by Kira Strong, Executive Director, Rebuild

In 1988, the National Association of Women in Construction founded Women in Construction Week with the mission of strengthening and amplifying the success of women in the industry.  

It’s no secret that the construction industry has historically been dominated by men.  I’m excited to celebrate this important week and the women who make up a critical component of the construction industry, and recognize we must continue to do more to empower the next generation of future women construction leaders.

In 2017, the City of Philadelphia launched the Rebuild Initiative. Made possible by the City’s beverage tax, Rebuild is a once in a generation investment in our parks, recreation centers and libraries with the goal of investing over $400 million into over 70 facilities and public spaces throughout Philadelphia.  

Rebuild is best known for our physical transformation of public spaces, but what many may not know about is our commitment to equity and inclusion in our contracting, diverse business supports, and workforce participation.  

At Rebuild, it’s not just about simply setting target percentages for diverse contract participation and hoping to achieve them. To reach these ambitious goals, not wavering from the commitment to achieve them is critical as is communicating that commitment and expectation clearly, while at the same time cultivating and supporting diverse businesses before they have even submitted a proposal for a job.

Our Rebuild Ready program, delivered in partnership with The Enterprise Center and Surety Bond Associates (also both women-led organizations), provides technical assistance focused on various areas of business management in the construction industry, including estimating, bid preparation, assistance with bonding, contract negotiation, and cash flow management.  A major hurdle for small but growing contractors is maintaining a positive cash flow to fund costs and payroll especially as they look to take on bigger projects and grow. That’s why Rebuild partners with Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (also a woman-led organization) to offer Rebuild Contract Line of Credit, which provides support to small, minority-, women-, and disabled-owned businesses in need of a low-interest line of credit to fund contract-related working capital.

Rebuild has ambitious contracting goals of 20 percent of contract spending for women-owned businesses and 30 percent for minority-owned businesses.  Rebuild Ready is just one of the programs Rebuild operates to cultivate and support women- and minority-owned businesses. And we’re exceeding our own goals, with over 23 percent of contracts going to WBEs and over 42 percent going to MBEs.  While we are proud of these figures, we should all be striving for much greater participation that reflects the population of our local residents that we serve. 

In order to expand the number of women in the construction industry, it’s not enough just to set percentage goals for contracts. The public and private sector have a duty to develop a strong  pipeline for women in construction by lowering the barrier for entry into a tough-to-enter field, and by committing and sticking to high contract participation expectations for those who do the hiring.

Rebuild’s historic investment of hundreds of millions of dollars presents an opportunity to support small, diverse businesses.