In honor of Women in Construction Week and International Women's Day, it is the perfect time to celebrate the diversifying workforce and increasing number of women working in the construction field. Women can, and should, continue to play an invaluable and innovative role in the construction workforce, and the opportunities for them are endless.
Despite a growing number of women in construction, it largely remains a male-dominated industry. Women comprise only about 9 percent of the workforce. This likely reflects barriers women face in pursuing such work: the perception that it is "men's work"; less encouragement for girls to pursue math and science in school; unlikeliness of exposure to construction tools during childhood; failure to inform young women of jobs that exist in the trades; discriminatory recruitment practices; and ill-fitting construction gear designed for men, among others. With the expectation that the construction industry will experience significant growth over the next two years and a gender wage gap smaller than any other industry (about 95 percent versus about 80 percent in other industries), there are many opportunities for women to have a satisfying, fulfilling and well-paying career in these industries. Employers also benefit – studies show that by increasing gender diversity, profitability also increases. Construction companies are taking notice and looking for ways to recruit and retain women in the workforce.
But apprenticeships, the traditional stepping stone to break into the construction industry, are still hard for women to obtain. To help break down some of the barriers for women, many states and local governments have developed women-only pre-apprenticeship programs to provide them with the skills necessary to obtain apprenticeships and eventually enter the workforce. These pre-apprenticeship programs provide career opportunities and continued mentoring and support from other successful women in the industry. The curriculums are developed with input from trade unions and are intended to provide a supportive environment where women feel comfortable learning and asking questions. The programs have seen remarkable success, already showing an increase in gender and racial diversity in apprenticeship programs and, ultimately, the construction field in general.
Companies and businesses in the construction field can also implement specific changes to attract and retain women. Examples include developing their own pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs geared towards women, boasting an inclusive and diverse work culture with equal value to both genders, creating a diversity council aimed at increasing the diversity and inclusivity in the culture, involving females in recruiting of new employees, encouraging women to take leadership roles, and enacting family-friendly work policies, such as flex work schedules and aid in obtaining child care. Companies that are committed to diversifying their work force and involving women in all levels of the operation will most certainly reap the reward.
We salute the women in the construction industry and honor the changes and impact they have made.
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