Some major cities have seen significant growth in the number of women who work in the construction industry – by some measures, of up to 20%. While this is certainly progress when it comes to gender representation, it does not pertain to all construction jobs equally. About 40% of these women are in office and administrative positions. When it comes to onsite positions – which often includes manual labor – women only hold about 3% of such roles. Other positions that women are more likely to hold include sales, as well as management and finance.
There is an industry-wide effort to attract more women to skilled trade professions. This is largely driven by a projected shortage of about three million workers over the next five years. The question becomes, what needs to happen to better attract women to this field?
Key attraction strategies:
- Promote a new perception of the types of jobs available. In the future, there will be more automation and less physical labor.
- Encourage girls to pursue interests and careers in STEM professions. This should be done at every level of the school system, through college.
- Increase the visibility of women in the construction industry. More women are likely to consider careers in fields where they see themselves represented.
- Work with senior management – which is likely to be older men – to make sure that they understand the importance of attracting and hiring female candidates.
But remember, attracting women to the construction industry is only the first step. If there is going to be a real shift in gender representation, then there also needs to be a concerted effort around retaining women in these positions. Unfortunately, women who start their career in construction only last about five years on average.
Key retention strategies:
- Develop policies and procedures to ensure that women will feel safe at work, whether that is in the office or on a job site. Sexism (or any form of discrimination) should not be tolerated.
- Make career advancement a key focus and regular point of discussion. Anyone is likely to leave an industry if they do not see a path forward for themselves.
- Offer incentives and benefits that women are more likely to care about. For example, flexible work hours or child care. It is also important to address the pay gap that currently exists between the genders in construction.
There are many benefits to having an inclusive and representative workforce. The construction industry still has a long way to go if it is going to employ a more equal number of women – however, it will be critical for it to do so in order to avoid a workforce shortage.