By Deena Shanker @FortuneMagazine May 22, 2013: 8:57 AM ET
According to the National Women's Law Center, in 2010 women held a tiny percentage -- 2.6 -- of the U.S.'s 8.4 million construction jobs, the same percentage they held in 1983. The NWLC faults "barriers such as gender stereotypes, sexual harassment, a lack of awareness about opportunities in construction, and insufficient instruction."
But while women may not be gaining ground in trades like carpentry and plumbing, they are increasingly getting involved on the entrepreneurial side of the industry. The U.S. Census Bureau counted 152,871 women-owned construction firms in 1997. Ten years later, that number had jumped by 76% to 268,809. Women are steadily chiseling away at that concrete ceiling. Or, as Lenore Janis, president of the National Association of Professional Women in Construction, put it, "Our fingernails are broken from scratching at it."
For the past 15 years, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) has compiled its Inner City 100 list, highlighting the fastest-growing urban small businesses in America. This year's list includes 28 women-owned businesses, a double in percentage since 1999, the list's inaugural year. While many of these businesses are taking advantage of the burgeoning "mommy market," several are breaking into industries heavily dominated by men, including construction.
In addition to the efforts of the women themselves, Janis sees the growth as a direct result of a 35-year-old goal set by the Office for Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Since 1978, federal contractors are required to employ women for 6.9% of the total construction work hours on any federal project. (For it's part, the NWLC says that considering the much higher rates of female participation in other typically male dominated fields like policing, butchering, and machine operation, 6.9% is still "not enough.")
Shandra Spicer, 32, CEO of the Spicer Group (No. 57 on this year's Inner City 100), has been running a full-service general contractor and construction management company since she was 18 years old. Coming out of bankruptcy, her father was unable to secure the capital to start a business, so he recruited his daughter to help. "Bright-eyed and bushy tailed," as she describes herself then, she agreed.
Spicer says she expected to handle only the business end, leaving the construction to her dad, despite the fact that he had no financial ownership stake in the company. But at 23, Spicer learned that she had to take the reins and fully integrate herself into the world of construction. "I was still allowing my father to influence a lot of my decisions," she says, until he persuaded her to submit a very low bid on a very large project. "At the time I didn't know enough and I was trusting in my father's opinion that we could do it even though it just didn't sit right with me." When the job was complete, "I ended up leaving by the skin of my teeth with nearly $300,000 in debt."
Married with a young son and another on the way, Spicer decided it was time to take full control of the business. Over the next 10 years, she learned everything she could about construction, earning certifications, taking courses, seeking assistance through professional networks and government organizations, and eventually working with a mentor to put together a feasible business plan.
Her once-fledgling company pulled in $2.2 million in 2011, but Spicer refuses to take full credit for her accomplishments, doling out gratitude to her mother, her husband (also her employee), and her team. "I ask for help a lot, and I try to hire people that know more than and are smarter than me," she says. And while she encounters a fair amount of sexism -- and as a black woman, racism as well -- she doesn't let it slow her down. "I have to try probably 10,000 times harder than my male counterparts. I can work hard all day long, and then I can drive down the street and say to my kids in the car 'Guess what, we built that building.' I have something that stands for a long time, something physical and tangible."
Genevieve Withers, 52, CEO of Pipe Wrap (No. 82 on this year's Inner City 100), also got into the construction industry out of financial necessity. "I was looking to start a business that would be able to provide for my two children," something she couldn't do as a single mother on a schoolteacher's salary. "I came across the idea of a quick fix pipe repair kit that could be used to quickly and easily stop emergency leaks."
It took time to develop the product but, crediting her father's zeal for experimentation as a research scientist, "instead of walking away and giving up, I just kept trying and trying and trying, until I got the leaks to stop."
Once Withers finalized her product, she incorporated her business. Since then, the company has moved far beyond low-pressure leaks, and has moved into structural reinforcement and corrosion prevention. Most recently, Pipe Wrap was awarded a National Science Foundation grant to incorporate nanotechnological enhancements to its products.
Like Spicer, Withers credits her staffers for her company's success. "I don't do it alone," she says. "I have surrounded myself with a team of men and women that are very highly qualified in their fields." She advises other would-be construction entrepreneurs to do the same. "If you don't know how to do it, get with somebody who does know how to do it and work together to make a better product, because nobody can do anything on their own."
Despite the low numbers of women in construction, Withers is hopeful that more will enter the industry. "Most men will listen," she says. "If a woman is in this industry and she has a good product and she knows she does, then there should be no reason on this green earth why she can't succeed."
New York (CNN) -- Construction workers bolted the last pieces of a 408-foot spire into place atop One World Trade Center on Friday, symbolically capping New York's comeback after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The spire brings the iconic building to a height of 1,776 feet -- an allusion to the year the United States declared its independence. It also makes the building the tallest in the Western Hemisphere and the third-tallest in the world.
The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey confirmed the installation in a statement.
"This milestone at the World Trade Center site symbolizes the resurgence and resilience of our state and our nation," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in the statement.
