When Missy Scherber started running a construction business in 2014, she didn’t see any other women in the industry.
“It was two years into my career in construction until I encountered my first woman out in the field,” Scherber said. “That really says a lot about how much we need progress.”
Scherber has since become a leading advocate for women in construction, amassing a social media community where women in the industry can connect.
“The first woman I encountered, I hired,” she said.
Scherber, who left her job at a nonprofit to co-own T. Scherber Demolition and Construction with her husband, said she quickly grew fond of the industry.
“I fell in love with the people that build our world,” she said.
As a woman in leadership in a male-dominated field, Scheber was eager to find role models. It took her three years.
“I found my role model three years ago — Stacey Tompkins of Tompkins Excavating in New York,” Scherber said. “I saw her picture, I read an article of a recent award she had won, and I was like, there’s my role model. If she can do this, I can do this.”
Scherber recognized that women weren’t considering jobs in construction because they had no visible role models. In the hopes of increasing visibility for women in construction, Scherber sought to establish an online community.
“I went online and I said, ‘We’re going to change #wcw (Woman Crush Wednesday) to be Women in Construction Wednesday,’” She said. Scherber received hundreds of direct messages. “I literally looked at my husband and said, ‘These women need a voice, they need to be seen, they need to be heard, their stories have to be shared.’”
Now every Wednesday, Scheber shares stories on her Instagram of inspiring women in the field, and she believes this visibility is vital to encouraging women in construction.
“If we don’t start sharing our stories, and show the next generation and other women that we’re out here, we won’t be inspiring change,” she said. “If you look at the landscape of marketing and advertising, we’re not even inviting women into our industry and giving them permission to be a part of it. If we want to be more diverse, marketing and advertising needs to show that diversity.”
A necessary step
For Scherber, advocating for women in construction goes beyond gender equality.
“If we don’t look at fifty percent of the population, which is women, as part of the solution we’re not going to be in business in 10 years,” she said. “As a business owner, I am looking at being an advocate for women in construction from a practical sense.”
Of the 10 percent of the construction workforce that is made up of women, less than 2 percent of are working out in the field.
“The vast majority of women are fulfilling office roles, corporate roles, marketing, administration,” Scherber said. “I’m in an industry, earth moving and waste management, that’s even more behind than construction as a whole.”
Scherber recently reached out to her online community to find out what some of the biggest roadblocks are for women entering the industry. The overwhelming response was an unconscious gender bias.
“A lot of women are feeling the internal eye roll when they walk onto the job site,” Scherber said. “Can you really do this? Are you capable? A lot of them are actually asked that.”
This bias leads to women having to prove themselves more than men and fighting for respect, which can result in on-site harassment.
“For me, the solution to that is making sure businesses that have women working for them are sitting down with women and asking, ‘What is your experience like? How can we do better?’” Scherber said. “Women need to be on workforce development committees. If there’s not a woman on those committees — and I’ve sat on several and been the only woman — are we wasting our time if only one woman is represented?”
The first woman Scherber saw on site was Deb Cole, who now works as a lead driver for Scherber and has worked in construction for over 30 years. It’s those stories of longevity that inspire Scherber the most.
“To me, every woman that is in construction, and is still in construction after two or three years, is a story of inspiration,” she said.