Habitat’s Women Build program partners with Skanska USA to build new, affordable homes  

Wielding skill saws and power drills, members of Skanska USA’s Women’s Network recently teamed up with volunteers and homebuyers at Habitat for Humanity Portland Region for a Women Build event in Southeast Portland. 

The partnership brings together Skanska’s commitment to support the professional development of women in the construction trades, and Habitat’s Women Build program to create space for women and girls from all backgrounds to learn, build, and lead. It’s a shared commitment that wasn’t dampened by the falling snow, as the team worked on the 40-home community along Southeast Foster Road.  

“I love working here and working in construction, because I know that even though I’m just a tiny part of the big picture, at the end of the day we’re building things that are going to positively impact society and people,” said Brooke Gemmell, an emerging technology project manager with Skanska. Gemmell said she chose her career because she was always drawn to the built environment and its connection with society.  

“Structures bring people together, fostering community, connection, learning, and growth,” Gemmell said. “And the places that we live are the places that we get to build at Skanska.” 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprise about 14 percent of all construction workers, a figure that has been on the rise for the past six years. The U.S. Secretary of Commerce recently announced the Million Women in Construction initiative that aims to double the number of women in construction — from 1 million to 2 million — over the next 10 years.  

To attract and support greater equity in the industry, Skanska’s Women’s Network, or SWN, offers networking, mentoring, and retention opportunities.  

“From a personal standpoint, I am grateful to work for a company that creates space for everyone to be their authentic selves at work,” said Shari Chin, a project engineer with Skanska and Portland SWN co-chair. “With this said, a part of being our authentic selves is having our voices heard within the company. Women Build is helping us achieve two of our 2023 SWN Portland goals: amplifying women’s voices and modeling gender diversity at Skanska for current and future generations to come. By inviting all employees to participate in Skanska Women’s Network and Women Build, we are hoping to be an example of what gender equity looks like within the construction industry and to empower others to model diversity within their organizations as well.” 

Chin said that Skanska has embraced a movement to encourage more people of varying backgrounds, including women, to engage in building structures that support the community, including schools, hospitals, innovative facilities, and other buildings that make up the built environment. “So, it’s important to have participation from diverse stakeholders who look like the people that make up these different communities,” Chin said. 

Skanska was recently awarded the contract for a major renovation and expansion of the Portland International Airport, which serves millions of passengers each year. 

Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program hosts quarterly build site events where women can come together to learn, build, and lead in a supportive and empowering environment. The Women Build program actively welcomes and supports all those who self-identify as women including women of color, trans women, and other woman-aligned groups.  

One-third of Oregon’s single working mothers and their children live below the poverty line. Women – particularly women of color and transgender women – face disproportionate access to crucial resources, which can affect their ability to find a decent place to live. 

Nearly 40% of Habitat homeowners are single mothers, who help build and then purchase an affordable home through Habitat, achieving stability and self-reliance for themselves and their family. Through build site experiences and educational programming, Women Build encourages volunteers and financial supporters to challenge stereotypes, fight all forms of inequality, and advocate for themselves and each other.  

“Groups and events like this are a good resource and a good way to get connected with people on a personal level,” said Marie Roza, emerging technology engineer and co-chair of SWN. 

The Skanska Women Build with Habitat heralds in March as Women’s History Month, with March 8 recognized worldwide as International Women’s Day. This year, the international theme is “Embrace Equity.” 

Monet Kunz, a project engineer with Skanska, said she knew there weren’t a lot of women in engineering when she got started, and finds it inspiring to see other women in the same field she chose for herself. 

“Every day, I have so many people that I know who are women and are doing what I do,” Kunz said. “I think it definitely helps seeing other women in my same role and at other job sites excelling and managing their crews — and just feeling like they belong.” 

Learn more about Habitat’s Women Build program on our website at https://habitatportlandregion.org/volunteer/women-build/ 

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