Photo credit: xavierarnau/E+ via Getty Images
By Sawyer Schweitzer, Harley Jeanise, Kelly Dolan, Jenny Vandehey
While the restoration and remediation industry has historically been male-dominated, that is changing. Women are working in increasing numbers across the industry, both in the field and in the office.
Though employment numbers remain low — women comprise just under 11% of the construction workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — they have steadily grown since 2015, and show no signs of slowing down.
However, while women’s presence in the world of restoration has grown, there is much more to be done to encourage and empower more women to join and succeed here.
While the industry has long been associated with skills traditionally viewed as more “masculine,” the reality is that restoration can be a great fit for people of all genders. From hands-on field work to roles in engineering, sales and administration, the employment possibilities for women in restoration are vast and diverse.
The culture is also evolving as more women and other traditionally underrepresented groups enter the workforce, reach leadership levels and connect with others across their networks.
“It’s so much easier to network, share info and meet other women in the industry virtually these days. We may not physically be close to each other, but we are still present and engaged,” says Kelley Dolan, chief of staff at First Onsite Property Restoration.
Jenny Vandehey, senior vice president of culture and experience at First Onsite Property Restoration, agrees that the industry is moving in a positive direction.
“In other industries I’ve worked in, I’ve felt pressured to show up in a more stereotypically ‘masculine’ way, but this is the first role where my authentic leadership style has been embraced,” she says.
Though she notes there is still more work to be done to build a holistically inclusive industry, Vandehey is excited by the openness to growth and proactive change she has observed.
More important than gender is attitude, work ethic and a desire to help others, believes Harley Jeanise, regional vice president at First Onsite Property Restoration.
“It’s a bold, exciting industry where every day is a new challenge to be solved,” says Jeanise, who notes that individuals who appreciate intense, fast-paced environments are most likely to thrive in the industry.
Vandehey agrees: “If you are energized and motivated by making a difference and making an impact, whether that’s in the field or in the office, this is great space for you.” She adds, “It’s really about impacting people’s lives and caring for communities. It’s a dynamic industry, but it’s rewarding because you’re helping people through some of their most challenging times.”
The restoration and remediation industry is dynamic by nature. It is fast-paced, unpredictable and requires an agile approach to an ever-changing set of circumstances. As a result, it has openness to change and new ways of thinking. Women and other underrepresented groups bring unique perspectives and fresh ideas to the table, which offer major benefits for their teams and employers.
“Cognitive diversity is a huge priority,” explains Vandehey. “We have different ways of thinking, different ways of behaving and relating, and we want that diversity. We don’t just want one way of doing things.”
The benefits of a cognitively diverse workforce are backed up by data. According to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, the more representative a team is in terms of age, ethnicity and gender, the more creative and productive it is likely to be. Additionally, 2020 research by McKinsey indicates that gender-diverse teams are also more likely to yield above-average profitability.
There is also the not-so-little problem of labor shortages across all industries, including restoration and remediation. The more employees of all genders, ages and ethnicities that companies can attract and maintain, the better.
“We’ve seen big chunks of our workforce just disappearing in the past couple years, especially those who are boots-on-the-ground,” says Dolan. “We need to ask ourselves: Why are they missing? What have we done to foster relationships with that labor force? What can we do to show more value to them?”
While Dolan notes that the issues go beyond lack of gender inclusivity, she believes that taking strides to ensure a workplace culture where all employees are welcomed and respected is essential.
“There is always room for progress, and I think there are several groups who could use progress and growth in our industry. I think if we focus on improvement for all, your identifying gender won’t matter as much. If all of us can continue to work against bias and appreciate and see people for who they are, that is the reality we need to strive for.”
Despite the progress and success that has already taken place in making the restoration and remediation space more accessible and welcoming to women, there is still room to grow. Employers need to take intentional steps to make space for more women and other underrepresented groups to thrive both in the workforce and at the leadership level.
While this is a multifaceted and complex challenge that will not be solved overnight, here are three important steps that restoration companies can take:
1. Don’t just celebrate diversity — prioritize it.
If companies are serious about creating a more representative, inclusive environment, they must do more than just talk.
“It’s not enough to post a job description in the same old spot, and just give up because only male applicants apply,” says Vandehey.
Instead, employers must be intentional about finding women and other underrepresented candidates to apply for open positions. That may mean proactively seeking out diverse candidates and revisiting standard talent acquisition strategies.
Additionally, instead of hiring from outside, employers can turn inward and pull from the talent pool they already have. That includes establishing structures for mentoring, supporting and promoting women across departments and levels. Employee-led resource groups can aid in connecting individuals, helping to create support networks and building new ladders to success.
2. Strategize to increase visibility.
“Seeing successful women blaze a trail in this industry is important,” says Jeanise. Though the increase in STEM education in schools has created more awareness of engineering and construction-related career paths for young women, there is more to be done to increase the visibility of these opportunities.
Organizations must make a conscious effort to connect with individuals and young people from diverse backgrounds who may not know about the benefits of working in restoration. This could be sharing stories of successful women in the industry and highlighting individuals who have been promoted to leadership roles.
“It’s an exciting career with unlimited growth opportunities,” says Jeanise, “and knowing that, and seeing others' success creates a path that you can follow.”
3. Invest in culture.
Intentionally investing in culture is the most essential step employers can take to create a welcoming workplace environment for all. That requires establishing inclusive company values that foster and prioritize human qualities, and embracing more than one way to look, lead and succeed in the space.
“We’re shaping the industry that we want to live and work in,” says Vandehey, “and that starts with fostering an open, strengths-based culture.”
She counsels that companies must also work hard to build safe spaces for hard conversations and constructive feedback.
Dolan agrees, saying that improving and modernizing employee culture also means doing the same for employee benefits.
“We’ve tried to think about what kinds of benefits are needed at all levels of the company and all walks of life. This includes family leave for mothers and fathers, both birth and adoptive, and so much more. Different programs need to be developed for people at different stages of their life.”
The restoration and remediation industry can be a great career path for all people, and if companies keep investing in their people and taking proactive strides, positive change is on the way. After all, high levels of diversity, representative workforces and inclusive cultures benefit everyone — both women and companies alike.