According to 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics data, about 11% of those employed within the construction and asphalt industry are women. This makes the construction and asphalt industry one of the most male-dominant industries in the U.S. Women are severely underrepresented.
Some may say this is because certain stereotypes revolve around construction and asphalt—a mindset that says careers in this industry are strictly for men. However, this could not be further from the truth. Women can and already do play many roles within the asphalt industry—from administrative, sales specialists and coordinators, lab technicians and project managers, to engineers, pavers and operators in the field. Even entirely female paving crews contribute to America’s extensive infrastructure, laying down major roads and doing a fantastic job while setting an example for women everywhere. The models set by women before us have so much value in contributing to future generations and their decisions when entering the workforce.
Just take a look at the life of Katherine Johnson. She was the first African American woman to work as a NASA scientist and mathematician. She once said, “Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.” This way of thinking helped Katherine break through the barriers of race and gender to help NASA put a man on the moon and bring him home safely. Against all odds, her skills and determination for learning paved the way to becoming one of the most influential women in the STEM world. By Katherine’s example and the example set by other female pioneers in our society, women continue to gain more confidence in their abilities and strive to pursue careers within these male-dominated industries.
However, there is still work ahead as women struggle with representation and advocacy, especially in the asphalt industry. Gender pay gaps still affect many women in certain positions, and there aren’t as many women in managerial roles. Therefore, a group of women in the Summer of 2017 came together to start an organization to support women in the asphalt industry and form a lasting community that would lead and inspire women for generations to come. The groundbreaking organization they founded, Women of Asphalt (WofA), currently has close to 2,000 members across the United States. The organization’s mission is to support women in all aspects of the asphalt industry through mentoring, education and advocacy and encourage women to seek careers in the asphalt industry. Since its inception, the national organization has empowered many women to lead the change and inspire other women to build careers in asphalt. WofA has since partnered with 12 state asphalt associations to build state branches. These branches allow women in the asphalt industry to network with women near them and tackle state-specific concerns and issues while furthering the mission and goals of Women of Asphalt. The states with current WofA branches include Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota/Dakota, Missouri, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
In April 2021, the Virginia branch was formed when the Virginia Asphalt Association agreed to partner with WofA. As of October 2021, WofA Virginia is the second largest state branch, with 73 active members. Blair Williamson, president of S.L. Williamson Co., is the current chairwoman of the branch. She initially addressed the Virginia Asphalt Association’s Board of Directors, as a board member herself, to consider the partnership with WofA and form the Virginia branch. Blair’s desire for representation and advocacy within the asphalt industry sparked the flame to create something very much needed, and so far, it has been a great success. Blair then asked Alicia Brooks, technical sales support specialist for Luck Stone, to lead alongside her as co-chairwoman. Alicia couldn’t think of a better way to be involved and has become an asset to the branch.
Both chairwomen were asked what the branch means to them and what they think it means for the industry. Blair stated, “There are such incredible opportunities for women in the construction and asphalt field that are simply and typically not investigated because there are not many role models to hold up as examples. It is important to me to introduce women, of all ages, to the amazing careers in our field. Most companies are experiencing severe labor shortages on all levels, and historically they have only been looking at half of the population to fill this need. Having worked in this industry for 30 years, starting at the bottom as a laborer on a crew, moving to an estimating role, and now in an executive role, I can personally attest that all the jobs and skillsets required are gender-neutral. It is time to introduce women to the fabulous asphalt industry and all that it has to offer.” Alicia addressed the question and stated, “Women of Asphalt Virginia will make a huge difference in the industry as it will provide a platform for each of us to support one another along our journey. Each of us has a contribution that can make our comrades stronger when communing as one. If there is a chance for women to increase the recognition of their value through this group effort, then I want to use our branch in Virginia to do so.”
Both Alicia and Blair plan to empower other women through the Virginia branch and promote the asphalt industry as a place of inclusivity. There is truly no limit to what a woman can do when she puts her mind to something, but there is a saying: “It takes a village.” When a community of women bands together to make a change and advocate for each other, change can happen. One voice in a crowd is hard to hear, but a whole group of voices does not go unnoticed. That is the goal for the WofA Virginia branch. That it would be a sisterhood and community for women to step up as leaders, make their voices heard, evoke change and inspire other women to join.
The first in-person kick-off event for Women of Asphalt Virginia on September 16 was a true testament to this mission and has since motivated its leaders to continue the strong momentum. There is no competition to become the largest state branch. Still, WofA Virginia is committed to reaching as many women as possible within the state’s industry and has no plan to stop any time soon. The more women, and men, that get involved in supporting the mission of this organization, the more impact can be made on the industry. WofA Virginia has plans to host various events in 2022 and in the coming years to provide networking, professional development and educational opportunities to the women of the Virginia asphalt industry. To close out a great year, they also plan to host a luncheon at the Mid-Atlantic Asphalt Expo & Conference in December 2021. Attendees of the conference will be encouraged to stop by the Women of Asphalt Virginia booth within the tradeshow and women are welcomed to attend the luncheon. It will be a great place to inspire women to join the community and get people talking. Everything starts with a conversation, right? Without the word being spread, some women wouldn’t know to look within the asphalt industry.
After crazy years like 2020 and 2021, the labor force has faced shortages like never before due to the pandemic. Workforce development is vital in the coming years, and there is potential for women to fill the gaps within the industry. These positions can become long-term careers, not just “jobs.” WofA exists for this very reason—to make these opportunities known to women and show them an option they may not have considered. An industry full of diversity and inclusivity will genuinely thrive. The more perspectives, ideas and skills that can be brought to the table will only make companies better in the long run. Women must be given a chance to prove themselves. Many have already done so—generation after generation. Still, there is always room for women to reach, make a name for themselves and break barriers within the asphalt industry. It all starts with the decision to become something, so ladies, if you’re going to be anything…
Be a leader. Be an inspiration. Be a Woman of Asphalt.