HP Interviews Catherine Schoenenberger, President at NAWIC National

| March 1, 2018

Recently, Anastasia Barnes of High-Profile had the opportunity to chat with Catherine Schoenenberger, national president at NAWIC National (National Association of Women In Construction).  

This interview kicks off HP’s very first WIC section. We encourage you to learn more about NAWIC at www.nawic.org

Catherine Schoenenberger

AB: Can you tell our readers how WIC week came about? 

CS: Women In Construction Week was brought into NAWIC’s platform many years ago and is celebrated the first full week of March each year.

AB: How many chapters does NAWIC have?

CS: We have over 122 chapters across the country. Our chapters are our base level, where members are introduced to NAWIC, its offerings, and where they find their fit in our association.

AB: Do you feel that mentors are needed for women, in general, right now?

CS: Absolutely! With respect to the younger generation coming in, they have to see themselves in the person they’re talking to. If they don’t relate to them, they’re not going to see themselves in it. That’s the basics of being a mentor.

In the construction industry, or any other industry that is predominantly men, a woman is not going to find an obvious mentor because she’s working with mostly men.

A lot of us [women that are established in the construction industry], that have been working in it for a number of years, we’ve had mentors that have taken us under their wing or promoted us and made sure we had good direction. Male or female, you have to have someone you can relate to that brings you to that next level.

AB: Do you think AEC firms recognize this need for mentors?

CS: The trend right now, within construction companies, is female-employee initiatives. These companies not only want to recruit more women, but they want to retain the women they already have. NAWIC is proving to be a very instrumental resource for these initiatives, by providing on a regular and consistent basis, events like Lunch and Learns or Hard Hat and High Heels after work, where WIC can connect with each other in a more relaxed, yet professionally relatable, environment.

AB: I know there are other organizations that are targeted for women in this industry; what makes NAWIC stand out, in your opinion?

CS: In a nutshell, NAWIC offers all women in construction a safe space to discuss what will make them better at their job, and the opportunity to develop as a leader within their company. We have women in every sector of construction as members of our association. That inclusiveness is what makes the measurable difference!

NAWIC now has a group called Emerging Professionals, which in other camps is called Young Professionals.

We call them “emerging professionals” because we’re getting women that aren’t in that chronological age group (20-something to 40-something). We’re getting women that are 35, 45, 55 years of age that are coming into the industry for the first time.

They may have been recently introduced to a trade, and for the first time in their life, they’re actually making a livable wage to support their family, to get the benefits, etc. [From a career perspective,] these same women may be looking around saying, “Now what do I do?”

So those are our emerging professionals, those are the women that need us the most, to be out in front of them to help them figure out the [culture] that goes on in our industry. We can help them understand things like we don’t have PPE (personal protection equipment) that is designed for women, or that a porta potty on the jobsite may not be segregated, etc.

AB: What is the goal of WIC Week?

CS: Awareness that women are in construction positions at every level; that our industry offers a valuable career opportunity for women. NAWIC members demonstrate this daily and celebrate it all week long during WIC week.

I, personally, will be involved with a couple of different career awareness events with young women.

One such will be the “Women In Construction Mentoring Symposium.” Last year, we had 116 high school girls sitting in the audience that were already in the trade discipline within their technical schools. A lot of the young girls were from the inner cities, so we made sure they heard from a panel of women that they could identify with and relate to; we made sure they could see their “me” in our “me”ntors.

Other events and actions include receptions with government officials; site tours of major construction projects; job fairs; billboard advertising – anything and everything to highlight WIC. NAWIC’s core purpose, after all, is “to enhance the success of women in the construction industry.”

Catherine Schoenenberger is NAWIC‘s national president for 2017 to 2018, president at Stay Safe Traffic Products, Inc., and president at New Hampshire Construction Career Days, Inc.


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