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CEG Web Exclusive Columnist - Lenore Janis, President PWC

A look at how women have tackled the "Concrete Ceiling" over the years.

Wed August 28, 2013 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Professional Women in Construction – the name alone still gives some pause, as in “are there really enough women in construction to fill an entire organization?” Here’s some history for the uninitiated: In 1978 President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order to implement participation of minority-owned companies on all publicly funded work. At that time the term minority referred to those who were a minority in the business community –women were just included ….

There was a problem: when a separate goal was eventually established for woman- owned business enterprises (WBEs), as opposed to other minority-owned companies (MBEs – for African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc.) no percentage was specified for WBEs.

Women owned businesses were left in never never land. They lobbied state by state to effectuate even small goals of 1% and 2%. Slowly, but surely, they made inroads.

1980 – Enter Professional Women in Construction.

We started out with a dozen women against the world – I was one of them - having already put up with the slings and arrows and outright discrimination from the macho male-dominated construction industry, as well as banks denying business loans and suppliers denying credit. We were legitimate owners/operators of construction businesses and /or actively engaged as professionals and managers. But how far would the concrete ceiling reach?

We launched an aggressive group unlike any other – to develop programs and events which showcased our goods and services and brought us into direct contact with industry decision makers. We hounded policy makers in Washington and the various states to institute worthwhile percentage goals for WBEs. Finally, Governor Mario Cuomo effectuated a 5% goal and emphatically told industry leaders at a 1984 PWC meeting that “they had better start utilizing women’s companies or suffer the loss of NY State awards.” PWC was on its way.

There was a major concern … Our by-laws stated “women members only.” Yet we realized that interaction with our male colleagues, the decision makers, was imperative. After a very close vote, PWC became a coed organization in 1985, with one male member - Today, many men are proud to wear PWC T-shirts and flock to our events.

We must be doing something right. We have expanded to six chapters. Our membership is around 1,000; our constituency numbers upwards of 16,000.

The women who are members of PWC (some diehards still hanging in 33 years later) are doing well. They will tell you that the government WBE goal helped them get into business and stay in business. They quickly learned that the mandated goal for WBEs may get you in the door with public sector contracts but competitive pricing is the secret of success and puts you in the running in the private sector.

Priscilla J. Triolo, Esq., board member emeritus, formerly PWC’s general counsel, says, “Being a member gives one status in the eyes of the construction community; it raises our stature among owners and contractors. You’re part of a vibrant organization, well-informed and well-positioned.”

Clearly, the quiet voice that started to speak 33 years ago has grown more vocal with each passing year. Over 15 years ago, PWC member and avid supporter, (the late) Frank Sheridan, AIA, NY Department of Correctional Services described PWC as “An idea whose time has come.” His words are just as true today as when he voiced them and will be for many more years.

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