When I started in construction over 16 years ago, less than 9% of the industry was comprised of women. Today, women still only comprise 11% of all people working in construction. As we celebrate Women in Construction (WIC) week, I reflect on how far we have come and the opportunities in front of us, particularly as our industry continues to be challenged to meet its growing workforce needs.

For me, WIC week is more than just a week dedicated to celebrating the impact and achievements of women, it’s about creating action and opportunity for more women to consider pursuing careers in construction. It’s never been a better time to shine a light on the impactful work of women in construction and highlight how rewarding construction careers can be. My hope is that sharing my story and those of others, more women will see that they too can thrive here.   

READ ALSO: Most Influential Women in CRE: Antonya Williams

I love telling the story of how I started in construction, and it all begins with my dad. I began working with him in our family’s residential and commercial construction business doing whatever was needed – hauling materials, installing finish work, writing estimates, and handling office work. This not only introduced me to the industry but taught me a strong work ethic and that I love to build.

Antonya Williams, executive vice president with McCarthy Building Companies.

This passion propelled me to earn my construction management degree and into an operations position with McCarthy in Northern California, which exposed me to complex and challenging healthcare and education construction. I not only cut my teeth on large construction work, I saw the impact these projects had on my community. My interest in connecting personally with clients and communities grew and I pursued another opportunity in my company. With the support of leadership, I made the decision to move from California to Arizona to work for Justin Kelton in our Southwest region. This was not a small decision for me, but when he committed to “let me run” – I knew it was the right move and have never looked back.

While my career path is not what many consider traditional, it provided personal and professional growth at each turn through challenges and learning opportunities. Throughout it all, I had the incredible support of many mentors. Experiencing the success that came with this support gave me a deep passion for mentoring others, especially women.

In honor of WIC week, I’d like to highlight several women who are trailblazers. They are inspiring others everyday through mentorship, training, and community engagement.     

Mentorship Matters

I firmly believe in the importance of mentorship. I met my mentor Chuck early in my career. He taught me to intentionally set goals and work towards them and to build a strong network at work and in the community. I took his advice and with the help of other mentors along the way, I learned not to be afraid of failure and the importance of showing up for others. Thanks to the men and women mentors I’ve had through the years, I have a mentorship model that I strive to share with others.

One of my mentees is Cierra, who I became connected with through Big Brothers Big Sisters. I’ve been her Big for over 11 years and although we now live in different states, we established a life-long relationship. Last year, she graduated high school as valedictorian, overcoming much to achieve this honor. In addition, I’ve had the honor of supporting mentorship programs such as New Pathways For Youth (NPFY) and ACE Mentoring.

  Through NPFY, I’ve seen the remarkable impact of our industry. Several of my partners mentor young people through this program, including Michaela Rempkowski. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Michaela and am proud of the way she is paying it forward by serving as mentor. Young people are truly benefitting from commitment Michaela and others on our team and within the construction industry sharing their experience, support, and encouragement. Perhaps some will be inspired to join us in the construction industry. 

With ACE Mentorship, our industry has been introducing and supporting young people pursuing careers in architecture, construction, and engineering. During COVID, we reshaped our program and expanded it statewide, more than tripling our participants.

We know these programs work. We’re seeing the impact one person at a time. As vice-chair of ACE Arizona, I have personally mentored several women, including Sydney who I met through the program. She now works at Amazon in design and research. Blanca, who also came through ACE, is now pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering at Rice University.

Impacting the Community 

The generosity of many in our industry continually impresses me. I’ve witnessed individuals, teams and partners stepping up to help by supporting families and organizations in need. 

Recently McCarthy’s Heart Hats volunteers and trade partners supported building Kaylee’s playground. Kaylee is an 8-year-old with a rare gene mutation, which caused her to lose her ability to walk and talk. Her family needed help building ramps so she could play with her siblings on their backyard playground. 

Charity Carr, another leader in construction doing remarkable things including building healthcare facilities, took immediate action to help Kaylee’s family upon hearing their story.  Charity led the volunteer effort to transform the family’s backyard playground into a wheelchair accessible wonderland by adding a wheelchair lift, a specially adapted swing set, new sidewalks, paint, and artificial turf.

Charity is making an impact on the lives of others across our community. Her compassion and energy bring awareness to challenges that families face and engages others in meaningful ways.

Lighting the Way on a Construction Career Path

For years, our industry has worked to engage the next generation in construction through programs like Construction Career Days (CCD) and Build your Future Arizona. These programs provide young people an avenue to learn about construction and the potential that a career in construction offers.

Through partnerships with these organizations and others, McCarthy is engaging students in hands-on training at our Innovation and Craft Workforce Center (ICWC), a state-of-the-art craft training facility dedicated to helping the next generation craft workforce and those currently in the trades with developing and advancing their skills. It also provides hands-on training and real-world application for our in-house prefabrication operations.

Those participating in ICWC programs will likely meet McCarthy’s self-perform manager Amber Shepard who facilitates craft training programs at ICWC. Thanks to her experience and deep perspective in the trades, Amber’s relationships with project superintendents helps ensure current and future needs in the field are addressed. She is also well-known for her involvement in CCD and the Arizona Builders Alliance (ABA) where her passion for the trades has encouraged others to consider this rewarding career path.

Another program supporting women in construction is the ABA’s Women in Leadership Program.  A recent program participant is Tuyet Jacobson, who started at McCarthy as an intern and is now a senior project manager. Tuyet’s introduction to construction was helping her dad on home renovation projects. At ASU she was introduced to the construction program and realized it was the career she wanted to pursue. Eight years ago, I was able to present her offer letter to join McCarthy and she joined our solar preconstruction team. Tuyet transitioned to the education services group where she is thriving.

She manages education projects and embraces the opportunity to support young people interested in the construction industry through the Del E. Webb School of Construction Alumni Association and through C.A.C.T.U.S. (Careers in Architecture, Construction and Trades Uplifting Students). Tuyet has inspired me since our first meeting, and I’m proud to see her grow and flourish professionally and personally.

Word is getting out to women that construction is a great place to be. In fact, more than 40 percent of McCarthy’s summer interns this year are women!      

Initiatives like WIC week have an impact. I encourage everyone in the industry to take the messages of this week into the other 51 weeks of the year. Women, alongside our male counterparts, not only help to bridge the workforce gap, but bring skills, perspective, leadership, and community commitment to the industry. I believe that together, we all do better.


Antonya Williams is executive vice president with McCarthy Building Companies.