If you asked someone to close their eyes and picture a construction worker, most people would envision a man. Society has been slow to accept the fact that women are just as capable of driving forklifts, swinging hammers and donning hardhats. But, as the gender breakdown of the industry changes, so might the idea of a stereotypical construction worker.
It’s no secret (and no surprise really) that women’s relationships with the trades are as complicated as erecting a 100-story skyscraper. Despite women making up just over 10% of the construction workforce, there is still a stigma surrounding work in the construction industry. Overcoming these barriers is especially difficult for women belonging to marginalized populations.
Women who overcome the stigma are rewarded for their perseverance, and they are not alone in benefiting. In addition to dramatically improving women’s lives and increasing their bargaining power in society, women working in the industry can create new jobs, enhance consumer choice and boost the economy. To date, the rise of women in the construction field has helped advance the industry and such growth is encouraging organizations to further invest in this trend.
The Changing Face of the Construction Industry
Thanks in large part to technological advancements, society’s view of working in construction has changed over time. For years, men were the best fit for construction work due to the brute strength required for tasks like hauling heavy materials. Today, hydraulic equipment renders physical strength less important, not to mention more women are becoming physically stronger.
Without gender-specific restrictions, women began entering the construction field. However, progress has been slow. In 2018, fewer than one in 20 construction workers were women. But, of the women in the construction field, many are in management or professional roles.
Women have recognized the changing industry and stepped up to lead. While the majority of craft professionals manning the loaders are, well, men, women are making critical decisions and taking care of business behind the scenes. Of the women employed in the construction field, 31% are in professional management roles. Another 45% are in sales and office roles. For their contributions, women earn an average of 99.1% of what their male counterparts make compared to the 82% average across other industries.
Erasing Stigmas Associated with Women in Construction
More and more women are recognizing the diverse opportunities and earning potential the construction field has to offer. Even though business leaders urge cultivating diverse workplaces, enduring stigmas contribute to the gender divide. The industry has long been deemed a space for men, and some women worry about being seen as unfeminine while others are concerned with safety. Personal protective equipment specifically designed for women has helped to eliminate safety hazards, but stigmas regarding who belongs in construction remain.
One of the primary obstacles for women is a lack of early education. When education budgets are slashed, elective classes such as woodshop are frequently the first to go. Without exposure at the high school level, young women aren’t encouraged to explore careers in skilled trades and never learn about the advantages of attending trade school.
Initiatives like Generation T, which is led by home improvement retailer Lowe’s, understand how critical expanding the visibility of women currently working in construction is for inspiring a rising workforce to consider entering skilled trades. With the help of Generation T and similar organizations like Professional Women in Construction, Nontraditional Employment for Women and the Girls Can Construction Camp, skilled tradeswomen share their experiences and offer support for other women. Raising awareness and providing networking opportunities are essential for erasing stigmas and closing the gender gap in the construction field.
The Future of Women in the Construction Field
If organizations like Generation T can meet their objectives, the number of women in the construction field will continue to increase. The industry’s gender gap will shrink as more women take advantage of job opportunities that offer economic mobility and career growth. Women interested in construction careers aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit.
An estimated 3 million jobs sit vacant in the skilled trades. If left unfilled, these openings for positions ranging from appliance technicians to carpenters could hamstring the American economy. Long an underutilized business resource, female talent could help make up the difference and ensure the economy stays on track.
The rise of women in the construction field will benefit the economy, businesses, consumers, and, of course, women themselves. Due to technological advancements, barriers that once held women back from working in the industry are no longer pertinent. Stigmas remain, but increased visibility of women working in construction are helping to dismantle long-held opinions. From professional management roles to transportation and material moving, women are stepping up and showcasing why the rise of women in the construction field needs to continue into the future.
This article was reprinted with permission from the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) – originally published on the NCCER Blog on Dec. 3, 2020.
About the Author – Adrian Johansen is a writer in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She loves sharing information with others, learning along the way! You can find more of her writing on Twitter and contently.