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Keys to the Future: NAWIC Highlights Women’s Impact to the Construction Industry During WIC Week

by: Catherine Schoenenberger
Karen Hager
Karen Hager
Jen DeAmicis
Jen DeAmicis
Lindsey Desjarlais
Lindsey Desjarlais
The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) recognizes and celebrates Women in Construction Week (WIC Week) this year from March 3 to 9. In September of 1960, the first WIC Week was proclaimed in honor of NAWIC by Mayor A.F. Madison of Amarillo, Texas. NAWIC leadership officially moved its WIC Week celebration to the first full week of March to coincide with the recognition of International Women’s Day on the first Tuesday of March, which has been celebrated by NAWIC’s members annually (and officially) since 1998.

WIC Week is celebrated to bring awareness, opportunity, and change to the construction industry and the women in it. According to the 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of women in the construction industry has not significantly changed since the early 1970s. However, change is happening in the roles, the responsibilities, and the effect that women are having within industry organizations and the companies where they work. In both the vertical and horizontal sectors, more women are in senior leadership roles on major projects, from demolition to construction.

Construction firms of all sizes and types are encouraged to participate in and show support for WIC Week. Over 90 percent of all NAWIC local chapters hold WIC Week events, which can include presentations to high school classes, job site tours, luncheon events, and social media posts.

Karen Hager, 2023-2024 National NAWIC President
This year's WIC Week theme, Keys to the Future, was created by the 2023-2024 National NAWIC President, Karen Hager, CIT, CBT, ESP. “My theme for this year was one I chose during my year as Chapter President [in Greater Orlando, Florida], and what it represents still resonates with me,” she said. “We are a resource and a voice for women in construction. We are getting recognized as being the leaders that women, men, and companies need to know.”

“[NAWIC] holds the keys to the future of the construction industry,” Hager added. “With over 5,000 members, we have the strength and the knowledge to get things done and shape our industry.” Hager encourages all to find their passion and pursue it. “Find out what is key to your place in the construction industry and share your knowledge with others,” she said.

As representatives and advocates for women in construction, a couple of NAWIC members recently shared their “her-stories,” how they reached their current positions, and how NAWIC has strengthened and amplified their success in the construction industry.

Jen DeAmicis, Preconstruction Coordinator at Citywright, LLC
“I have been in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry since 2006. I was a Project Assistant at RDK Engineers (now NV5) for five years and an Operations Assistant at J.C. Cannistraro for eight years. My introduction to construction was through my mom, Louise Durgin, an employee of Vanderweil Engineers since 1987.
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“My NAWIC membership started in 2015, with the explicit encouragement [and] mentorship of Kourtney (Thomas) Mierzejewski, then President of the NAWIC Boston chapter. She fully encouraged me to not only attend events, but [also] be involved on the board. I have been a board member ever since. I’ve held numerous chapter board positions, including President. I didn’t [and] couldn’t see my potential in the way Kourtney did. That’s how NAWIC members work and why we celebrate deliberately during WIC Week and beyond. Perhaps more importantly, I am still a member today because of all the amazing connections I have made, both professionally and personally. I want potential and new members to see the importance of an organization like this, the resources it offers, the eyes and doors it opens.

“I have been with Citywright, formerly known as Pinnacle Construction Services, since June 2021. We are a union, plumbing contractor, women business enterprise [WBE], [and] disadvantaged business enterprise [DBE] with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The decision to join the Citywright team was an easy one; Kourtney (Thomas) Mierzejewski is an owner.

“Every day, my job is exciting and inspiring. Just recently, as part of Citywright’s rebranding process in October 2023, I had to learn about how to change our name with all the different entities throughout the Commonwealth. When I first started with the company, I filed the applications with DCAMM [Division of Capital Maintenance and Management] so we would be able to bid public work in Massachusetts. I also filed the application with MassUCP [Unified Certification Program] to be able to do business in Massachusetts as a DBE. I’ve also learned all the ins and outs when applying for plumbing, gas, and hot work permits with the state, cities, and towns. I was able to learn by doing, without fear of not being perfect. I took on these challenges with confidence that I would get it done, and I did.

“Although small in size, the majority of Citywright’s office are women, including the BIM coordination, project management, operations, and finance. The owners of the company promote all employees to get involved in professional organizations and pay for all expenses as such. Their financial support of my involvement with NAWIC has assisted greatly in my professional development in both leadership and organizational skills, acquired by just being present at chapter, regional, and national events.

“Advice I would give to a young woman in the industry is to get involved and grow your circle of connections. You never know where people will end up professionally, so be active with your connections, and keep LinkedIn updated.”

Lindsey Desjarlais, Senior Project Manager at Behan Brothers
“I got my start in construction through an internship while studying engineering at University of Rhode Island. My career got off to a rocky start, as I was the only woman in a sea of men. Not seeing the opportunities of my male counterparts, I was getting disheartened. One evening while working late, a female colleague took notice of the hours I was putting in and offered words of praise and also advice on joining NAWIC. That was a turning point and the beginning of my nearly 18-year ‘her-story’ with the association.

“It was at my first NAWIC job site tour/meeting, where I met a woman who enabled me to transfer my internship to a more equitable team — a team that allowed for me to experience the field work and be respected in the process. If it wasn’t for NAWIC, I would not be in construction today. It’s nearly inconceivable for me to think about it like that, for I have spent almost half of my life in construction, and I absolutely love it. Seeing the buildings go from 2D to 3D or watching a building completely transform never gets old, and it never ceases to amaze me.

“I spent 17 years with Gilbane Building Company. It was there where I built a solid career path. In just these past few months, however, I made a switch to a smaller firm, Behan Brothers out of Newport, Rhode Island. The changes and challenges from a huge, corporate company to a smaller, family-run business have been many, but I am enjoying the journey. I continue to learn something new every day.

“Having the support of my employers to continue my involvement with NAWIC has allowed me to pay it forward to other women in our industry. As was done for me, I would offer this one piece of advice: join NAWIC. The connections, the support, the encouragement, the knowledge, the experiences, the power in the room are all there, and there for you both professionally and personally.”

WIC Week Events
NAWIC chapters in Rhode Island, Greater Worcester, and Boston are once again teaming up for a joint kickoff at Splitsville in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Last year’s WIC Week kickoff hosted over 200 people. The Boston chapter will also be hosting a virtual event discussing the topic of paying off debt on March 5. On March 7, the Rhode Island chapter is teaming up with Habitat for Humanity for the Women’s Build event. To celebrate the week’s end on March 8, the Rhode Island chapter is also hosting a Happy Hour networking event at the Narragansett Brewery.

NAWIC has 120 chapters throughout the United States, including the 19 chapters in the Northeast Region, from Bangor to Northern Virginia. NAWIC is committed to championing women to impact the direction of the construction industry — providing education, community, and advocacy for women. For additional information about NAWIC and WIC Week, go to www.nawic.org.

About the Author
Catherine Schoenenberger is President of both Stay Safe Traffic Products, Inc. and New Hampshire Construction Career Days, was NAWIC’s National President from 2017 to 2018, and is an active member of the Granite State, New Hampshire, chapter. Schoenenberger can be contacted at StaySafeTraffic@aol.com.
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