15 min read
Ep. 5: Shining A Spotlight On Women In Infrastructure
By: Elizabeth Sholes on Dec 28, 2021 7:00:00 AM
Natasha Ozybko and her partner Monica Dutcher started MOXY: The Voice of Women In Infrastructure earlier this year. As co-founders, they are committed to telling the stories of women working in traditionally male-dominated industries.
Shining a spotlight on women in infrastructure
With natasha Ozybko
Natasha joins us today to discuss the changing landscape for women in construction. She highlights some of the frontrunners that are making their voices heard and potential ways that women can help overcome challenges the industry faces today in light of labor shortages.
Tune in, or read the transcript below, to learn more about Natasha, MOXY, and their impact on the construction industry (transcript edited for length and clarity).
Can you share a little about yourself and where the idea for MOXY came from?
Natasha: Elizabeth, thank you for having me on the podcast this morning. I appreciate the chance to talk about the magazine. MOXY is the brainchild of myself and my business partner Monica Dutcher. Monica's got a background in journalism and editorial and owned a magazine at one point in time. I’ve got a background in sales and marketing.
Earlier this year it really started because I had reached out to Monica about doing some writing.There's really not anyone that's talking specifically to women. We have a lot of trade publications where women tend to be a bit of token articles, and we talked about writing some content speaking to women. Monica came back and said, “Why don't we sort a magazine?” And MOXY was born.
I like to remind her -- I just wanted to write a few articles and all of a sudden here we are. We own this business, but in my experience, I had never seen anything like this, and as the idea came to be, I realized it was something that was important to me and something that I would read. And if I found value in it, I think other women would find value in it as well. So the idea behind MOXY is that we're speaking to women that are in historically male dominated sectors of infrastructure, and we're really leaning into the Build Back Better initiative that's coming out of Washington right now.
We've identified seventeen industries that are considered these male dominated sectors and I have a background -- I've been in infrastructure for about a decade now -- so I’ve got a lot of experience working in this realm. Monica has written for trade publications in infrastructure, so our audience is women from the C-suite, to the field, we're talking to women that have been in the business for thirty-five years, and women that are just starting out. We’re shining a spotlight on women that are at the helm of major infrastructure projects, that are changing the industry and that are being innovative.
We want to hear from women who own their own businesses, women who are moms who are trying to juggle being a mom and being in the workforce.
Mental health is a big topic that we're talking about. We're really focusing on the issues that women are facing every day in a way that hasn't been addressed before. You've got a lot of publications out there that might speak to men and women that are in the C-Suite.
Or you've got something you know like a Cosmopolitan Magazine that might give you tips on how to negotiate your next raise and then you turn the page, and there's eighteen ways to make chicken, and you know the hot shades of lipstick for fall. So we have very concentrated content that we put together for these ladies.
You’re creating a professional magazine and outlet that helps people at various stages of their career -- it's a one stop shop resource for stories of women who may have gone through a similar career track, or people who are facing a challenge that you might currently be facing, and finding ways to come through that positively.
On social media, you're featuring women that are, quite frankly, amazing. Have you found any stories or any themes that have stood out to you? Are there any themes that have come up repeatedly?
Natasha: So our first story, our first feature story, right out of the gate was a woman named Sharon McPherson. Sharon is a social activist. She has raised over a billion dollars, in sub-saharan Africa for investments, and she's been an advisor to the Biden Administration for the Transportation Bill.
To hear a woman talk about her life's work -- which has been to not only empower other women but to put better systems in place. And now she's bringing that over here, and she's launching the Green Jobs Machine in the second quarter of 2022. And it's really all about how do we bring more women into the fold, especially addressing these communities, these underserved communities of color, and making sure that our dollars are spent in the appropriate places and are about sustainability.
It's how this all weaves together and that we can't continue doing things the way that we have been. We've got to bring more people to the table. We've got to bring this diverse set of voices to the table and look at our infrastructure in a different way. So it was when I met Sharon for the first time, I was just in awe of what she's done. She's an extraordinary woman. We are very fortunate to call her a friend at MOXY and be able to share her story, and to see the things that she's going to be doing with the Green Jobs Machine.
And then we featured Desiree Wood. She has an organization called Real Women and Trucking. Desiree was interviewed back in 2010. She actually had a blog post that was the impetus for Dan Rather to do a four-part investigative series on the trucking industry.
We've been hearing for months and months and months now about this shortage of truck drivers, and you know supply chain issues and what not. But a decade ago, Desiree was shining a light on the challenges when we talk about why there aren’t truck drivers and why aren't there more truck drivers?
Desiree brought to light some things. She pulled the curtain back on the trucking industry and it's a massive industry, and she's really telling the story that needs to be told and we thought it was important. If we're going to talk about truck drivers, if we're going to talk about this industry that seems to be lacking so much, we have to also talk about why things are the way they are right now, and so you know, for us to be able to give a platform to women like this to share their story and to get their message out has been one of the greatest stories of putting this magazine together.
