Women in Construction: Challenges and Improvements
Have you ever wondered why there are so few women in the construction industry? There are a few blaring issues that keep women away from the job site though they are just as capable of excelling at those jobs. Construction may be behind in some ways regarding women in the industry, but it is also one of the closest industries to closing the gender wage gap.
Challenges for Women in Construction
For decades, the amount of women in the construction industry has remained under 3%. It wasn’t until about two years ago that that number increased to 9.9%. What have we been doing wrong for so long and why have we started to see improvement?
Women are the Minority
Women are outnumbered 9 to 1 in construction jobs and many women have reported feeling isolated. Often they will find themselves being the only woman on the job site, which can be intimidating and difficult to overcome. Imagine being the only man or woman in your company. Would you feel as confident voicing your opinion, or even just making a simple mistake? Women often feel like they have to work twice as hard just to prove they are as valuable to their employer as a man in the same position.
Construction workers have been traditionally male, so looking for jobs in construction rarely even crosses womens’ minds as an option. This is partially due to the lack of knowledge, in other words, women don’t realize they are qualified or that there are opportunities available to them. However, it is also apparent that fewer efforts are made to recruit women to work in construction often due to stubborn stereotypes about women’s abilities that make hiring managers less likely to consider women for open positions.
Though not as common, overall, women are less likely to be hired, given fewer hours, and three times more likely to be passed over for a promotion. According to a survey by Randstad, of those passed over for a more senior role, 75% were women compared to 25% men. Women are also being passed over for construction jobs in general at a rate of 73%.
Typically, safety equipment, like hard hats, safety gloves, reflective vests, and flame resistant clothing are built for men’s bodies. They are often oversized on women which can cause problems with dexterity, not to mention safety. Hard hats that don’t fit properly won’t be much protection from falling debris.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that 88% of women in construction reported being sexually harassed, compared to 54% in the workplace overall. Harassment is another way women can feel alienated partly because it is not always dealt with properly which perpetuates the problem. For example, Tierra Williams spoke out about her experience with the construction company she worked for, TradeOff LLC, and received a $1.5 million settlement for her sexual harassment lawsuit. She describes being fired for reporting harassment to their supervisors, who were participating in the harassment as well. Her attorney mentions that “there’s no training, there’s no complaint procedure. There’s no supervision… And there was no one for my clients to complain to. And when they did complain, they would generally get terminated.” Sadly, the majority of women in construction share similar experiences, so it’s no wonder they are afraid to report sexual harassment. About 3 out of 4 individuals who experienced sexual harassment never reported it out of fear of retaliation.
Progress Towards Equality
But it’s not all bad. We’ve also seen major improvements regarding the way sexual harassment is dealt with, how many women are welcomed into the workforce, and how safety equipment is made for women. This makes me believe that there is hope for the future of not only construction, but trades in general.
The number of women in the position of construction manager has grown in the past five years by a staggering 101%, making it the third fastest-growing position for women overall. The industry expects to see even more growth: a 12% increase in women workers by 2026.
New Equipment Available
Heavy machinery operation is a job that can be performed just as well regardless of gender, which is helping make work equality more achievable in the construction industry. What many women don’t realize is that construction is not all heavy lifting and they are just as capable of doing an exceptional job in various positions that they don’t know are available to them.
The biggest improvement in construction, however, is the major difference in wage equality compared to other industries. While the gender wage gap is still present, it is much smaller. On average overall, women are paid 81.1% of what men are paid, while women in construction get paid on average 99.1% of what a man in construction gets paid.
While we still have a long way to go, I think we are moving in the right direction. The construction industry is suffering from a lack of workers, not just a lack of women. We need to work on educating people about options in construction. Educating women about the possibilities available to them is a good way to start.
Women bring a valuable perspective to everything they do, and it is not to be ignored. Since women are striving for recognition and equal treatment in a world that is often dominated by male voices, they often work harder and stay ahead in training for their industry, which could make them an even better choice to hire than some others. So let’s keep making progress towards a more inclusive workplace.
By: Melissa Burns