In 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women made up 10% of construction industry workers. Up until now, the industry has done a poor job of reaching out to women and minorities and encouraging them to pursue a career in construction. And with a severe labor shortage in the industry, now is the time to act.
In 2021, Levelset, a mechanics lien processing company, surveyed 1,001 women in the construction industry about their experiences. One of the biggest frustrations for women is the lack of opportunity for advancement. “The glass ceiling is very real for smart women in technical positions,” said a manager for a California general contractor.
Women also feel that they aren’t respected as much as their male counterparts, especially in the field. “I am very good at my job and I do it well,” said one office administrator who works for a general contractor in Minnesota, “but in this industry, I am spoken to like a child a lot of the time. It’s assumed I don’t know what I’m doing and that is very frustrating. I love this industry and I see potential for so much growth and I really want to be a part of that, but it’s going to take a long time to shift the thinking that this is just a man’s industry.”
According to the survey, 59% said fewer than 1 in 20 women are in leadership roles where they work. That translates to less than 5% of leaders in the construction industry being women. “At all the jobs I have held in construction the opportunity to advance has been limited because the CFO has always been married to or has been somehow related to the owner of the company,” said an administrative assistant for a subcontractor in South Carolina. “It limits growth in the traditionally women-held jobs in construction.”
The events of the past year and a half brought the subject of inclusion and diversity to the forefront for the nation. Looking at the statistics above, it’s clear we still have a long way to go before we can claim to have a diverse workforce. The good news is, there are concrete steps that we can take today to encourage women to become a part of the industry.
Encourage diversity in contracts
In federal and state-funded projects, minority and women-owned businesses are given preference over other contractors and suppliers. Contractors are encouraged to reach out to minority-owned businesses to solicit bids. Some projects even have quotas that have to be met when it comes to contracting with minority companies. Some companies, like McDonald’s, are asking contractors to report their use of minority-owned companies on construction projects.
Expanding these requirements to use minority contractors and suppliers for private projects would encourage contractors to hire more minority companies. Some project owners, like the City of Portland, also track the gender and ethnicity of workers on site, encouraging diversity in field crews as well.
Support professional development
To encourage women to advance in their positions, companies should offer professional development opportunities to expand their skill sets. These opportunities could include workshops, classes, or on-the-job training. There are many organizations that provide professional development for women, like the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). With chapters across the nation, women can participate in local, regional, and national conferences to learn more about the industry and the latest trends.
Mortenson’s Business Development Manager – Community Engagement, Alejandra Spray says, “We start identifying those people who show potential and want to keep growing. We identify people not based on their present title, but how hard they are working, how they rally the troops, how they inspire others, and if they have the desire to be more.” By identifying good workers early, they can be encouraged and taught the skills they need to continue moving up to positions with more responsibility.
Support networking opportunities
Meeting other women in the industry is beneficial for women at all levels. Networking allows them to learn more about the possibilities in their field and about how other companies handle issues and their processes. The key to getting the most out of these groups is to participate. When workers get involved in events, fundraisers, and other activities, they learn new skills, such as public speaking and leadership. They also benefit from getting involved in their community.
There are many professional organizations for workers in different skill sets, like engineers and architects, construction financial managers, women in trades, and unions. Other networking groups include local marketing groups, chambers of commerce, charity boards, and other volunteer opportunities.
Support mentoring programs
Mentorship is key for women who wish to advance their careers. It offers the opportunity for support and someone to challenge them to meet their career goals. “Mentorship is really a key part of the success of women in the industry,” said Anne Pfleger, President of the National Association of Women in Construction. “[Mentoring] can rejuvenate your career at any stage, it improves your personal productivity, it strengthens leadership skills, and it also increases career satisfaction.”
If women are unable to find suitable mentors within their company, management should help them locate groups or individuals that could help them along their career path. Companies should support regular mentor meetings and provide professional opportunities to help them meet their career goals.
Keep making progress
Above all, construction companies need to continue moving the needle when it comes to encouraging a diverse workforce. We need to continue to look for ways to attract and engage women in the industry.
“We are all human and we all want to succeed,” says Mortensen’s Spray. “I hope we can get to that place because I just love this industry. I love driving downtown and telling my kids I was part of that project, or when one of my mentees gets a promotion. There are so many rewards in the industry, and I’m going to keep fighting for more people to be given the opportunity to see the benefits of those rewards.”
Dawn Killough is a construction writer with over 20 years of experience with construction payments, from the perspectives of subcontractors and general contractors. Dawn has held roles such as a staff accountant, green building advisor, project assistant, and contract administrator. Her work for general contractors, design firms, and subcontractors has even led to the publication of blogs on several construction tech websites and her book, Green Building Design 101.