Making room for more women in construction

Bringing more women into the construction industry could end the labor shortage
(Photo: Khwanchai Phanthong, Dreamstime)

Construction is one of the fastest-growing occupations of the decade. Between 2016 and 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the industry to add more than 7.5 million jobs. At the same time, while women make up roughly half of the general workforce, they only represent 9.1% of the construction industry.

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Despite steps to improve equality, construction is still very much an old boy’s club. What steps can you take to improve workplace equality and make more room for women in the construction sector? Here are some ideas:

  1. Make your job listing inclusive or gender neutral. Most of the construction industry is male. This fact often leads business leaders to gear their recruitment tactics toward bringing in more of the same. How many times have you seen a job listing for a position with a construction company that uses gendered language or pronouns specifically targeting men? An easy switch is to work on creating inclusive and gender-neutral listings. 

    Try writing in first and second person instead of third — using “we” and “you” instead of “they.” Be careful about the descriptive words you choose. You might be looking for someone who is outspoken or competitive, but these are words most often associated with men rather than women. In the interview process, your hiring team could very well let these subconscious biases work against your goals if you don’t know to look for them. 

  1. Change up your recruiting strategies. Contractors may be ready to hire more women, but it’s hard to do so if you get few applications. That’s why it’s important to think through your team’s recruitment strategies and look for opportunities to branch out. While you might find good candidates through team referrals, for example, sticking to this strategy means you’re unlikely to reach any workers outside of existing networks.

    Local trade schools and women’s trade organizations may be great partners to consult with when you have jobs to post. You can also try posting openings on more community boards or working with local workforce development programs to find eager-to-learn candidates of all stripes.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to add headhunting to your recruitment arsenal. You might think of headhunting as something that only white-collar hiring managers do, but it can be a valuable tool for the construction industry as well. If you see a candidate that looks like they would make a good addition to your team, reach out and let them know you’re impressed with their skills and would like to talk to them about a career opportunity. 

  1. Offer women the same opportunities that men receive. Why aren’t more women joining the industry? The answer is complicated, but part of the equation is the need to break down the barriers to advancement in the industry. That means offering the same pay, benefits and opportunities for advancement that their male counterparts get. If the women currently in building don’t have a chance to rise, there will be fewer mentors for the women looking to enter the industry.

    This isn’t to say you need to put unskilled individuals — of either gender — into a position they’re not qualified for. Just make sure that all training, performance metrics and on-the-job opportunities are the same for everyone, regardless of their gender. 

  1. Say no to stereotypes. Stereotypes don’t help anyone, and clinging to them can turn even the most inclusive worksite hostile for your targets. Women are just as capable of working and thriving in the construction industry as their male counterparts. Forget the stereotypes. Don’t relegate women to positions in administration or office work. If a trained female welder comes to you looking for a job and you need a welder onsite, your decision process should be pretty clear. 

    The same thing goes for the men on your crew. Stereotypes are hurtful and harmful, and have no place on your job site. 

  1. Provide properly fitting personal protective equipment. This point is one caveat many construction companies overlook. While women might be fully capable of completing the same jobs as men with the same level of skill, the two genders are built differently. Most personal protective equipment (PPE) is advertised as one size fits all — as long as that “all” matches the average male body measurements.

    No one should have to work in environments where they don’t feel safe. If you’re trying to bring more women onto your crew, make sure they have PPE designed and manufactured for average female measurements. As with all PPE, this should be maintained and replaced as necessary to keep employees safe on the job.

Bringing more women into the construction industry could end the labor shortage and turn the sector into a more productive and efficient place. If you’re struggling to attract qualified candidates, consider some of these changes to make your company — and the industry as a whole — more welcoming for women who are interested in exploring a career in the field. 


Holly Welles

Holly Welles is a writer with a focus on construction and real estate. She writes for Construction Executive, Trimble and other industry publications. Find more of her work on her own blog, The Estate Update, or reach out on Twitter.

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