Where Are the Women Builders and Developers?

At Inspired Interiors, the state of women working in real estate development and homebuilding hits very close to home. With the recent launch of Inspired Luxury Homes, our sister custom homebuilding company, Founder Emily Mackie experienced firsthand how the cards have been stacked against females in this predominantly male-dominated field. 

And, it’s true, the current statistics are discouraging: A landmark 2021 National Institute of Building Sciences survey found that 66 percent of women respondents revealed that they have experienced discrimination or prejudice while at work. In another study by research firm Avenue M, female professionals in the commercial and residential building industries stated they have to work harder than men to be valued in their roles. Furthermore, they don’t feel they have equitable opportunities for advancement in their careers. 

Now consider the hurdles a woman pioneering her own homebuilding company must face when securing the financing needed to buy land, pay her crews and get a project up and running. Whereas a remodeling project requires little upfront investment, building a home from the ground up demands considerable financing. 

Unfortunately, banks have historically been less than welcoming when it comes to funding female-led homebuilding projects. This makes it virtually impossible for a woman who is looking to gain entry into the homebuilding industry to break ground, let alone bust barriers. In fact, Emily had no less than six lending institutions turn her down. (Important side note: A special thanks goes out to American Community Bank for changing that pattern by supplying the funding for our first build). 

What can be done to craft a more inclusive future where women can thrive in the real estate development and homebuilding industries, opening up pathways for the next generation of female founders? 

Constructing a Better Future

Fortunately, the news isn’t all negative. The Women in Construction 2020 compilation by industry publication Constructech found that female-owned construction firms are on the rise, with 13 percent of all companies owned by women. Between 2014 and 2019, we saw a 64 percent jump in female-owned firms. This conflicting data shows that there is still so much more room for growth, hopefully laying the foundation for more women to become business leaders in the homebuilding industry.

After 18 years of working with architects and builders on diverse top-to-bottom design projects, Emily began asking herself the difficult questions: Why didn’t women have access to the capital needed to lead their own home build? And, if women historically have been the leaders of their households, why weren’t female founders running homebuilding companies that constructed custom residences based on their own collective experiences and needs? 

When reflecting on the challenges faced with her first custom build with Inspired Luxury Homes, Emily shares these insights: “I always wondered why women were not more prevalent in the development sector as founders or CEOs. And why there were certain roles that women were just never seen in?”

The answers have been difficult to come by; however, evoking evolution is never easy — but always worth it. 

Changing the Rules

Consider the aforementioned stat: A general contractor typically needs to have five home builds under their belt before a bank would provide them funding for their own future projects. With the barriers that continue to exist for female builders, they continue to lack access to the capital needed to run their own home build. We propose changing this unfair criteria once and for all to level the playing field and empower more minorities (women as well as people of color) to pursue their professional aspirations and change the face of homebuilding forever.

Another aspect ripe for rethinking: Often when opportunities are scarce, individuals work against each other rather than uniting to form a larger, more supportive community. Let’s change that tendency toward isolation and instead foster a welcoming environment for all females working in the construction and development space. As Emily says, “I have always had a very strong feeling that women can support each other if they’re in the right environment and group setting they need to get to higher ground, to better places.”

The Role We All Play

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with gender equity in the real estate development and construction sectors. Reach out to Emily and her Inspired Luxury Homes team to share your stories, because the best way to encourage transformation is to engage with others and empower us all to see the world differently — and then go out and build it.  

Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Women In Real Estate Development and Construction

Quick: Name a woman you know or have worked with in real estate development or construction. Not so easy is it? Sure, women have taken their rightful place at the table in the architecture and design industries and increasingly in engineering thanks to a growing focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiatives in schools, but females gaining a foothold in the male-dominated real estate development and construction fields has been hard to come by.

 

Building Blocks

 

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 13 percent of construction employees are female — a number that hasn’t budged much since the 1990s. These jobs are largely office and administrative roles, as compared to higher-profile positions that often go to men: finance, transportation, development and construction.

Recent facts and figures surrounding women in the construction industry show some positive movement: Data reveals that the number of women working in construction today is the highest its been in two decades, and 71 percent of respondents to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Women in Construction agree that opportunities for females is increasing in the field.

However, that still leaves a lot of room for growth, as women only account for 3.4 percent of all construction trades workers in the U.S. The pervasive and deeply ingrained discrimination women historically face in these fields is a major deterrent for women who have been interested in starting or continuing their careers in real estate development and construction.

 

Women in Real Estate Development and Construction

 

Developing the Field

 

Women’s History Month is the ideal time to break down barriers to build a more fair, inclusive world. And the real estate development and construction field is ripe for a re-examination of how it has traditionally operated and how it can open up more opportunities for females.

Take into account that for women who have broken through in the construction industry, the gender gap is promisingly narrower than in other fields. (The pay gap in construction averages 3.7 percent, while the nationwide gap in all other industries hovers around 19 percent.) In other words, the real estate development and construction industry can be a viable place for women to seek gainful, equitable employment when given the right opportunities.

More signs of change: Several professional organizations and brands have implemented initiatives that encourage and support women in development and construction, an indication that evolution is beneficial to the industry as a whole.

 

A Personal Path to More Representation

 

Founder of Inspired Interiors and the recently launched custom homebuilding company Inspired Luxury Homes Emily Mackie has experienced firsthand the pitfalls of being a woman in the real estate development and construction field.

While she established Inspired Interiors to be a proudly female-led interior design firm with progressive values and a generous work-life balance, entering new territory with Inspired Luxury Homes was an eye-opening experience.

“Beginning the build of our first spec home has been an uphill battle,” Emily shares. “Banks were hesitant to finance our new project because they wanted to see a track record of numerous homes built in my history, despite showing them my entire portfolio, which consists of countless new construction and gut rehab projects over the course of 18 years. They insisted on evidence of me actually building homes from the ground up under my company name. They actually told me they can’t loan me money unless I have numerous on record.”

“However, it was important to me from the beginning to have a female-focused team leading this project. I’m actually still in search of a female general contractor, but they really don’t exist out there.”

Trailblazers don’t have the benefit of a template for the path before them — they make their own. And entrepreneurs create something that hasn’t been done before. With Inspired Luxury Homes, Emily is blazing a trail for women-owned and -directed real estate development and construction projects but is unfortunately still navigating how to circumvent existing roadblocks. As she puts it: “Doors are still being shut instead of opened.”

 

The Future Is (Increasingly) Female

 

We’d love to hear of any real estate development projects you have come across that are being led by women, as well as females who are funding other women in the industry. Reach out to Emily and her Inspired Luxury Homes team (and follow our social media channels for a game-changing campaign!) to share your stories, because the best way to encourage the evolution of anything worthwhile is to actively foster its gradual growth and eventual success.