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Why Construction Needs to Hire More Women

Posted: April 23, 2019

Conley Smith, Sr. Business Writer

There is a lot of buzz in today’s construction industry about who will replace retiring older workers and how to attract younger workers. But what is often overlooked in this conversation is whether the construction industry is making inroads into hiring more women to drive greater gender equality.  

Specifically, what is the construction industry doing when it comes to hiring and retaining female workers? Women make up 9% of the construction industry’s workforce, meaning there are only nine women for every 100 employees. By comparison, women comprise 47% of all employees globally, meaning construction only benefits from about 1.25% of the total female workforce.

Closer Look at Critical Labor Shortage

One thing is clear: today’s construction industry is experiencing a severe worker shortage with employers looking to fill an average of nearly 225,000 jobs monthly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Almost 80% of construction businesses report having a hard time finding qualified workers. In 2016, the United States employed around 10.3 million people in the construction industry. Of those 10 million, it is estimated that 99% were male.

Now, consider that the construction industry is expected to grow by at least 3% in 2019 and create almost two million new jobs by 2021. In fact, a new Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) survey notes that 79% of construction firms are planning to expand their headcount in 2019.

Perceptions Hold Women Back from Construction

As noted, less than 9.1% of construction industry jobs are held by women with many being on the administrative or design side, leaving only 1.2% of trade jobs to women. With about one million of the 10 million construction jobs filled by women in the United States, the industry has lots of room to grow when it comes to attracting female workers.

“There’s a perception that it’s not an industry friendly to women,” says Katrina Kersch, chief operating officer of the National Center for Construction Education and Research. Kersch explains that this is due to things like scarcity of images depicting women at work in the industry and the stereotypes of male construction workers as being unwelcoming to women.

Advancement in Construction Easier for Women

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for how to attract more women to construction work. Likewise, there is no one cause for what is preventing women from seeking these good-paying jobs that offer room for advancement. With average wages running as high as $30 an hour, top pay is just one reason for women to consider a construction trade.

But this lack of women participating in the construction sector is not limited to only the U.S. It’s a global phenomenon. For example, women only make up around 12.4% of the United Kingdom’s construction workforce. In Canada, only about 11% of women register to start training apprenticeships. Even in Australia, only 12% of the construction workforce are women and they struggle to retain female workers as they leave the field 39% faster than their male counterparts.

Ironically, even though women represent a smaller number of craft workers, more women are moving into construction leadership roles. It would appear it is not only easier for women to get hired in the wake of the construction labor shortage, but there is also plenty of opportunities for advancement.

Although men hold most leadership roles in the construction industry, there’s evidence that having women in leadership roles can have a beneficial impact on any company. Though women own only around 13% of construction firms, 9% of those firms achieve revenues of over $500,000 or more. Such statistics prove the point that women in leadership roles can have a significant impact on the profitability of any construction business.

Gender Pay Gap is Smaller in Construction

Interestingly, the construction industry supports gender equality more than most other industries. For example, women in the construction industry earn about 95 cents for every dollar a man earns when compared to the average 80 cents for every dollar a man earns in other industries.

Specifically, women in the construction industry make an average of 95.7% of what a man would make doing the same job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s an 18% pay bump compared to other industries. For example, average weekly earnings in 2017 for women in construction were $873 compared to $841 for men. Female construction managers earn $1,423 weekly compared to the $1,439 their male counterparts earned.

In addition, a recent McKinsey study showed that companies that ranked in the top quartile of executive-board diversity were 35% more likely to financially outperform their competition.

Even though women are still underrepresented in construction, there are signs that this trend could be reversing. More companies than ever are hiring and promoting women. Last year, nearly one-third of companies in the field promoted women to senior positions. Of those, a substantial portion of the female executives had been in their roles for at least five years.

Through all the obstacles women encounter breaking into the construction industry and the image of construction as a male-dominated field, women have the potential to make great strides. In fact, hiring more women may just be the key to helping the construction industry resolve its current labor shortage.

Did you know in-demand construction jobs are driving up salaries for all workers? For the second year in a row, construction landed several spots on Indeed’s Top 25 Hot Jobs List. Find out which jobs made the cut, average salaries, and more! Don’t miss our article, Construction Estimators are in High Demand to get up to speed on this hot hiring trend.

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