How Women are Changing the Face of Construction
Construction has traditionally been a male-dominated field and that is still the case today with less than 10 percent of construction workers being female. However, the numbers are slowly climbing even with some industry experts predicting that one in four construction workers will be a woman by 2020. The current statistics of women in construction in other developed nations is not much higher. It’s just 11 percent in Canada and 12.4 percent in the United Kingdom. It’s clearly a worldwide issue, but what needs to be done to address it?
Start by Addressing Some Common Barriers
Construction, like many skilled trades, is facing a shortage of skilled labor. The problem is so widespread that the Associated General Contractors of America estimates that up to 80 percent of construction businesses have too few workers at any given time. One reason for this is that skilled workers left or lost their jobs during the economic recession towards the end of the last decade and never returned. Construction industry leaders have responded to this shortage by attempting to attract more women and younger workers to their trade. While women are answering the call, the industry needs to address some of their specific concerns such as:
- Designing separate bathrooms for male and female workers
- Creating equipment such as work gloves and tool belts to better fit the female body
- Responding to the all-too-frequent complaint of sexual harassment from male co-workers
The pay gap for women construction workers is also something that must receive attention if the industry hopes to attract and keep women on the job. At a rate of 95.7 percent for female construction workers, women in this field face a far less daunting pay inequity than women in other fields do.
Construction industry leaders need to continue pressing forward until a wage gap no longer exists at all. This is especially true among women of color and Hispanic women who face even greater pay gaps. Black women in construction earn just 81 cents on the dollar to what white men earn. Unfortunately, the disparity is even greater for Hispanic women. Their salary is roughly half of what white men earn and three-quarters of what Hispanic men earn for the same work.
Encouraging the Younger Generation of Women
Some companies, such as Miron Construction in Wisconsin, are taking a proactive approach to both the labor shortage and the gender imbalance by actively courting young women. It created an outreach program called “Build Like a Girl.” Presented throughout the year to middle school and high school girls, the program aims to change the perception of women in construction as a future career choice.
It also teamed with another local company to host an event called Smart Girls Rock! to introduce girls in high school to other STEM-related job possibilities. The hope is that by presenting traditionally male-dominated fields as legitimate choices, more young women will train for construction without giving much thought to the challenges faced by their predecessors. Companies that follow their lead can expect to attract talented and motivated young women to their construction crews over the next several years.