Q&A: Women’s Role in Fixing CRE’s Labor Shortage

Women are gaining a foothold in upper management within the construction industry, thanks in part to CEOs like Plaza Construction’s Richard Wood.

Professional Women in Construction recently honored Plaza Construction CEO Richard Wood with one of its “Salute to Women of Achievement” awards in recognition of what he has done to advance the careers of women. It was the first time that a man received such an accolade from the organization. Commercial Property Executive chatted with Wood about the role of women at his company and the construction industry in general.


At the urging of one of his female managers, Plaza Construction CEO Richard Wood has begun replacing the company’s “Men at Work” signs to reflect the industry’s growing diversity. Image courtesy of Plaza Construction

First off, congratulations!

Wood: Thank you very much. I’m sure a lot of people have some good comedic material now, but I’m very proud of it.

Were you surprised to receive the award?

Wood: I guess through your career you don’t recognize that you’re doing something different. You’re just doing what you think is right. Somebody suggested this and I said ‘Why me?’ and then they started reeling off what they believed were the attributes that gave me this honor. I don’t really feel like I deserve it, but I’m accepting that people have felt that way over the years. It’s almost self-preservation. One of the things I said in my speech was that if you look in the industry, finding good quality people is very hard and that’s always been true.

How and why have the roles of women changed in construction?

Wood: The industry changed dramatically between the 80s and 90s and into the 2000s. You were dealing with banks more and lending became more complex and developers were more involved and wanted more transparency and information. It went from being this rough-and-tumble business where you just yelled and got something done to justifying every move, every financial transaction and memorializing it and communicating well and communicating expectations. Why is a man better at that than a woman?

If in the Neanderthal era it was about intimidation, I can understand it being a difficult thing for a woman to have somebody sticking their finger in your face telling you “I’m not going to do this and what are you going to do about it?” Just give me an intelligent person that is interested in (construction) and understands it, and I’m happy. It wasn’t like I had statistics specifically about promoting women. I was just promoting smart people.

You were nominated by Jennifer Murphy, formerly with Plaza and now vice president & COO of Specialty Management Co. Tell us about her journey at Plaza.

Wood: I met her through a mutual friend back in the 80s. She was involved in some peripheral business in Buffalo where she grew up, and I offered her a job as an assistant project manager to get her started. She worked up into a property management role. Eventually, she left the company because she wanted to get more into marketing. Then she came back and headed up our sales group for many years. Then she went to an architectural firm. She’s very smart, very driven, very serious. She was a force to be reckoned with and she still is.

What roles do other women play at Plaza?

Wood: We have people in operations, people in support roles. We have two senior vice presidents that are women that run either very large projects or series of projects, and one of the things that I’m meeting with the Professional Women in Construction about is asking them to get involved with my organization to help us improve the position of women in the company. And I think I can offer them some suggestions on how they can have more outreach to raise awareness of how women are sort of the solution to the problem in the industry where there’s a shortage of people. We need to figure out how to attract more women to the industry. PWC is also looking to see advancement of women to—I hate this expression—the C-suite level. That’s how they describe it. I’m going to be sitting with them and talking to them about how we do that.

Why do you think more women have not made it into—excuse the expression—the C-suite?

Wood: I think one of the disadvantages that women have with regards to that is, although it’s now more mature than it was, the era of women becoming prominent in the construction industry is fairly young. Having women with 20 years’ experience who understand the full breadth of the industry has now come of age. I’m very interested in seeing this happen.

I have one woman in my sights that works for Plaza that I’d love to see advance to those levels because she’s a warrior. Not that she’s overly aggressive, but she never gives up and her projects are successful, and she communicates well with CEOs, labor on the job and everybody in between. She is serious about what everybody’s responsibilities are and communicates well how to do those responsibilities. I want to see her advance from the senior project manager level to the next level, which would probably be, at some point, an executive vice president level and continue on from there. I have a lot of admiration for her and I think she’s a player.

I’ve been told that, in the construction business, there is no pay gap between men and women. If so, why do you think that is?

Wood: I’m sure there is one on some levels, but generally that is true. If you’re part of a labor crew and you’re in the union, it’s sort of a collective bargaining agreement issue and there would be zero pay gap. I think that’s some of the leveling factor. When it comes to management level people, clients are willing to pay so much for a particular role and, basically, you have that available to you to satisfy the need. I think it happens naturally. I don’t think it’s a forced thing.

 Would you say that women are doing very well in construction nationally or is it more of a regional trend?

Wood: I don’t know. My general superintendent in D.C. is a woman, which is unusual. She just happens to be good at what she does. In Florida, we have a young woman who’s another very hard driver and woman that’s really serious and did a great job on a large project for us. I have my eye on her to advance because I think it will improve the company. I don’t know about other regions and other people. But, within our company, some women sort of have shined and they’re in the spotlight as the result.

Read the November 2019 issue of CPE.

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