From Daycare to the Jobsite: Addressing the Unique Challenges of Mothers in AEC  

mothers on the jobsite in construction

Motherhood is an incredibly rewarding experience, but let's not hide another truth: being a mom can also be extremely challenging.  

This is especially true if you're a working mom in male-dominated fields like architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC). From finding a daycare that works with construction hours to navigating the physical and emotional load of long days at the office and jobsite, mothers in these sectors face unique hurdles. 

It’s also important to consider the fifth trimester—those first three months after maternity leave ends —when women reintegrate themselves into the workforce while balancing their identity as mothers, many of whom, as first-time moms are learning how to navigate the world anew. 

So, how can we, as an industry, better support moms working in AEC? What can we do to help women thrive both at home and at work? 

At AU 2023, I had the privilege of speaking with women in construction about these issues and hearing from mothers with first-hand experience juggling their AEC careers and families.  

Read on to explore some of the issues we unpacked and the potential solutions that can make a real difference in creating a more supportive environment for working mothers in both the office and the field.  

Why getting (and keeping!) moms in construction is so darn important 

Conversations about motherhood in AEC highlight the challenges mothers face in a traditionally male-dominated field, so it’s important to keep bringing the topic to the surface. These discussions promote fair and equitable work policies, ensuring that the AEC industry (and society) effectively support women who are raising the next generation.  

That's the long-term view. In the meantime, we hardly need a reminder that construction is dealing with a significant workforce shortage. If we don't attract and retain women in AEC—many of whom are mothers—then we risk exacerbating this labor crisis, stalling projects, and ultimately hindering growth and innovation within construction. When every person in AEC counts, we need to ensure a fair and equitable environment. 

Perception vs. reality: What goes on in a mother's head when returning to work? 

The first step to improving work policies and environments for mothers is understanding both the challenges and opportunities with which they are facing. Every woman and her situation is different, and mothers have varying perceptions of their identity and role at home and in the workplace. 

Some moms, like Pepper Construction's Senior Vice President Jen Suerth, are excited about going back to work.  

"When it was time to go back, I was looking forward to it because I knew for me and the type of person I am, that I'm a better mom because I work. Now, when I'm with my son, I just get to enjoy him and care for him." 

Jen adds, "Yes, there are a ton of challenges with that. So I felt this guilt and had tears the night before, don't get me wrong. But I felt guilty that I was happier than most people going back to work." 

Other mothers have mixed feelings. For example, when Ruhi Thakur, Project Manager at Webcor Builders, returned to work, she faced a whirlwind of feelings. 

"I had a lot of mixed emotions when I went back to work. I was a little nervous. ‘How will it go? Will they understand my situation? Will I have to explain [being a working mom] a little bit more?" 

Regardless of how a woman feels about returning to the office or jobsite after having a baby, teams need to be more discerning about their colleagues’ mental state and flexibility needs. 

The good news is that companies and leadership teams are much more accommodating to new moms.   

In Jen’s case, she observes that in her workplace, people “surprisingly relate to moms more than you realize.” 

“I had more male colleagues coming to me and asking how I’m doing than women, probably because a lot of females were struggling to figure out their own journey in life.” 

Ruhi had a similar experience and adds that having a plan helped ease her transition back to work.  

“One thing that I said is, ‘I love working, I want to go back, but I think I’m loving being a mom.’ On my first day and first week, I planned how my work would progress, how I could work from home some days, and work in the office.” 

Ruhi continues, “It was about coming up with a plan and discussing it with multiple individuals to whom my work would impact, especially my manager.” 

Partners matter—on and off the jobsite 

While every mom on the AU panel is on her own unique journey, pretty much everyone agreed on the importance of having a supportive partner and family.  

Every family's situation is different, of course. Some people have partners working from home, while other partners may need to head to the office. Whatever the case, empathy and understanding are crucial. 

For Savy Francis, a pipefitter at E.M. Duggan, the caregiving arrangement is equally supportive and flexible. 

"My husband works from home as well. He's a social worker. He has a lot of time with his career, so he's able to take [our daughter]. Also, sometimes if I get asked to work on a Saturday with my job at the site, my husband is usually like, 'Go ahead.'" 

She continues, "But, my daughter is in dance, and I don't want to miss watching her practice because they only stay so little for so long. The good thing is the foremen I work for are all married men, and they have daughters. So they're like, 'Go, go. That's more important.'" 

In some cases, you and your partner may have to find creative ways to balance work and family commitments.  

A great example of this comes from Ruhi, when she and her husband were both invited to AU 2023.  

"My husband was invited to the conference, and he had everything planned months ahead of the dates. And I think I got invited maybe around August or September—much later than when he made his plans," Ruhi explains.  

After a discussion, she and her husband decided to take their child to Vegas and make it a family trip. 

 He is [either] in the room with our daughter or next to the pool… That's the role of the partner, how important it is! I'm thankful to have the support I need to pursue my goals.” 

On shifting priorities and adjusting your boundaries accordingly 

Being a mom changes… well, everything. Your priorities shift, and it becomes essential to establish boundaries for your colleagues and yourself.  

"For me, it was setting boundaries more with myself.  I want to keep moving to that next level," says Jen. 

For her, having internal boundaries means returning to work on her own terms and creating transparency with her team. 

Savy agrees, and adds it's essential to prioritize oneself and family before committing to additional roles and responsibilities. She emphasizes the importance of discussing things with her partner to ensure that taking on multiple commitments doesn't compromise her family's well-being. 

"I am involved with my union. I'm also involved with a pre-apprenticeship program called Building Pathways. I'm involved with the Mass[achusettes] building trades. I sit on many boards, but I knew I had to talk to my husband before deciding to take on all those roles. A wise man I worked for in the field told me, 'You and your family come first. You're not married to your career. Just make sure that you make time for yourself and your family as well.'" 

How leaders and companies can support mothers in AEC 

When enacting changes, it's best to start at the top. We can experience the most impact when policies are formalized and implemented across organizations.  

"I see a lot of tech companies and other industries that have a ramp up program. I feel I created my own program, but maybe we should formalize one and develop a plan to support a woman in getting where she wants to go. That's something I would like to see in most companies," says Ruhi. 

Savy agrees and cites an example where an industry union made significant strides in supporting women by implementing maternity leave. 

"The UA—United Association—announced that they finally put a maternity leave in for members, for the pipefitters, sprinkler fitters, and the plumbers… I'm happy the UA put that into play so women don't have to try to hide their pregnancy on the jobsite, and they're comfortable being pregnant now." 

Watch the entire session on demand 

The points and examples discussed above are just a sample of our insightful conversation at AU. Be sure to watch the entire session to hear more from our speakers and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities for mothers in the AEC industry. 

Watch it on demand

Meredith Obendorfer

Meredith is the Director of Strategic Communications at Autodesk.