Women are the answer to the construction industry’s labor shortage, but getting them on your team could be a challenge. Here's how to attract and hire more female construction workers and why you absolutely need them to stay ahead of the curve.
According to a 2018 report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction is predicted to be one of the fastest growing job sectors through 2026. Problem is, there aren't enough skilled workers to fill those positions.
One reason for that is because historically, women have been almost completely left out of the construction workforce. Today, women account for less than 3% of construction jobs despite the fact that they have important skills that could greatly benefit the industry.
If you're ready to get the right women for your construction team, you'll have to find a way to bypass some of the industry's longest-standing hurdles first.
Why hiring more tradeswomen is great for your construction business (and pretty much everyone)
Let's get one thing straight. The fact that women now hold key positions in many industries doesn’t mean we've won the war gender equality—not by a long shot.
2017 research shows sexism prevents roughly a third of women from seeking senior positions in construction. Clearly, we've still got a long way to go.
So, why should you care?
Well, since the industry’s number one issue is labor shortage and since women make up roughly half of the workforce, the answer is right there in the math: more tradeswomen means more awesome talent for your construction business. 🙋
But attracting more women to the industry isn't just the right thing to do, it's also great for your bottom line.
In fact, research shows that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors. And in today's tight labor market, opening the doors to more women could be the ace in your sleeve.
How to get more women on your construction teams
When asked about the underrepresentation of women in the trades, Chief Operating Officer of the National Center for Construction Education and Research, Katrina Kersch, said what we're all thinking, “There’s a perception that it’s not an industry friendly to women.”
She’s right. Images of catcalling construction workers whistling at every woman who passes by still plague the industry. And thanks to career stereotyping, women are conditioned to pursue careers as nurses and teachers, not builders and tradespeople.
It may take decades until the construction industry is able to successfully shed its "manly" image, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a female-friendly environment, starting now.
Start with culture
In an interview for Constructor Magazine, Brynn Huneke, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Associated General Contractors of America highlights, “The most important thing a company can do to recruit and retain women is build and promote an inclusive workplace culture.”
Here are some things to think about:
- Do most of the people at your company look alike?
- Which teams or departments are starved for female talent?
- Do you regularly hear inappropriate jokes at work?
- Are there safe, anonymous ways to report inappropriate behavior?
Cultural change is hard and the temptation to bury your head in the sand can feel very real. But companies with inclusive talent practices are known to generate up to 30% higher revenue per employee. Commit to change and you may be surprised by how much it pays off.
Be an early adopter
In a historic industry development, female members of the Iron Workers Union now receive six months of paid maternity leave.
"We are very proud to be the first to introduce a paid maternity program in the building trades. It's about time we make our industry a level playing field for women and make diversity and inclusion a priority," said Eric Dean, Iron Workers Union General President.
The fact is, change is coming with or without you. So why not get on board?
Here are a few ways to make your perks more inclusive:
- Promote flex or remote working opportunities
- Provide plenty of options for paid leave
- Extend the length of your maternity leave
- Offer childcare, childcare subsidies or flexible spending accounts
Work-life balance is key for working women, especially moms. Boston-based general contractor Shawmut realized they were losing some of their top talent due to a lack of appropriate benefits. “We were losing good employees. [Women] weren’t here long enough to make it to the senior ranks,” says Marianne Monte, the company’s Chief People Officer.
Shawmut now offers a month of paid time off when a worker (male or female) has or adopts a child, or needs to look after a sick family member. They also offer remote and flex scheduling options through their Shawmut Flex program.
Close the gap for good
Finally, your commitment to the future of women in construction will show up in one crucial area: training and education.
Companies who work closely with local trade schools and universities to design women-focused apprentice programs will be the ones who succeed in attracting a steady stream of tradeswomen—and collecting all the business-boosting rewards that come along with it.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Partner with a local school or university to encourage student awareness
- Create in-house mentorship and apprenticeship programs for female employees
- Sponsor a local event for girls and women
- Lobby Congress to support skilled trades training
In one awesome example, construction software company Autodesk is leading the charge for change by promoting programs like Girls with Drills and Girls Garage in the hope that these hands-on initiatives will take us one step closer to ending the construction industry gender gap once and for all.
Not your father's industry
In an industry too often described as "hostile" toward women, bold employers are daring to make historic inroads for this underrepresented group.
If you want to join the ranks of these proactive builders and start filling your headcount with skilled workers ready to do the job right, make a pledge today to try just one of the above suggestions.
And to learn more about the many benefits women can bring to your construction team, check out National Women in Construction Week at your local National Association of Women in Construction chapter.
Because ready or not, things are changing. And in the construction business of tomorrow, there are plenty of opportunities for everyone. Or, as Brian Turmail, AGC Director of Public Affairs so beautifully puts it, “We need to do a better job of telling the story of all the opportunities that exist in this industry. It’s not your father’s industry anymore."