When Consigli Construction was in the running to take on a $17 million renovation of a YWCA, project executive Jody Staruk saw an opportunity. She believed her company was in a unique position to center the project around women—in multiple ways.
Recently promoted to become the first female project executive in Consigli’s 116-year history, Staruk is a rarity in the male-dominated world of construction. And that gave her some power to rethink how things were done. The client for the project was the YWCA Central Massachusetts in Worcester, which is a community center, gym, and women’s shelter. Given the YWCA project’s scope and the organization’s focus on women, Staruk realized her company’s bid could make a statement. The company pledged that if it were to get the contract, every one of the project’s leadership roles—from project manager to foreman to supervisor—would be filled by a woman.
“So we were able to go into this interview and say, ‘We are the face of your mission,'” Staruk says. “‘We directly align with what you’re trying to do.'”
Consigli got the contract.
The five-woman leadership team proved to be particularly relevant to the project, which involved heavy demolition and the replacement of the plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems of a community facility that was also housing around 40 women, including some who’d experienced domestic violence, and providing daycare services to the children of first responders. “It was a tough building that hadn’t been touched in 30 years. And to make it even tougher, it was occupied and operational the entire time that we were there,” Staruk says.
Consigli’s leadership team helped ensure that the renovation—a loud and dirty process—would be minimally intrusive on the lives of the vulnerable women and children on-site. “The women on our team that were leading the safety orientations on the first day everyone was on-site—they made it a point to make sure that every person that worked on that job understood the sensitivity of what this facility was and who was in this facility,” Staruk says.
Staruk recalls one meeting where that attention to detail went even further. “The project manager asked the client what time do the kids nap so we can try to plan around not doing heavy demolition during those times,” she says. “The women on the team, several of whom are mothers—that was something that they just thought of that I can’t say I’ve seen on other jobs.” The company also helped temporarily relocate the YWCA residents to a nearby college dormitory during construction on the living quarters—an effort that reduced disruption and sped up the timeline.
The different perspective offered by the women-led team remains rare on big construction projects. Women make up just about 10% of the construction industry’s workforce, according to the National Association of Women in Construction. The share of female construction managers is even lower.
Staruk and Consigli are trying to boost those numbers and to expand the racial diversity of women working in the industry, both at the entry level and in management. As part of the project, a community benefits agreement was signed with the City of Worcester with diversity guidelines for construction workers and contractors. Staruk says that resulted in about 10% of the tradespeople on the job being women.
Staruk says these are all signs that the construction industry is starting to evolve. A women-led management team is certainly uncommon, she concedes, but filling the top roles with women wasn’t a gimmick. “It wasn’t just that we had one woman in each individual role,” Staruk says. “I had several women that I could pick from. So not only could we choose women to ensure this was an entirely female management team—it was also a diverse pool of women.”
Now, after a challenging year of construction with a pandemic thrown in, the renovation is complete. The new facility has extra space for early-childhood education and care, a private entrance for the women staying at the facility, and four extra rooms of transitional housing.
For a project so oriented toward the lives and experiences of women, the all-woman leadership team made perfect sense, Staruk says, but it’s something she hopes is replicated on other projects, no matter the building type.
“The construction industry in general is not one that likes change,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard for us to take those chances. But I think we’ve seen particularly on this job those opportunities can lead to something really great.”