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As an industry in which women comprise just 9.9% of the workforce, there’s little doubt that construction suffers from a gender imbalance. Studies have shown that 74% of teen girls show interest in STEM fields, but somewhere along the way that interest wanes. Today, women make up just 28% of the STEM workforce.

The key to bolstering that number? Talk to girls early, and talk to them often—which is exactly what Boston-based Suffolk Construction is doing through its partnership with Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts (GSEMA).

10 in 10

“We started doing some research and realized there really aren’t a lot of women in STEM fields, particularly in construction,” says Libby Murphy, project executive for Suffolk. “For some reason, even though girls show interest in STEM at young ages, the majority of them don’t go on to pursue careers in those fields.” While brainstorming ways to help maintain that interest, Suffolk found a perfect partner in the Girl Scouts, which holds STEM education as one of its four pillars. “It was a natural partnership,” Murphy says.

The resulting initiative, called “Rebuild the Ratio,” is a 10-year commitment with two specific aims: first, to increase the percentage of women in Suffolk’s workforce by 10% (from 28% to 38%); and second, to bring 10% of all Girl Scouts in Eastern Massachusetts through the newly developed Suffolk Construction 101 Curriculum. Launching this fall, Rebuild the Ratio eventually will be rolled out to Girl Scout troops nationwide.

There’s a Patch for That

To build the curriculum, women across Suffolk—from superintendents to safety managers, and everyone in between—worked with representatives from GSEMA to develop a plan that guides Girl Scout Juniors through the different phases of a construction project by working to build a treehouse. The class will introduce them to everything from design and cost estimation to project safety and proper scheduling. At program completion, the girls will earn a coveted “patch”—a badge that gets attached to their Girl Scout vest or sash as a way of saying, “Yep, I did that.” 

“We really wanted to show the girls all the different types of jobs that are available in construction, which is why we incorporated all of the different phases of the project,” Murphy says. “It’s not just about swinging a hammer. There’s design and coordination, there’s logistics, there’s project management. I’m really excited to show them that construction isn’t just being out in the field. If that’s what they want to do, I think that’s great—but there are so many other opportunities in the industry as well.” 

Onsite Introduction

Suffolk’s involvement with GSEMA goes beyond handing over plans for earning a patch. Groups of girls from local troops have toured the company’s headquarters on multiple occasions. On a recent visit, the girls performed mini construction challenges, building structures from clothespins and other materials designed to see which could support the greatest number of books, and trying out construction technologies like VR goggles.

“As I watched these girls do the challenges and explore the technology, and heard some of the questions they asked, I was mind-blown,” Murphy says. “It was really eye-opening for me, and I just thought, ‘Wow, we’re developing this curriculum for an incredibly smart, curious group of girls who are real problem solvers."

“We really want to end the mindset that construction is only for men,” Murphy says. “I think this partnership is really going to make an impact to show young girls all the opportunities available to them with a career in construction.”

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