Women in Construction: Succeeding in Male-Dominated Industries with Elaine Ervin
The Briq team was lucky enough to sit down with Elaine Ervin, Partner and National Construction Practice Leader at Moss Adams LLP, for a quick chat about how construction and accounting have changed over the course of her career and advice to people who are just getting into these fields. In this article, Elaine provides insight into:
- Her journey in the construction and accounting industries
- How construction/accounting have changed
- Moss Adams’ women’s initiative, Forum W
- How to move forward in male-dominated industries
Let’s dig in.
Elaine, thank you for joining us. Please give us a bit of background on yourself, your history in construction and accounting, and where you are now with Moss Adams.
“I graduated from Michigan State University and worked in public accounting for a few years before moving to Seattle. When I moved to Seattle, I ended up working for a firm and partner that worked 100% in construction. I worked here for 10 years, and that’s how I fell into it. But the story there isn’t so much that ‘oh, wow, I really love construction,’ it was initially more that I had an incredible mentor who taught me the business of public accounting. That was the real draw. The more I got involved in working with construction companies, I began to appreciate what they do, how they do it, their entrepreneurial spirit, the complexity of what they do, the risks they take. I have a high level of business curiosity. It was cool to figure out how you build a bridge across water. I became fascinated with the business itself. As an auditor, you learn more about the company as you audit it.”
So that was your intro to construction, so to speak. What brought you to Moss Adams?
“I came to Moss Adams in 1995, so twenty five years ago. When I joined Moss Adams, I led the construction practice for the Seattle office. Now I lead the construction real estate professional service practice for the entire firm. I’ve been blessed to have had a number of different titles along the way, but I would say this is one of the most fun. It's all around the development of the practice, development of the people, and creating brand awareness.”
Well, you have certainly led a robust career. You’re extremely well-respected. Can you describe a major turning point in your career and why it was meaningful or impactful to you?
“I think I would go back to my early years with the partner that mentored me. One of the things that he told me from the beginning was you don't need to know everything or solve every problem. You just need to be able to find the resources to solve that problem. You need to engage in business conversations, you need to listen more, talk less. He practiced it phenomenally well. That was a turning point for me because when I was in accounting in Michigan, it was all about the transaction. He opened my eyes to how what I’m doing could be more than just the debits and credits- it was how much fun you could have with this as a profession. I’ve really carried that throughout my career. And now, it’s fun to help other people see that. If you’re caring about someone’s business, you’re creating value.”
Your experience over the years is extensive to say the least. What are the most prominent changes you have seen in the construction and accounting industries over the course of your career?
“I think one of the emerging ones, and one that I’m very active in, is attracting people to the construction industry. There have been so many labor shortages, so how do we attract people to the industry? And even more importantly, how do we attract women and help them be successful in the industry? These things are very near and dear to my heart. I have been on the executive committee called the AGC Education Foundation, and that’s exactly what we do. We’re trying to increase the diversity in the industry. I see this as a change and a change for the better. How do we become more inclusive and make it a better industry for everyone? I remember walking into my first CFMA meeting and I was the only woman in the room. I found that to be beyond weird.”
And outside of that cultural shift, have you noticed many other changes?
“I would say you see an increased use of technology or tools. I’m always intrigued with what Briq does, because people are realizing that there are ways to manage their construction business better: focusing on KPI’s, improving business via monitoring those, creating financial success. Companies have become more sophisticated, even though of course they’re slow to adopt. I think that’s an evolution to continue.”
You mentioned attracting women to the industry as something that’s definitely changed over time. Moss Adams has a very strong women’s initiative. How did that come about and what types of things have you seen as a result?
“Years ago, there was a realization that we did not have enough women partners. In 1988, less than ten percent of our partners were women. That kinda sucks. When you think about our hiring class, it’s typically 50/50. That means we were losing women over their careers, we were losing talented people. We had leadership that all looked the same. Moss Adams took it very seriously and we started what’’s called Forum W. It was made to help women be successful in their careers, and to help figure out what makes them depart from their careers in accounting. We had to address that so we could minimize it. The good news is, we’ve seen really great results. The numbers are improving- we are now at over thirty percent of our partners being women. We’ve grown this Forum W to be all about inclusion and diversity. And that happened before 2020. I think it’s helped a lot of women in their career and it’s been really good to be a part of it and continue to help people.”
And lastly, you’re an acknowledged industry expert in not one, but two male-dominated industries. What words of advice would you give to women who are just starting out or considering going into one of these fields?
“What I tell people when they are hired on with us is to use your intellectual curiosity. Be proactive in your career. Ask for feedback and act on it. Volunteer yourself to do something extra. Make yourself seen and brand yourself. Make sure people know who you are and what your talent is. In order to be successful, you have to approach your conversations with confidence. Whether you’re feeling nervous inside, that’s okay. Stretch yourself, become uncomfortable. It will pay off in the end. And the bottom line: believe in yourself. If you love it you can accomplish anything. And have fun.”
The Briq team would like to thank Elaine Ervin for joining us.
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