In the United States, there’s a labor shortage within the construction industry. As demand rises, professionals are struggling to stay ahead of the curve and fill positions. Despite the high demand and fast-growing job outlook, women represent only 10.9% of the construction labor force.
Here are six ways leaders can begin addressing this issue today.
1. Start early
From a young age, adults ask children what they want to be when they grow up. While it’s a seemingly innocent question, it can have unintended consequences. In primary school, very few kids know what jobs are available to them. They’ll likely be able to recognize a few around town, but many have only a vague understanding of the career possibilities that await them.
Besides a lack of awareness, many kids’ perceptions become distorted by gender stereotypes. Young girls may not know that construction is a viable career choice for their future, especially if all of the information is directed at young men.
Teachers and industry leaders need to begin spreading awareness through education from a young age. Anyone with a passion for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) should know the opportunities available to them, regardless of their sex.
Similarly, educational placements and job shadowing opportunities should be available to students to spark their interest and explain the nuances of the vast construction industry. When encouraged to complete construction-geared assignments, more women may discover a passion for the field.
2. Spark conversation about gender concerns
March celebrates Women in Construction Week, a great time to create conversation about the successes of women in the field. If leaders choose to spark conversation about women’s benefits and accomplishments, they can start working within their organization to revise hiring, training and promotion practices where needed.
While unpleasant, it’s also a good opportunity to address industry issues in regard to gender. Workplace harassment and stereotyping are genuine issues that women think about long before they enter the workforce. If inappropriate behavior is swept under the rug, it’ll be extremely difficult to change both genders’ viewpoints within the construction industry.
Unfair practices have a ripple effect that’s felt throughout a woman’s entire career. Gender stereotyping often leads to a lack of support, trust and opportunities. For example, if male managers believe a woman will move slower to complete a specific task — or get injured — they’ll be less likely to offer her extensive training on the job.
Even if well-intentioned, these actions can increase the gender gap and invite workplace harassment from male counterparts who may feel the woman isn’t pulling her weight. Bringing these disparities to light is the first step in creating actionable change. Identifying cultural barriers to success is a priority for any workplace.
3. Provide inclusive PPE
Besides needing to overcome archaic mindsets and stereotypes, women also face physical barriers within the industry.
Companies traditionally design the vast majority of personal protective equipment (PPE) with men in mind, and the same applies to tools. When equipment and gear fit men better than women, it puts women at a disadvantage. The PPE may not work effectively, and the design differences may slow women who are attempting to complete the same jobs as men.
To mitigate this structural challenge, companies must provide PPE that’s inclusive for their employees. Women shouldn’t have to use oversized, ill-fitting products because organizations haven’t prioritized purchasing the appropriate supplies. While this may impact a company’s bottom line, it’ll open it up to greater workforce diversity.
4. Encourage diverse hiring practices
More women are obtaining a college education than men, which should be reflected in job opportunities. Hiring managers can no longer excuse their workplace lack of diversity for lack of talent, education or availability.
With such a vast number of degree fields, women have the experience necessary to become a value-adding part of the construction industry. Leaders need to begin marketing to women and encouraging diverse hiring practices. This might include eliminating any gender-specific wording from job notices and reaching out to women’s trade organizations for leads on applicants.
Finally, construction recruiters should let go of old-fashioned conceptions about what work women are and aren’t capable of on a construction site. More work than ever involves project management, equipment operation and other technical skills unrelated to brute strength. For example, a skilled operator can save 10-12% more fuel per day than an inexperienced one, but size doesn’t factor in at all. Foreground training and eagerness to learn in work requirements.
5. Highlight the benefits
Buy-in is crucial to change. Leaders must highlight the numerous benefits women bring to the industry if they hope to improve standards and increase diversity. Besides enhancing a company’s reputation, women offer various perspectives that can lead to better client-contractor relationships.
For one, workplace diversity encourages productivity and increases overall performance. When working with an inclusive company, clients know they’re likely to receive transparency and support from teams with strong communication and workplace practices.
Secondly, research shows that diversity also provides financial benefits for firms. Companies that embrace diversity are 70% more likely to capture new markets than competing organizations. Those with gender diversity in the upper echelons of management were more likely to have above-average profits. Construction teams might increasingly struggle to compete without efforts to innovate hiring and training practices.
6. Develop mentorship programs
Over the years, groups of women have banded together to form The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and the Federation of Women Contractors (FWC).
While these communities have taken great strides to increase women’s opportunities and offer support, there ought to be more programs available. Mentorship programs have the chance to bridge the gap between genders and promote healthy progression and growth for women within companies.
Construction firms who have women in more advanced positions can work to connect workers with mentorship opportunities to help them learn from predecessors. Networking with aforementioned trade groups can also help fill in mentorship gaps by creating connections that many women entering construction have trouble finding access to.
Overcoming obstacles for women in construction
By implementing these six changes, organizations can begin ending structural challenges for women in construction. In today’s society, there’s no excuse for the overwhelming gender gap to continue. Looking forward, each person has a role to play to advance the industry and meet demand.