Kennesaw State professor encourages women to pursue construction management

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jun 21, 2021

Irish Horsey
Irish Horsey

As a student, it wasn’t uncommon for Irish Horsey to look around and find herself as the only woman in a classroom full of construction management majors.

Now an assistant professor and interim chair of Kennesaw State University’s Department of Construction Management, she uses her platform to demonstrate it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Growing up, I had my fair share of doubters who tried to steer me in other directions when I wanted to study construction management, and I think that is due in large part to a lack of understanding of what the field is,” said Horsey, who recently earned the distinction of being the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Building Construction from the Georgia Institute of Technology. “That perception, I think, is what causes women to look elsewhere, and I’ve made it my mission to set the record straight.”

Construction managers are similar to project managers in other industries, only specialized for the built environment, she added. It’s a discipline that calls for creativity and best suited for students who see themselves as problem solvers.

It's also a rapidly growing industry. However, having spent nearly  20 years in construction management for the public and private sectors before making the leap into academia, Horsey saw firsthand that women were disproportionately represented among the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction manager jobs are expected to grow by 8 percent by 2029. However, women made up about 10 percent of the overall construction workforce in 2018, and less than 44 percent of the professional and management sector, according to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).

To buck the trend, Horsey recently guided more than 25 students in establishing the Kennesaw Women in Construction (KWIC), of which she serves as faculty advisor. The organization exists to help with recruitment and retention of women by creating an environment of “support and belonging” for those entering the industry, said KWIC president Madlyn Wright.  

In recent months, the organization has hosted panel discussions involving women in the industry, community service events and networking opportunities.

“I remember being a freshman and feeling like a fish out of water being one of the few women in the construction management program,” Wright said. “Even in classes that had other women, most rarely talked to one another and I think that is partially because we had become so accustomed to being in the background in a male-dominated major. Now, it’s refreshing to be able to talk to other women about their experiences in the industry, whether through classes or jobs, and be able to fully understand and empathize with them.”

With the success of KWIC, Horsey has expressed interest in helping other universities launch women-centric organizations of their own.

“All of us in the College are very proud of the work Dr. Horsey has put into improving diversity both within academia and industry,” said Andrew Payne, dean of the College of Architecture and Construction Management. “She serves as an excellent example of the opportunities a career in construction can afford, and we look forward to seeing many women like her pursue their passion for the built environment at KSU.”

– Travis Highfield

Photos by David Caselli

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit