Construction is one of the most male-dominated industries in the world. In total, roughly 9% of workers in the United States construction industry are women, with the remaining 91% being men. As if that wasn’t already an extreme divide, the majority of these female workers operate in secretarial or administrative roles within construction firms – in the field, just 1% of laborers are female construction workers! Women working in construction are also facing a unique set of issues at work – many report being treated worse than male colleagues, having to share toilets with male colleagues and being targets of sexual harassment in the workplace. This blog outlines the state of gender equality in the construction industry and asks whether it is time for more women in construction.
Is it Time for More Women in the Construction Industry?
Yes! Getting more women working in construction is a tremendous area of opportunity for general contractors and larger construction firms today. With women comprising just 1% of the overall labor force in the United States construction industry, the benefits of recruiting and investing in female workers for firms are apparent.
Firstly, there is strong evidence of a shortage of workers in the skilled trades. Women are heavily represented in clerical, administrative and professional roles in the economy, but grossly under-represented in manual labor roles. Attracting more women into the skilled trades, instead of shoehorning them into professional roles, could very readily address this problem. Worker availability can also become an issue depending on the skill set required for specific roles. Companies that recruit and train female talent can often avoid the excessive cost of flying in male workers for a project and flying them out again.
Secondly, case studies in the construction industry indicate that team performances are enhanced when women are involved in the workforce. Women bring new or alternative perspectives on how best to approach challenges in the workplace. A review conducted by the Harvard Business Review determined that the overall intelligence of teams was greater when females were incorporated as team members. It is clear that women on construction sites can bring a lot to the table, not just in compensating for labor shortages, but also in contributing to problem solving and efficiency.
Barriers to Entry – Why Do So Few Women Work in Construction?
Women are grossly underrepresented in construction compared to other industries. The main reason for this is most likely the existence of gender bias within society. Beginning at a young age, when the boy mows the lawn, and the girl helps serve drinks at dinner, young girls are taught that manual labor is something that men do, not women. As a result, women comprise less than 2% of almost every single construction-related trade profession on a worksite.
The same culture that discourages women from apprenticing in the skilled trades also acts as a repellent to the construction site itself. Women on construction sites face many types of discrimination as they attempt to integrate into the male-centric company culture shared by the majority of construction firms. They may be made to share bathroom accommodations with male coworkers, may have difficulty finding safety equipment that properly fits their bodies, and will likely face disproportionate criticism about their work ethic and habits on the job. Also, sexual harassment of female colleagues is an issue that is often overlooked. Critically, this type of behavior is seldom taken seriously and can result in women construction workers becoming worn down and leaving for other industries. These aspects of construction culture all need to change to facilitate a more gender-diverse workforce.
Creating a Culture – How to Get Women Involved in Construction
The best way to get women involved in construction is by getting women involved in construction management. Studies in psychology have shown that women are more efficient at multitasking than men are, and placing women in leadership roles within organizations sends the message that construction work is not only for men.
Getting women involved in skilled trades is a grassroots initiative that has been active for some time. One of the best ways to get more women working in construction is to create incentives for women to complete apprenticeships in construction trades. The construction industry does an excellent job of minimizing the pay gap between men and women in similar roles, and women can enjoy excellent economic benefits when they invest time in learning a construction trade.
Finally, more has to be done to eliminate the gender bias in the current culture of construction. A one-hour orientation on workplace harassment is not a sufficient solution, and more proactive intervention is needed at the managerial level for a firm to create a truly inclusive environment.
Women have a lot to offer to the construction industry as a whole if they can be recruited, trained and accommodated adequately. As the percentage of women in construction climbs, contractors, and global firms can expect to enjoy the many benefits of a more equitable and inclusive corporate culture as well the material benefits of adding women to the workforce.