This season we’re talking about common challenges that people are facing in the industry, and some ways to overcome those challenges as well.
What do you think the biggest challenge is right now for women in infrastructure, or more specifically in the construction portion of infrastructure?
Natasha: We have to recognize that it's still a male-dominated industry. All of these businesses, virtually all of them are owned by men. They're run by men. It's been great in my decade that I've been here to see more women taking leadership roles, but the culture is still one that is very male-dominated. That's okay, I do believe that there's room for women in there, but it's going to take time. You can't change the culture of a business or an industry overnight.
What we're seeing right now is there's the old guard, which is starting to retire and resign. The new guys that are coming in, because it's still a lot of men that are running these companies, the guys that are coming in to run these companies, they’re 50-year old men. And at that age, they're used to working with women. They're used to being around other women in the office. They’re used to them. It's not a big deal to have a woman as a boss, so they're coming in.
We've got this workforce shortage right now and they're at the helm and are looking around saying. Where are all the ladies? What are we doing to recruit the ladies? And a lot of it is just the culture of the way things were back then. We weren't talking about recruiting women. We weren't bringing them into the fold.
It's a great time to be a woman in this industry because you do have a lot of allies and a lot of advocates that are saying -- okay, we can do better. And they’re making significant changes within their organizations to make it more female-friendly. I think that's just the hardest thing -- that you're still walking into a business that’s in many instances, 95% men.
But there's more women. There's more women coming into the fold and as we get more women at the table, the more ladies there are, they're going to be part of the conversation and there's going to be more changes that are made. It's just getting some ladies in the room and at the table.
Do you think that there is a pivotal role that women will play in helping to close the gap between what's needed in the workforce right now, what we currently have, and what we're lacking?
Is there a spot where women kind of end up playing a critical role in helping to make sure that these infrastructure projects are completed?
Natasha: Absolutely. Sharon McPherson, in her role as adviser to the Biden administration, she was talking about things like how do we make sure that there's language in this bill to bring more women to the table?
I think it's really interesting that over the years, when you have a job opening, it’s those entry level jobs, that are the hardest jobs to fill right now, and historically, I can speak from my experience working in the asphalt industry for the past decade -- historically it was 18-year old boys that would graduate college and they would come work on a paving crew.
It was somebody's son or their nephew or their brother that would follow in a dad's footsteps. The reality is those kids are going to college. Those kids are making other career choices. They're not doing those jobs. And so you know, the leadership of the companies are looking, and thinking -- well who's going to fill these jobs?
In the past handful of years we've seen a shift where they are starting to look at women and they're saying -- oh, wait a minute. Women make up 50% of the population. They're just as qualified to do these jobs, and especially as we start talking about advances in technology that make it so that jobs that used to be very labor intensive are not so much anymore.
So even those physically demanding requirements make it easier for women to come in. I went to school at Arizona State University. When I was out there, I worked at a resort. The groundskeepers, the dishwashers, the cooks, those were the people that were in the Hispanic community. Those were the people that came in that were doing those entry level jobs. They were quality workers, giving a full day's work. Really committed to their jobs.
When you look at these jobs that need to be filled, there's this whole pool of people and especially women from that community that are more than able to do these jobs. But I don't see anyone having a conversation. I don’t see anyone targeting those women and trying to include them into our industry.
So with MOXY, one of the things that we did is there's a tab on our website where our content is available in Spanish. It's also in French, but we wanted to make sure that you know these women know that even if you don't speak English fluently, this is your part of this community. You're a valuable part of this community and we want you to be part of these conversations.
And so I think really what's been missing, and what I hope to see happen is that these employers start to look at this community and say, how can we reach out to this community because they're ready and willing to do the jobs. But it's also why you can't talk about infrastructure without talking about immigration.
We've got to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package because we want to make sure that these workers are here and they're documented. They're legal, but they're ready to work. They're going to come and they're going to do the work, so I'd like to see employers focus on that. But I do think that women, especially that demographic of women, are key to the next decade of our infrastructure and our workforce development.
Great points. With an influx of money coming in there’s going to be pressure to get jobs done, and to hire people. Companies are going to start diversifying the ways that they're reaching out to younger people, women, and minorities.
Before the podcast, we were talking about working from home ... Can you share more about that?
Natasha: COVID has been awful. But I do think that the one silver lightning that came out of it is that it forced employers to do things differently. I think we all would agree that if you had gone to your boss in November of 2019 and said -- I’d like to work from home, it wasn't an option. And then COVID struck and we had to rethink the way that we ran our businesses, and over the past year and a half, I would really challenge anyone to prove me wrong on this, companies not only survived COVID, but they thrived during COVID.
