Women in construction

The construction industry is currently facing a serious shortage of skilled workers. Isn’t it time women helped fill the gap?

A recent US government report published in December 2015, indicates that women make up approximately 9% of the construction industry’s workforce. Compared to other fields of work such as teaching or accountancy, they are “substantially under-represented” in the industry, the report says. This has been the status quo for some time. That percentage has remained relatively unchanged since 2010.

Why?

Construction is one of those fields that has remained staunchly traditional in its gender base. From there stems many of the reasons there aren’t a greater number of women in the industry.

A june 1999 study by the US government Occupational Safety and Health Administration clearly shows how difficult things can be for women in construction:

88% of females who took part in the study reported sexual harassment, many said they had been threatened with physical harm, had their work sabotaged and had been placed in dangerous situations by their co-workers.

It is a sad read and it is makes one angry that anyone who calls himself a construction professional could stoop to such behavior. Other subjects pointing to hurdles that must be overcome include health and safety issues related to ergonomics and ill-adapted personal protection equipment and clothing.

The US government has since acted on many of the report’s recommendations by issuing guidelines on several of the mentioned subjects.

That was a 1999 study. Have things changed since?

We found a Canadian study from 2010 that also details sexism and general unacceptance of women by some in the construction industry, an attitude that comes particularly from the older generation of workers.

On the positive side though, many within the industry saw the potential for women in residential and light industrial work, carpentry, drywalling, project management, site inspection and health and safety. Others spoke of women’s strengths in team-working, consensus management and negotiation.

From a demand point of view, there is no better time than now for women to join the ranks.

Employers, searching for good specialized tradespeople are willing to pay top dollar to get them. Competition among employers is growing. For women looking for work, some jobs in construction are among the best-paying ones available. Positions such as sales engineers, architectural and engineering managers for example can pay upwards of $100,000 a year. It also happens that the gender pay gap in construction is smaller than that in many other industries.

Women in the U.S. earn on average 82.1 percent what men make. It isn’t perfect, but it is closer to what it should be than in other lines of work. What remains to be addressed before women begin filling the construction industry is well illustrated by a quote from a female participant in the Canadian study:

“What people think it might be with women and trades, the barriers? It’s the culture. It’s not physical, it’s sociology.”1

Finally, to the women working in construction: Happy International Women’s Day.

1http://www.cawic.ca/Resources/Documents/Recruitment_Women_English_State_of_Women_in_Construction_in_Canada%5B1%5D.pdf

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