“We Need More Women and People of Color” SGR helps plan, host roundtable discussion on women in the construction industry

On February 9, 2021, the Construction Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia gathered virtually for a panel discussion on the topic of women in the construction industry. With more than 50 section members in attendance, the second annual Women in Construction roundtable event was a resounding success.

This year’s panel was comprised of Nancy Juneau, CEO of Juneau Construction Company; Christine McAnney, general counsel and corporate secretary of Balfour Beatty; Yasmine Murray, general counsel of HJ Russell & Company; and Linda Klein, past president of both the Georgia Bar and the American Bar Association and senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson. The panelists discussed a range of topics, including their paths to the construction industry, obstacles the industry faces in recruiting a more diverse workforce, and how COVID-19 has affected employers and the industry as a whole.

The Construction Law Section was founded in 2019 by attorneys in Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP’s Construction Litigation practice group. Several SGR attorneys hold leadership positions in the Construction Law Section, including Peter Crofton, Greg Smith and Darren Rowles who serve as chair, vice-chair, and secretary, respectively.

The Construction Law Section has grown from just three attorneys to more than 250 in less than two years and offers robust programming for section members, including continuing legal education credit, networking opportunities and an oral history project chronicling the beginnings of construction law in Georgia. This summer, the Construction Law Section is launching a quarterly publication. SGR’s Derek Andre will serve as the publication’s first editor.

Among the Construction Law Section’s offerings is the annual Women in Construction roundtable. Each of this year’s panelists took a unique path into the industry. For example, one started as in-house counsel for a large construction contractor right out of law school. Another panelist worked in a different field for several years, building business and management experience before entering the construction industry.

All of the panelists agreed that encouraging more women and people of color to enter the industry is important for its continued growth. Murray said that she did not envision herself going into the construction industry after law school, but she sees a pressing need for more women, and especially women of color, in construction.

The other panelists agreed that these groups make the industry stronger by offering unique perspectives. Klein stressed the importance of pipeline programs that bring more women and people of color into the industry, especially in technical roles. Juneau added that we can encourage more women to enter the industry by setting examples at events such as the roundtable, being more visible in the recruiting process on four-year and community college campuses, and showing young talent the excitement of being “a part of the most visible projects in the world that are also the most challenging.”

The panelists also discussed how their employers and roles have changed due to the pandemic. McAnney noted that with each jurisdiction passing unique rules and regulations, her legal team has been busy ensuring Balfour’s workforce remains healthy and compliant with local law. Juneau admitted that Juneau Construction’s evolving remote work policy – something the company had considered but never implemented – has been a somewhat positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The discussion later shifted to how the construction industry would continue to develop and evolve. McAnney and Murray both stressed a need for the industry to focus on improving infrastructure in the U.S., especially in the transportation sector. Juneau added that sustainability and improvements in efficiency and productivity are key areas for continued industry-wide growth.

At the close of the discussion, the panelists agreed that the past year has presented its challenges, both for their own companies and the industry, but that it has also presented opportunities for development and adaptation. Ultimately, each hopes the industry will continue to grow and become stronger in the face of adversity.

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