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Women ‘More Than Capable’ of Learning Construction Skills

Kahua is highlighting some of our customers, partners and employees for Women in Construction Week 2022. Today, we talk to Heather Diez – Assistant Director for Design and Construction Facilities & Transportation Services – for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. 

Please share your education and work history.
For nearly 25 years, I have worked in both public and private development of capital improvement projects. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, Master of Public Administration and a Local Government Management graduate certificate from Virginia Tech. I maintain a professional engineer license and storm water management certification among my collective trainings. I have dedicated most of my career to public service, having worked for local municipalities on the east and west coasts, managing capital programs and budgets through design and construction.  

What was the thing that sparked your interest in construction?
I was drawn to the ultimate delivery of a quality product which will be utilized by the community and all of the stages in between that are necessary to achieve that goal. When I get to see that I had a role in helping to create a useable space and see people enjoy it, it is very rewarding. 

Are you seeing more women entering this field? How has that changed since you started in it? 
Since the mid-1990s when I entered the field, I have definitely seen an increase in women working in engineering and construction. The acceptance level has risen, and the confidence these women have as newcomers, up-and-coming managers and as leaders is evident. Women have taken on a variety of roles in construction from project inception through delivery. 

With the lack of tradespeople, how can we encourage women to consider positions in the construction industry? 
Let’s start with young students, children, sisters, neighbors and women at any level, and let’s encourage any interest. When I go to construction sites now, I see women on the demolition and clean-up crews, smaller trades and some equipment operation. We are also in the office reviewing plans and performing bookkeeping. There is a wide variety of positions needed in the construction industry, and women are more than capable of learning these skills and working on any size project. Trade programs and internships are often available at any point in a career. Start making connections with local contractors and agencies.   

How did it feel when you moved into a leadership position for the first time? 
It felt like it was where I was supposed to be. Working for many years establishing skills and growing knowledge in various construction roles, it felt great to be in the room and at the table with the decision makers and to now be one myself. I appreciate being given the responsibility to deliver an important program. I continuously apply the agency’s vision with my own as well as the feedback from all of the team members and partners to implement the program. 

How are you helping/mentoring others advance? 
Always, solicited or not, I seek to offer my own help or introduce people who can establish a working relationship. I mentor young students and office professionals to help them know they can achieve any goal in this career field if they really want it and they’re willing to work for it.