning.

A native of Poland, Marta Manning shifted her career path to freelance journalism after working as a research chemist. Her articles have appeared in WebMD.com, the Chemical City Paper, Our Catholic Faith Midland, the NAMI.org national blog, and the Midland Daily News. Marta enjoys drawing and painting, hiking, and supporting local arts and indie music.