Port Authority Chairman David Samson called the building "a national symbol of hope and strength in the face of tragedy."
While the building still has significant construction before its scheduled 2014 opening, the installation brought cheers from New Yorkers, and from people around the country.
"I think it's awesome," said Alen Presson, a firefighter visiting New York. "It shows our resolve. You can blacken our eye, but you're not going to kill us. We're going to come back. So, it's awesome."
"I'm still taking it in," said tourist Joyce Elter of Las Vegas. "I mean, it was such a devastation back then, and everything is progressing. It still has a long way to go, but it's phenomenal."
The pieces installed Friday morning were hoisted to a temporary platform atop the building last week.
The spire contains 18 steel sections and three communication rings. The first -- and heaviest -- steel section was installed in January. It weighs more than 67 tons, according to a statement from the Port Authority.
It will be an antenna for a television broadcast facility in the building, which rises from the site near the original World Trade Center towers, which fell in the 2001 attacks.
Last week, construction director Steven Plate told CNN affiliate WABC that the spire will be a "beacon that'll be seen for miles around and give a tremendous indication to people around the entire region, and the world, that we're back and we're better than ever."
Construction on the building began in April 2006.
Michael Pearson wrote and reported from Atlanta, and Kristen Kiraly reported from New York.
By Bob Vila
Spring brings to mind rituals of cleaning and planting, but it’s also the time of year when most homeowners decide what improvements they hope — or need — to make in the warmer months ahead. That list could include everything from a fresh coat of exterior paint to installing a new roof. If you are considering the latter, the effort you put into finding the right contractor will be as vital to the success of your project as the type of roofing material you choose.
A good roof is one of the most important investments you can make for your home. Certainly, you want a new roof to be attractive. It needs to complement your home’s architectural style and improve its curb appeal — and resale value, when the time comes. You also want it to be leak-free, fire-safe, wind-resistant, and capable of performing well for 20 years or more. While it’s tempting to start by shopping for materials, you should make finding a qualified roofing contractor your first order of business.
Your contractor can help you make the right decisions regarding materials, particularly as they relate to your house’s style and climate. A contractor can also make sure the roof you install will not only meet your personal requirements but also those of the roofing manufacturer and local building codes.
Here are five things to consider when you’re looking for a qualified roofing contractor:
One of the best ways to find any contractor is to check with people you know. Have any of your neighbors, friends, or colleagues had their roof replaced? If so, were they happy with the job and, most importantly, would they work with that contractor again — a sure sign that the experience was a good one? Likewise, if you know of a home in your area that just had a roof installed, ask the owners if they have a recommendation. Smaller lumber yards and hardware stores are also good sources for leads, as are any roofing distributors in your area.
Once you’ve identified a couple of qualified roofing contractors — ideally three — do some sleuthing. Verify their business address, phone number and email, make sure they are insured and licensed, and even run a credit check. How long have they been in business? Do they have a professional website that includes previous work, customer comments and references? Check with your local Better Business Bureau or chamber of commerce, as well as contractor review sites like Angie’s List, to see if they report any complaints.
Once you’ve narrowed the field, have each prospective contractor visit your home to discuss roofing materials, the extent of work to be done, and the amount of time and manpower that will be required to complete the project. Does the contractor seem enthusiastic, knowledgeable and professional? Those qualities will be your assurance of a good find. Contractors have insights on best roofing materials and installation techniques, but it is your house — so be sure to ask questions and participate in the decision-making. Remember to get references and check them.
Do not let work begin until you have a signed contract that details every aspect of the job, from the type of roofing materials to be installed to the product warranty and workmanship guarantees. Make certain it covers safety procedures and liability — including workers’ compensation, when work is to begin and end, and how many workers will be on the job. The contract should also specify clean-up methods, payment amounts and schedule. You might even want to ask for a lien waiver to protect against claims that could arise if the roofer fails to pay the materials manufacturer or other vendor.
Don’t go for the cheapest bid in an attempt to save money. Your roof is an investment worth making, and the cost will be amortized over the lifetime of the roof. Your final choice should be based on a combination of cost and confidence.
Bob Vila is the home improvement expert widely known as host of TV’s This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, and Bob Vila. Today, Bob continues his mission to help people upgrade their homes and improve their lives with advice online at BobVila.com. His video-rich site offers a full range of fresh, authoritative content – practical tips, inspirational ideas, and more than 1,000 videos from Bob Vila television.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.
In an April 16 press release, union President Kinsey M. Robinson said "our concerns over certain provisions in the ACA have not been addressed, or in some instances, totally ignored. In the rush to achieve its passage, many of the Act’s provisions were not fully conceived; resulting in unintended consequences that are inconsistent with the promise that those who were satisfied with their employer sponsored coverage could keep it.
"These provisions jeopardize our multi-employer health plans, have the potential to cause a loss of work for our members, create an unfair bidding advantage for those contractors who do not provide health coverage to their workers, and in the worst case, may cause our members and their families to lose benefits they currently enjoy as participants in multi-employer health plans."
