Women joining the workforce escalated considerably after the Great Depression, but it wasn’t until World War II that the types of jobs available to women completely changed. Back in the 1940’s jobs typically considered “men’s work” were now open for women to fill after an extensive enlistment of men left gaps in the defense industry and industrial workforce.
Today, women have considerably more options for career paths, but some industries remain dominated by men. Construction ranks near the top with women making up a mere 10.9% of the workforce. Does gender bias still exist in construction or is there simply no interest to move into this industry? With the rising labor shortage, the pressure on construction to adapt its culture and be more open to a diverse workforce is essential to ensure projects have sufficient staffing to get the job done on time and within budget.
Construction offers women growth and learning opportunities along with one of the lowest gender pay gaps at 99.1%. Being a woman in construction is becoming more common and is breaking age-old gender stereotypes.
Construction Jobs Held by Women
Around 44% of women in construction work in professional and management roles. In recent years, women have seen additional growth with job increases of construction laborers and construction managers. Other jobs include drywall installer, roofer, building inspector, and mapping technicians. Higher education is usually unnecessary, depending on the role. Still, it can help push one to higher management or open more opportunities.
Women may feel hesitant to take a construction role because it is traditionally perceived as a male-dominated industry. Seeing a lack of other women may make it seem complicated to find where you could succeed as there are not many role models or mentors who are women, but it is changing as more women join the industry.
Another issue is that women may feel overlooked or not heard when they speak up versus their coworkers. Their words might not be taken seriously until their male coworker repeats what they say. They also experience others not believing their technical expertise because they are women. This leaves women construction workers feeling isolated and underappreciated in their job.
Many women say harassment is a huge problem; a survey by the IWPR reported that 44.4% of tradeswomen have thought about leaving because of a lack of respect and harassment. With the growing need for labor, women are essential to fulfilling the demand. Tolerating harassment on site will contribute to worker shortages and lead to a lack of employee retention, a detriment to the project and the company.
Whether or not you are a woman in construction, offering mentorship and making sure you are including women who are already in the workplace can cause a positive change. Challenging these work culture problems when you see them can help stop them from occurring again. Encourage a healthy culture by being an example yourself and treating everyone respectfully. Women do not want to work in a sexist and discriminatory environment.
"Massive construction sites are often crowded with workers, materials, and heavy equipment, which can be intimidating. However, as a project comes together, you immediately see a clear need for multi-tasking and creative thinking"
Says Kristal Howe, Director of Construction and Implementation at Project Frog.
"There is an art to building that requires a solid design eye and different ways of harnessing creativity. A creative woman with a good eye for design will find this industry embraces that."
Getting Started in Construction
Competitive pay and learning new skills offer a sense of fulfillment. Experiencing tangible creations from start to finish can be extremely rewarding and motivating. The entry barrier of construction doesn't require a bachelor's degree, offering women without higher education a chance to be as equally successful without the debt.
To work in construction, one can take an entry-level job, take an apprenticeship, go to a trade school, or go to college. There are many different paths to entry, making it more accessible to women with diverse backgrounds. If you are unsure construction is the right choice, you can try it out before getting a related degree or forgo it altogether.
When looking at job boards, find entry-level general laborer positions to see what is available. Chances are something is always available with construction’s labor shortage! If one desires more training, researching local trade schools can help one gain confidence and credentials within 1-2 years. Trade schools offer education at a fraction of the cost of traditional college.
If you like construction, you could plan to get a degree in construction management for roles like construction manager. Websites like apprenticeship.gov provide a place to look for apprenticeship positions with different focuses depending on your interests. The organization WINTER has a pre-apprenticeship training program to help women prepare for construction careers. The best step is to research local programs and get involved.
Today, there is a great opportunity for women to pursue a career in construction. Now's the time to embrace change and pave the way for future generations.