How many women will it take to fix construction?

Drive-thru:

  • While women have nearly achieved pay parity in construction, they make up a much smaller portion of the construction workforce than men.
  • Groups dedicated to increasing the number of women in the industry discovered they must reach out to women much earlier than men in order to build awareness of an unknown option.
  • Dove Sifers-Putnam, a female construction manager, says that women from the industry telling their stories and showing others what is possible might help fix construction’s labor woes.

How many women does it take to fix construction? It sounds like a set-up for a joke.

But the labor shortage in construction is not a joke. Neither should women becoming involved in the industry be funny. After all, pay equity between the sexes for performing the same work in construction is much closer to a reality than in other industries. That means there are women out there who could be earning a good living while helping to temper the growing construction backlog.

Women in construction earn an average of 95.7 percent of what men earn. The average percentage of men’s earnings that women make across all industries is 81.1 percent.

Here’s a look at the current status of the construction environment vis-á-vis the percentage of jobs held by women, where women tend to work in the industry, and how various groups are trying to promote construction as a viable alternative for women in the workplace.

The statistics

  • In 2015, just 1.3 percent of all employed women worked in construction. (See BLS Women’s Databook, Table 13.)
  • Women in construction earn an average of 95.7 percent of what men earn. The average percentage of men’s earnings that women make across all industries is 81.1 percent. (See BLS Women’s Databook, Table 19.)
  • Women comprise 9.1 percent of the construction workforce. Of those women, 45 percent work in sales and perform office work. Only 21 percent work in occupations strictly classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as “natural resources, maintenance and construction.”
  • Women make up 47 percent of the labor force overall.

That’s right—out of 10,328,000 total workers in construction in 2016, only 939,000 were women. Also, the number of women in construction fell by 140,000 between 2006 and 2016. The recession likely caused the damage, yet we haven’t recovered as quickly as we should have.

Attracting women to the construction trades

Within the past decade, several unions and other groups have developed programs designed to promote construction to both men and women. However, the work to get women and girls interested in construction must start much earlier than when attracting men, according to Liz Skidmore, a business representative/organizer at the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. Skidmore says this is because there is less awareness of the industry as an option among girls.

Building Pathways, Inc., which offers a six-week apprenticeship training program for the Boston Building Trades Unions, focuses a significant proportion of its resources on outreach programs for women. BPI notes that working harder at outreach for women also makes it easier to reach men who may be interested as well.
Women comprise just 9.1 percent of the construction workforce. Click To Tweet Retention is another area requiring additional attention. Like many environments where men outnumber women by a substantial margin, there is an increased problem with sexual harassment as well as a poor working environment. As more women enter the trades, the issue should fade—nevertheless, the efforts to retain the women already in construction should prioritize anti-harassment training and policies.

Wise words of a woman in the industry

Dove Sifers-Putnam, CBT, the Southeast Market Manager for Environomics, Inc., notes that construction’s primary problem is the lack of skilled workers entering the business.

“Women who are already in the construction industry need to tell their story,” she says. “We need the industry to know that they can make money and have a career. They need an environment that provides [a safe and functional work environment].”

It’s Ms. Sifers-Putnam’s perspective that “the good ole boys” are retiring out of the industry, and that today’s male workers have accepted women as part of the industry. “It will take a lot of women to step out of their comfort zone,” she says. “[They should] ask for the money they deserve. Ask for that supervisor’s position. Train to be an electrician, mason, and more…[Just] go for it.”

The more women that enter the industry, the easier it will be to “fix” construction. We’re nearly there with pay parity; now, it’s time to work on expanding the number of workers.

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