Worker shortages, new opportunities and a surprisingly narrow gender pay gap
The opportunities and demand for women in residential construction have never been greater, even if growth is happening at a snail’s pace.
According to the National Association of Homebuilders, the number of women working in the construction industry increased slightly last year, rising to 11% of the overall construction workforce from 10.9% in 2020. It is the highest share of women in the construction workforce on record. The Washington Post recently reported the number of women in construction as 14% of the population in general.
Most women in the industry work in office and administrative positions, with less than 4% actively working in the skilled trades. According to census data, women in the construction are primarily working in the capacities of office and administrative support, management, business and financial operations. Sales and office occupations employed the largest number of women within the construction industry. Women accounted for 71% of workers in sales and office occupations, including 440,000 women in office and administrative support, and 40,000 in sales and related occupations in 2021. Approximately 460,000 women were involved in management, professional, and related occupations in the industry, taking up only 17% of all management positions overall.
Challenges and Opportunities
According to the Associated Builders and Contractors trade association, the industry is short 650,000 workers this year — and that’s if the industry continues to hire at its normal pace. The shortage is aggravated by two widely publicized statistics (which are based on research data that is 5-15 years old): The average construction worker retires at 61 and currently 1 in 5 are older than 55.
Colorado’s construction industry workforce basically faces three main challenges: aging workers, a robust housing market and significant under-representation of women construction workers.
The skilled labor shortage has created opportunities for more inclusion, diversity and equality in the building industry. The gender gap is (marginally) improving, and more women are saying they want to do the work.
Successful workforce development programs and visibility are key to women being included more in the ever-evolving construction business, including recruitment and retention programs.
Narrow Gender Pay Gap
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the gender wage gap in the construction industry is one of the narrowest out there. Female construction worker earnings in 2019 were 94.3% of a male worker’s weekly median pay ($862 a week for women and $914 for men) based on 2019 median weekly pay data. For all occupations in general, women made 81.5% what men made. This is good news for women in construction.
Insights from Successful Women in Construction
We spoke with several women in the industry to get their thoughts on the challenges, opportunities and outlook for women in construction.
Audree M. Grubesic, owner and founder, Modular Sure Site
Audree Grubesic is the owner of Modular Sure Site, an off-site construction management service company. She has first-hand experience of project management on site using off-site solutions. Over the past 25 years, she has excelled in marketing, sales, new business development and homebuilding. This experience has led her to create a niche in the modular construction industry. Her specialty is modular residential and commercial consulting, along with management services including full team development.
Grubesic’s large offsite network has evolved by collaborating with experts in the industry through the media platform OffsiteDirt.com. She has also created a bi-monthly video series. The goal is to bring together experts to discuss projects, technology, education, events and trends.
She seeks to improve the modular construction process, create a positive work culture and positive mindset, automate systems, and continue to learn and collaborate with technology-driven services, leaders and innovative companies. Being a woman-owned business in construction and managing projects on-site has allowed her to communicate plainly with her clients about the build process and construction details and to make them feel at ease for future site-work questions.
In Her Words: Women are looking for an ability to create and build and also have a lifetime career. In construction, there are so many different facets of it, and it doesn’t mean you have to have a hammer in your hand in order to have a construction company. Women in general are more able to do so many different things in so many different ways. We don’t have to have one skill set.
This is an expanding marketplace. This isn’t a narrow niche where you have so much competition. This is an expanding market where you have so much opportunity.
We have five million homes that need to be built today to service the population just in the United States. It’s an endless open window for women to really explore and build. It’s a magical opportunity for them.
I see huge amounts of change in the industry. I actually think women are getting paid more money in this industry than others, only because if you are in the trade base and looking to go in that route, there’s so much demand for these individuals that a lot of people are creating apprentice programs. Then, in two years, they’re also offering them the same amount of money that they’re paying their men counterparts. In offsite construction, it’s even larger because there’s so few of us in it.
Off-site construction encompasses containers and volumetric or modular, panelization, pods, single trade, multi-family—or multi-trade—MEP boxes. There is a whole wave of building smarter, not harder.
I’d love more women to start seeking an opportunity in this higher level of building science, high performance or off-site solutions.
Amy Abeyta, vice president of national builder sales, Colton Mortgage
Amy Abeyta is a board member with the Home Builders Association (HBA) of Metro Denver as well as a chairperson of its Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council. The PWB Council is dedicated to promoting, enhancing and supporting home building and women within the industry by providing professional development resources, encouraging community involvement, and providing networking opportunities with industry leaders.
In Her Words: Yes, our industry as a whole needs skilled labor, but there is an absolute lack of female representation out on the job site. And I think that a lot of it is just women not understanding what their opportunity is.
I think that a lot of those old-boy dynamics have really changed, and our industry really, as a whole, wants to embrace this. I think it’s just more about educating women now and showing them what opportunities are available and then advocating for them.
If we really want to engage women in skilled labor and trades, we need to do it from an early education standpoint. We have so many great home building academies and schools within Colorado, and that is a tremendous resource.
Let girls know that these opportunities exist, and that it’s an environment that welcomes girls who are interested in shop and creating and building and design.
I remember stepping onto my first construction site and feeling totally inadequate. I learned very quickly through great mentors and just great people on site how to walk onto a construction site that’s full of men and be a presence and add value and have confidence in yourself and what you’re able to contribute.
In my previous role, I ran a division of trade specialists that sold, serviced and installed fireplaces, bath, hardware, mirrors, shower doors. So in my previous role, I spent a ton of time out on site.
And I would say once I gained that confidence and understanding of job site etiquette, safety regulations and things like that, I really did find that my project managers and superintendents embraced me and welcomed me out on site.
And I was able to go there and provide value and do my job. I love it. I still have a hard hat and boots!
I think one of the things that was important to me to build confidence when I went out on site is that I really needed to know my stuff. I needed to be comfortable with the tape measure, be confident in understanding specifications and just things that were related to my craft and making sure that I knew that I understood the dynamics, I understood my product, and I understood the installation values and specifications. That all helped me to build that confidence out on site.
If a young woman is passionate about wanting to be part of the process of building homes and creating environments where people live and love and laugh, they should absolutely pursue that and know that there are other women out there who are absolutely going to advocate for them.
I think that’s the biggest advantage I had when I came into the construction industry. It was really finding the professional women in building and meeting all the ladies that work together to provide education and development and resources and are just there to be a sounding board.
Carol Brzozowski, independent journalist and Colorado Builder feature writer
Carol Brzozowski is a longstanding construction writer in the field. She holds multiple awards for her journalism, including 2022 and 2020 Folio Eddie and Ozzie awards and 2022 AZBEE National Bronze and Mid-Atlantic Region Silver awards.
• I am hopeful and astounded by women’s representation in the construction workplace.
• I attribute my success to the fact that I was a reporter in a newsroom for 10 years. I don’t need any hand holding and I am a professional.
• Pay attention to your reputation and work ethic.
• I am happy we have a seat at the table.
• I am equally discouraged that we still are having this conversation about gender.
• Be gender agnostic. What is the talent that you bring? Your gender shouldn’t matter but it still does.
• My words of inspiration to readers would be to join associations, be professional, get involved and stay connected. Get your foot in the door, whether you are male or female.