NRCA opposed the ACA during its consideration and passage by Congress because of concerns the law will harm employers and workers, particularly those in small and mid-sized businesses, by driving up the cost of health insurance rather than providing effective reforms of our health care system. NRCA has supported legislation to repeal the law since its enactment.
The union's press release can be viewed by clicking here.
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Howard Mavity probably has tried more worker death cases than any other U.S. attorney. “I’ve tried 460-something death cases,” he notes, “and it makes you think about how they could be prevented.”
According to Mavity, as many as 70 percent of the death cases he’s represented involved “skilled, experienced employees making errors. Anecdotally, these were ‘good people,’ with families, who were considered reliable and trusted by their coworkers. But they got nonchalant – casual –about safety.”
Mavity, a partner in the Atlanta law office of Fisher & Phillips LLC, suggests that one of the biggest mistakes his clients can make is to allow repetition – a same thing/different day attitude – to permeate their safety culture and workplace. “They continually should be introducing new methods to remind employees about safety,” he suggests.
Leading vs. Lagging Indicators
Companies that rely on canned, off-the-shelf “tool box talks” risk making their pre-shift meetings irrelevant or boring for workers, he notes. Such talks need to be job- and site-specific, Mavity suggests, especially for employers like construction contractors, where weather conditions, a continuously evolving workspace and a fluctuating number of workers and trades on the site greatly can impact safety day-to-day. Mavity considers job- and site-specific training programs and pre-shift meetings a leading indicator of companies that are world-class.
However, he says, his clients, who are some of the largest manufacturing and construction companies in the country, remain focused on injury and illness rates. While most of them agree that lagging indictors, such as injury and illness rates, are not the best measure of safety culture, no one can seem to find a consistent and adequate replacement to measure safety performance.
“People are addicted to these numbers,” says Mavity. “I’m an economics major and I know that if you torture a number enough and it can say anything.”
He suggests employers examine true employee involvement in safety as a leading indictor. We’re not talking about participating on a safety committee, says Mavity, “because everyone has a safety committee – but employees who actually lead toolbox talks and make suggestions to improve safety in the workplace. Formally evaluating management on safety performance – and tying it to compensation – also is a leading indicator, says Mavity.
Another leading indicator is good housekeeping. Mavity says that in a high percentage of the death cases he’s taken to trial, and for companies that have received willful OSHA violations or have been placed in the Severe Violator Program, housekeeping – or a lack of it – is an obvious issue. “If it’s a manufacturing facility, you walk in there and it’s just messy,” says Mavity. “Broken tools, broken windows, dust buildup on machinery and windowsills. If it’s a construction site, you see materials piled up, cords snaking around, trip and fall hazards everywhere. Good housekeeping is one of the best predictors of safety, and is a leading indictor.”
While everyone agrees that tracking near misses is a leading indicator of world-class safety, “There is a lack of consistent definition for how to define a near miss,” says Mavity, adding that the person who can create a universally accepted definition of a near miss “would be doing everyone a great service.”
Mavity believes that discipline for safety violations is another leading indicator, one that is ignored by many employers. “Most employers don’t discipline employees for safety violations,” he says. “If they do, it’s because of an injury. It’s not punishment – although OSHA doesn’t see it that way – but because something happened that revealed violations of safety policies.”
OSHA and Whistleblower Protections
As the co-chair of Fisher & Phillips’ Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group, Mavity often works with companies facing citations from OSHA or the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. He’s represented companies that are being dinged by OSHA for firing employees who have been injured on the job, when in the employees actually were fired for committing unsafe acts. From OSHA’s perspective, the employee got hurt and was fired for reporting the injury; a big no-no. Mavity says that in reality, the employee reported an injury, the employer investigated and conducted a root cause analysis of the incident, and determined that the employee violated corporate safety policies.
According to Mavity, OSHA will seek to determine if it appears that injured employees are disciplined more frequently or severely than uninjured employees who also acted in an unsafe manner. OSHA will consider whether an employer actively monitors the workplace for compliance with the work rules “in the absence of an injury.” The agency also will take a hard line when it comes to “vague rules, such as a requirement that employees maintain situational awareness or work carefully.”
This increased scrutiny by OSHA makes it even more important for companies to focus on leading indicators and adopt a safety strategy that utilizes them.
Such a focus still might be a long way off. Mavity recently attended a meeting where nationally recognized executives, academics, association representatives and insurance professionals gathered to informally discuss overhauling workplace safety incentive programs, since OSHA has indicated such programs have the potential to discourage worker injury reporting, a activity that the agency considers “protected” under whistleblower laws. Many of those attending the meeting acknowledges they rely on lagging indicators, even though they know that leading indicators are a better barometer of safety culture.
Mavity conducted a survey of larger construction contractors that shows 60 percent of them still rely on injury and illness data. “They all believe in theory of using leading indicators, but we still rely on lagging indicators,” admits Mavity. “That has to change.”
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