Mentoring Women in the Home-Building Industry Today

Committees and Councils
Councils and Committees
Today marks the start of NAHB’s annual Professional Women in Building (PWB) Week, a national celebration of the contributions of women in the residential construction industry. Mentoring can have a significant impact on career success, whether it’s someone with whom to exchange ideas, guidance on challenging situations, or a champion supporting a career step or milestone. That’s why mentoring programs exist at 71% of Fortune 500 companies to help foster employee development. According to a survey by Development Dimensions International (DDI), however, 63% of women have never had a formal mentor. Outlets such as the Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council can be such a powerful resource for women because of this, even if mentorship is more of an informal practice. “[PWB] allows me to interact with so many amazing women in the building industry and to spread the word to other women who may not realize the opportunities available to them,” shared Kristi Allen, vice chair of the PWB Council for the Salt Lake City HBA. "The women I’ve met at the local and national level of PWB inspire and uplift me. I feel truly connected to them as we work together to strengthen and improve this great home-building industry." Making important connections such as this can help further relationships and career opportunities, as can simply exploring the opportunities that are available to help make informed career choices. PWB Councils can help foster these connections through mentorship programs. Here are two examples of how to make mentorship programs work: Formal Mentorship Program The Home Builders Association (HBA) of Metro Denver established a formal mentorship program in 2015 to help pair members with others in the industry who could help provide guidance and bring a fresh perspective to their careers and businesses. The program was established by Cheryl Schuette, who was inspired by Metro Denver PWB founder, Chris Presley. Presley, founder and president of Epic Homes, wanted and believed in a committee dedicated to a formal and informal mentoring program. Schuette, who is also the builder and contractor outreach for the Colorado Homebuilding Academy and owns her own consulting company, explained, "I jumped at the chance, because mentoring was a key component to a successful career." Her company had done formal mentoring in the past and she knew it worked. Schuette said, "And with the right organization support, we could do something pretty impressive." Forming the foundation for the formal mentoring program was built on three easy principles:
  • Leadership commitment
  • A structure including a guidebook to help establish that structure
  • A committee to recruit mentors and mentees and be thoughtful in their pairings
This all needs to be wrapped up in ongoing follow-up to ensure success. Metro Denver's six-month program — which just got its next fall session underway — begins with a detailed 10-question survey for both the mentees and mentors to help the Mentorship Committee match each pair based on their goals and skills. Mentees pay a $150 to participate. The committee then sets the parameters for mentorship engagement and checks in periodically to see how the mentoring is going. As the program comes to a close, the committee connects with the mentors and mentees to hear the results of the mentoring, which provide valuable feedback and highlight the successes of the program. “When the mentors, volunteering their time, are impacted by their partnership experience and sign up for a second round of mentoring, and mentees volunteer to be a mentor on a later round, it speaks volumes of the benefits, successes and opportunities of our program,” noted Neneh Biffinger, current chair of the HBA’s Mentoring Committee. To help engage both mentors and mentees, the committee partners with the HBA’s Young Leaders Council and encourages participation across the HBA. The ratio often varies with each session, but on average, 30% to 40% of the mentors are male. "PWB isn’t exclusively just an organization for women," shared Leah Fellows, a Mentorship Committee member who has previously been a mentee and started her first session as a mentor this fall. "We welcome everyone to come in and see what we’re doing. It’s great when we see men involved." Informal Mentorship Program The Coaching/Mentoring program for the HBA of Metropolitan Portland’s PWB Council has been in place for two years, and uses a variety of events throughout the year to provide a format for members to get together and discuss topics. The events occur roughly bimonthly or quarterly, and comprise a mix of online and in-person sessions to make it easier for members from across the metro area to attend. A mentorship committee helps plan these one-hour events throughout the year and utilizes different tools — including industry shop talks by HBA members, NAHB webinars and online educational videos, such as TEDTalks — for its programming. A small monthly hosting fee for Zoom Conferencing for online events and reasonable small food and beverage budget for in-person events help keep costs down so that the Council can provide these events for free to members. The long-term goal is to create an in-depth coaching/mentoring program within the HBA across all councils — in part to help better engage and retain millennial members, who are twice as likely to stay within an organization for more than five years if they have a mentor. Such mentorship can take on a variety of forms, including co-mentoring, micro mentoring or group mentoring, so start with a few basics to see what fits for your organization. "Start connecting the members in small groups instead of one on one to begin with," recommends Carol Eisenlohr, vice president/treasurer of the HBA of Metropolitan Portland. "Call it coaching, because mentoring is a big scary word and sounds like a big commitment. Start out small to foster relationships that may turn into mentoring down the road." Other ideas for informal mentoring events include speed mentoring sessions and quarterly "coffee and conversation" setups (where members are paired at random to get together and chat), which the HBA of Metro Denver offers in addition to its formal mentoring program. "I would love to see PWB Councils across the country set up these mentoring programs," shared Fellows. "It’s such a great support network and makes you feel like you’re not alone in the industry. More women are entering the industry in every role imaginable. It’s great to see people get involved to help others grow and see the possibilities." Check out the NAHB PWB Week toolkit to learn more about how to set up a local PWB Council and best practices for creating a mentorship program to help support women in construction in your community.

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