l-r; Corise Inganji, Annamarie Carden, Michaela Kirk, Kate Green and Jessica White were among the young women professionals who attended Turner Construction’s Universally Empowered Women’s Group panel discussion to learn how to negotiate a mostly male construction industry. Photo by Clare Bratten

By Clare Bratten

NASHVILLE, TN — Turner construction company recently held a panel discussion in Nashville on how to help women professionals succeed in their male-dominated field.  Turner is known for their high profile construction projects including the Bridgestone Arena, Davidson County Juvenile Court building, the Nashville Airport Terminal Complex, many state, medical and university buildings in Nashville. The forum featured women in senior positions in the company who had climbed to leading positions.  Karen A. Sweeney, Cindy DePrater, Martine Zettle, Jodi Rennie, Margaret Simone, Vesna Conroy.  The women executives started in a variety of ways from working their way up from an administrative assistant (Jodi Rennie), to a Vanderbilt University co-op (Margaret Simone), to women holding degrees in construction management (Martine Zettle) or an architectural degree (Vesna Conroy).

Surprisingly, the women agreed that they mostly had found acceptance by the men in their field, although one or two had stories of men who mocked them for being on the ‘mommy track.’

The panel is part of Turner’s Universally Empowered Women’s Group panel discussion to connect with young women professionals.  Turner also offers a free community outreach program — a School of Construction Management — which is open to “small, disadvantaged minority-owned, women owned, LGBT-owned and veteran-owned business enterprises,” according to Jonathan Houghton, press agent for Turner Construction.

A two-day camp held at David Lipscomb University in June for high school girls, called Girls Build It!, gives high school girls a chance to learn about careers in Construction Management, Engineering and trades in the industry. Women executives from Turner help to lead the program for high school girls.

When questioned about the efforts of the senior executive women to work toward equity for women-owned or minority-owned subcontractors, Karen Sweeney, Senior VP Diversity & Inclusion, stated that Turner tries to take a “holistic” approach to using subcontractors as opposed to simply ‘wearing out’ one or two women-owned or minority-owned subcontractor firms.

The programs offered by Turner partially address some of the effects found in a Metro Nashville commissioned study by Atlanta based consulting firm, Griffin & Strong that found that less than one percent of dollars spent in architecture or engineering went to African-American owned firms. The report further found that minority or women-owned subcontractor firms are often asked for bids to fulfill a “good faith effort” requirement, but are far less likely to receive the contract.