Las Vegas women making inroads into the construction industry



Carina Sowinski, a senior safety engineer for Mortenson Co., one of two lead contractors that built Allegiant Stadium, poses for a photo inside the nearly finished stadium, circa July 2020.

Tue, Oct 13, 2020 (2 a.m.)

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Nicole Bloom, left, division president for Richmond American Homes, and Kara Combs, senior department coordinator, pose in a model home in the Tessitura at Cadence community in Henderson Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.

As a teen, Carina Sowinski never considered a career in construction, let alone overseeing the safety program for a $2 billion project.

It wasn’t until after she entered college at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater that the idea of working in the construction industry entered her head.

“I thought I’d end up in insurance, doing risk management,” Sowinski said. “Working in this industry, it’s not something I think most girls dream of as they walk past job sites.”

About five years into her career, Sowinski is a senior safety engineer for Mortenson Co., one of two lead contractors that built Allegiant Stadium.

Sowinski worked on the stadium project more than two years. That’s after she worked on a new ballpark for the Atlanta Braves and a new arena for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

Sowinski is part of a new generation of women who have entered a construction industry dominated by men.

Nationwide, women make up about 10% of the construction workforce, said Nicole Bloom, an executive with Richmond American Homes and co-chair of the Professional Women in Building of Southern Nevada.

“Hopefully, there will be more and more women looking to do it, because it’s a great industry with a lot of opportunity,” said Bloom, who has more than two decades of experience in the industry. “It doesn’t have to be male dominated.”

Each year, Bloom’s trade group gives scholarships to women for training in the construction field. It handed out $23,000 to 10 recipients this year.

One of the recipients was Kara Combs, who works in Richmond American’s permitting department. If something has to do with permitting, plot plans or invoicing, it probably will find its way to Combs.

Combs, 20, is also working toward an associate degree in business at the College of Southern Nevada.

Combs said she finds her job “fast-moving and different all the time. I feel like I learn something new every day.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over 1.1 million women were employed in various sectors of the construction industry as of Dec. 31, 2018.

That could be anything from an office job to something in the field that requires a hard hat and safety vest. But most women — about 72% — were in office or management jobs.

The number has been steadily rising since 2012, when it sat at a little more than 800,000.

Sowinski said she spends about 90% of her day at the job site.

“You learn a lot and you’re not stuck at an office in a cubicle looking at a screen for 10 hours per day. You’re outdoors a lot, on different sites, talking to people, helping them solve problems. I found it to be a great career path,” she said.

Sowinski said she’s happy she made an unexpected connection with Mortenson recruiters at a college career fair. If not for that chance meeting, she might not be doing something she loves.

“I remember telling them that I didn’t know anything about construction,” Sowinski said. “They said that was fine. Even though it was men recruiting me, they understood that women bring value to the industry. I appreciated that.”

Sowinski said one of her favorite moments on the Allegiant Stadium project came when she and about 50 other female workers at the site posed for a group photo in March.

That was during Women in Construction week, a national event put on by the National Association of Women in Construction.

“We brought girls from different schools all over Clark County to tour the job site,” Sowinski said. “These were all young women who had an interest in construction. The Raiders helped put that together, and I found it to be really awesome.”

Melissa Jamvold, a designer and project manager for Las Vegas-based Grand Canyon Development Partners, splits her time between the office and the construction site.

Jamvold, who has about two decades of experience in the construction industry, said she’s noticed an uptick in the number of women in the field in just the past two or three years.

“Twenty years ago, I would have said I didn’t think the construction side was a fit for me as a woman with a design background,” Jamvold said. “But you can really rise through the ranks. Things have changed.”

Bloom said there is also a smaller gender pay gap in construction than in some other fields.

“Across all industries, women make about 80% of what men make. In construction, it’s about 95%. I think that’s a significant positive driver,” she said.

“A woman can make a good living in construction,” Bloom said. “If you look, it’s also predicted to be one of the strongest industries over the next five years. There’s opportunity.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry is expected to add about 750,000 jobs by 2026, making it one of the highest-growth sectors.

Construction managers, cost estimators and plumbers are expected to be in demand for at least the next several years, according to the bureau.

During the past two decades, the opportunities for women in construction have expanded, said Guy Martin, president of Martin-Harris Construction, general contractor for the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion project.

“Our industry has become attractive for women who want a higher-paying, more rewarding and more stable lifestyle for themselves and their families,” he said.

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