According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 there were over 11 million people employed in the construction industry with only 10% of women contributing to that total. Add in additional layers of race/ethnicity and those numbers drop even lower.
Triax has had the pleasure of working with Jade McNair in her capacity as Superintendent at Gilbane Building Company since 2018. Jade holds a Bachelor of Science in Building Construction from Virginia Tech and is working towards a Master of Science in Construction Management from Drexel. She is a prominent member of UJIMA, Gilbane’s employee resource group for Black/ African American employees and their advocates. We had the opportunity leading up to Women in Construction Week to talk with Jade and hear more about her journey within the construction industry.
What got you into the construction industry?
McNair: As a little girl, if you would have told me that I was going to work in the construction industry, I would have laughed as I went back to playing with my Legos. I probably should have taken the Legos as a hint, but it wasn’t until I applied for college that I even considered construction. When I started at Virginia Tech, sitting in my first construction class, I knew I made the right decision. It wasn’t until my first internship that I fell in love with the industry and was 1000% sure that I wanted to be a superintendent.
Who has been your biggest champion?
McNair: My biggest champion comes two-for-one, my mother and my little sister. These too ladies are my world. My mother is a hair stylist who put in years of countless hours of hard work to open her own salon — and of course I have always wanted to be like her growing up. She is my role model. She taught me how to be independent and to go out and get what I deserve. Her strength is unimaginable. My little sister is my idol. It’s pretty crazy how a 12-year-old inspires me, but she is the future of the world. She challenges me to be the best at anything I put my mind to because I know she is watching my every move. If I don’t show her how powerful we are as women, then I have failed as her sister. She encourages me to break barriers and lead women in construction.
What challenges do you face being a woman in the industry?
McNair: What challenges don’t I face being a woman in the industry is the real question. But that’s what makes my confidence and drive much stronger. As a woman superintendent, I hit barriers quite often, but as a black woman in the industry I hit barriers every day. The best part about this is that I can prove to the industry that I can rise above and beyond expectations. For me, the glass ceiling is what ignites my fire. I always say that glass is a fragile material and it is meant to be broken. So, I put my mind to break barriers in an industry that thrives on opportunity. Now, I have a platform to prove to the industry that a black woman can succeed in construction and shatter those ceilings every day! Not only has this platform allowed me to create my own opportunities but also encouraged me to empower other women, current and future women in construction.
What advice would you give to women wanting to break into the construction industry?
McNair: Pride yourself in utilizing your failures to pave a new road to success. Leave a trail behind to teach and inspire the future women of construction and create conversations to develop new avenues to success. Lastly, always remember that all the time is YOUR time to shatter glass ceilings!