Women working in the construction and safety industries have certainly made progress over the years. However, challenges remain, making this year’s Women in Construction week, being held March 6-12, 2022, more important than ever. The annual event, created and hosted by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), celebrates women’s contributions to the profession of building and brings light to several issues they still face.
As with many industries, gender diversity in the workplace has always been a challenge. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that in 2021, women represented only 10.9% of construction workforce. Considering that women make up 47% of all employed individuals, this means that the construction industry is only benefitting from about 1.25% of women in the workforce. Furthermore, women on the front lines of a job site accounts for only 4% of employees in the field.
“The challenges we face are the continued perceptions that the construction industry is not for women. This can be an initial barrier,” says Doreen Bartoldus, President of NAWIC.
In addition, women in construction report discrimination on the job, according to data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research’s 2021 Tradeswomen’s Retention and Advancement Survey. This can often lead to women leaving their roles and the field, says Ariane Hegewisch, senior research fellow at the IWPR.
“The responses to our 2021 survey highlight that many women are doing well in the trades but that far too many—about a quarter—frequently or always face discrimination and harassment,” she says. “Even basics, such as being provided with gloves and safety equipment that fits, are not standard for almost three in ten. And close to half feel that they are always or frequently held to higher standards than men. Not surprisingly, over 40% say that they are or have seriously thought about leaving the trades altogether.”
The industry still lacks on the number of women entering—and staying—in the construction-related field. That’s unfortunate considering the average salary for a female construction manager is $97,000 a year, according to the BLS. The industry is said to have one of the lowest gender pay gaps. According to recent BLS data, women in construction earn about $0.96 for every $1 men in the same age range make, higher than the U.S. average of women earning about 81.1% of what men do.
“The issue is not just to recruit women—but to retain and grow the women that have been recruited,” Hegewisch says.
Fortunately, a number of women and organizations are leading the way for change.
“While this industry is more open than ever to the inclusion of women, only a small fraction includes women,” says Angela Seaborn, Senior Director of HR Operations at 84 Lumber Company. “Women can be effective in changing the perceptions and culture of this industry. They are able to communicate where their delivery of feedback is more well-received than their male counterparts and bring the empathy and human-side of the message.”
Still, many of the challenges women may face in the construction and safety fields stem from outdated perceptions that construction is a male only field.
“As a young woman in safety, it has always been a challenge to earn the respect of co-workers who question how you can be a contributor when you have not done the labor or ‘job’ yourself,” says Allison Kulka, senior safety specialist for 84 Lumber Company. “To counteract this, I will always try to listen and learn from the workers and apply the knowledge and information I gained through my education to help contribute to a safer workplace for all.”
Kristi Allen, owner of WoodCastle Homes and the contractor behind The House that SHE Built, a home built by Utah Professional Women in Building and the Utah Home Builders Association, as well as others, agrees. To encourage more women to join in and reap the rewards, Allen suggests companies make women in construction more visible to provide relatable role models to others.
“The more we see women doing these jobs and succeeding in this industry, the more likely it is that other women will view the construction industry as a viable option,” Allen says. “Even growing up in residential construction, I had never seen a female general contractor, so it never occurred to me that it would be a career I would love.”
Hegewisch says that in addition to support from their female co-workers, there are several support groups and organizations that offer a wealth of resources and assistance to women in the industry.
“Women-focused pre-apprenticeship programs such as ANEW in Seattle, Building Pathways Boston, Chicago Women in the Trades, Oregon Tradeswomen, Mississippi Moore Community House, Tradeswomen Inc. and W.I.N.T.E.R. in California and West Virginian Women Work! are great partners, both in reaching out to women, and in helping contractors ensure that their worksites are welcoming,” she says.
Given the plethora of resources available for support and guidance, women have a unique opportunity to reap the rewards of the construction and safety industries for themselves, their families and those women who have yet to come.
“Women need to show up and let [themselves] be seen,” Allen says. “The more girls and women [who] are able to see women succeeding in the industry, the more they will want to join us.”
Lauren DeBellis is a freelance writer with experience in consumer lifestyle and housewares trade publishing, as well as public relations and corporate communications.
Women in Construction Stats
- 2 million – new construction jobs for 2022
- 14% – staff executive construction positions
- 7% – line executives
- 86.7% – office positions
- 2.5% – tradespeople
- 11% of the construction industry is represented by women
- 13% – women-owned construction firms
- 64% – growth in women owners from 2014 to 2019
- 4% – new construction firms launched by women in 2020
- 44% – top 100 contracting companies have women in executive roles
- 16% – employ women in C-level positions; 2 are CEOs
- 43% – organizations do not actively monitor wage gaps
- 73% – women who feel passed over for roles because of gender
- 60% – gender discrimination victims in workplace are women