They thrived while their workers were at home. The ones that could be working from home. And so this all ties into bringing women into the fold. Women are primary caregivers in a family, and so if you're going to be recruiting women and knowing they’re primary caregivers, you've got to look at them in a different way. I mean, the good news is that any changes are certainly applicable to any men that have families as well.
For instance, job sharing. That's something that really has never been done before in the asphalt industry. You might start at 6am. And you're on a paving crew until 7pm. Well, if you're a single mom, raising a couple of kids, who's going to get your kids up off to school in the morning? Who's going to be at home when your kids come home in the afternoon. I mean these are logistical challenges.
You have people that want to work, but it doesn't work. The job doesn't fit with their schedule. I've been on the soap box for the past year or so. I'm challenging employers to do some job sharing. Let's take that 13 hour job. Let's divide it up. Let's have a 6am - 1pm and then have a 1pm-7pm. And that way that mom can be there in the morning to get kids off to school or vice versa. She can be there when they get off the bus in the afternoon.
The biggest pushback that I get, it's always the first. The first comment is -- well, that's gonna cost more money. That means I've got to provide a second set of benefits and I challenge these guys. I say, if you're going to invest in a piece of equipment, it might be a million dollar piece of paving equipment, and you're going to look out what's on the books for the year, and you know that if you don't have this equipment, you're not going to be able to bid these jobs right. And if you don't have the workers, you're not going to be able to get the work done. So you need to start looking at your employees. We need to really lean into our employees.
They should be treated the same way that you treat one of these pieces of equipment. You're going to invest a million dollars. You're going to make sure you're doing the proper maintenance on it. To get the full life span out of it. It might cost a little bit more money, and you have to have been living under a rock the past six months to realize that it's just costing more to recruit and to retain employees.
That's the way the world is right now. But if you treat your employees well and there's just some very small changes that you can make, and do things differently, I think the chance to not only recruit but to retain these employees is significantly higher than your counterparts that aren't doing that. They are continuing to do things the way that they always were done. So that's my challenge to the industry right now.
Think about who you want to come in to work for you and think about the dedication and the commitment that they're willing to give to you. What can you as an employer do? That's going to be a little bit different. It just makes sense to me.
That’s a great challenge to put out there for the industry. As we’re nearing the end -- we’re asking all of our guests to answer rapid-fire questions ….
We already talked about some of the industry's biggest challenges, So what types of challenges are you up against at MOXY?
Natasha: Just finding enough hours in the day to talk to everyone. We've been inundated with emails and phone calls and interviews which is great. It's a really good problem to have, but just you know, the first exciting couple months of starting a business -- there's so much to do.
But it's just been an absolute joy and I cannot tell you how much. It's been an overwhelming amount of support that we've gotten from women and men across all industries. People reaching out saying why has this never been done before? I'm like, you know, I don't ever want to be the smartest person in the room. But you know what, if today I am for this, Monica and I are pouring our heart and soul into this. It’s everything that comes with starting a business.
Where do you see the industry going in the next five years? Do you have a prediction for one big thing that might change in the next five years?
Natasha: We've turned a corner. I think about this whole infrastructure bill that was passed recently. Although it wasn’t what the administration had originally wanted it to be, we still passed it.
You can't not talk about politics when it comes to this. We've got a progressive caucus back in D. C. that's really pushing hard and they're not letting up on certain initiatives that they're looking for. What I see is there's a lot more women having a seat at the table and these women are having conversations and pushing the envelope in a way that hasn't been done before.
There's always going to be some kicking the can in when it comes to policies in D.C. and things like that, and back and forth about where we should and shouldn't be spending money.
But we know that our infrastructure can't survive the way that we've been doing things, it just can't. We're in a clear direction forward -- we're not going to let things go back to the way they were. Um, so yeah, I'm really optimistic about it. and again it just goes back to having more women having more seats at the table and asking different questions.
Where do you currently go for your industry insights? What publications do you tap into?
Natasha: We've got the major publications, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, all the major publications and news sources online. Really, it's been a great educational experience in the past year, getting to know these women, especially these women in Canada. I'm talking to women in Canada that are running treaty organizations and the Women's Infrastructure Network, which is a global platform of women that are leading companies and heading up these initiatives.
I get a lot of information just from my phone calls and my interactions with ladies that I've met through MOXY.
Lastly, if you could pick somebody else to be interviewed on this podcast, who would you like to see, and why?
Natasha: Gosh, you know, I really have a soft spot for Desiree Wood from Real Women and Trucking. I think that she has such a powerful story that we need to continue to shine a light on. I'd love to see her have a platform to really continue to get that message out. I think it's definitely a David and Goliath scenario. I mean she’s this one woman that's not afraid to speak her truth, and her story. The real story behind the trucking industry needs to be told, so I'd love to see her share her perspective, in her experience -- what we can do to change things, what we can do to make things better.
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