The State of Women in the Construction Industry in 2020


By: Holly Welles,

Women have been getting into more diverse fields over the last few decades. Maybe the trend is because of changing ideologies or the economic situation, or maybe there's just a need for more workers in these areas. Whatever the reason, women are starting to put their marks in industries that were previously dominated by men. 

The construction industry has changed a lot in the last decade. Rapidly advancing technology has created a lot more positions to be filled, and gender is not an issue. All around the world, women have stepped up to fill those vacant roles.

Changes in Construction Employment Over the Decades

Women in construction have been rising in numbers since 1985. Things peaked in 2006 when there were 1.1 million women in the construction industry in the United States. 

In subsequent years, the numbers have fluctuated, likely due to the economic crisis in America after 2008. As of 2017, when an estimated 971,000 women worked in construction, 9.1% of them made up the entire industry in the United States.

Around the world, the numbers are slightly different and speak to the possibility of changes in U.S. recruitment and retention. Currently, Australia leads the way with 15.9% of the construction workforce being women. Japan falls close behind, with women making up 15% of the industry. These numbers are impressive considering the significant gap seen in North America.

Increasing Wages and Incentives

While not a very large demographic, women in construction still make 95.7% of the pay their male counterparts earn. This wage gap is in stark contrast to the 82% that's seen across all industries in entirety. For women, construction offers a lot of opportunities that most other male-dominated fields seem to be less able to provide.

Some of these extra incentives were helped along by organizations like NEW, Nontraditional Employment for Women, which was established in New York City in 1978 for low-income women. Across the United States and around the world, there are workforce development programs like NEW that open the door for women wanting to break into these industries. 

They exist not only to help women enter these roles but also to build these industries up by looking beyond gender and toward the bigger picture.

Acceptance in the Construction Industry

In a 2019 CNBC story by Courtney Connley, Amanda Gray, national architectural and commercial account manager for The Dow Chemical Co., shared stories about trying to prove her authority during meetings. She said that in those instances, most of the men support her in the face of demeaning behavior. 

In response to one situation where a male consultant tried to quiz her on basic construction knowledge, she said, "The good thing is I had built credibility with these people in the past and someone stepped in and said, 'I can't believe you would ask her that question.'"

Acceptance among co-workers is a hit-or-miss venture that must be carried out one step at a time. Women undoubtedly will continue to face challenges in a male-dominated workforce. Fortunately, the industry is increasingly accepting women and providing the tools they need to thrive. 

This can be seen in the increase in supplies aimed to meet women’s needs. Recently, there have been pushes to provide more lines of safety apparel made for female construction workers specifically, such as gloves, hard hats, and softshell jackets. This equipment must fit correctly, or it could become a detriment to safety rather than an aid. When these supplies aren’t available, companies send the message that they aren’t prepared to hire women.

Recruiting and Retaining More Women in Construction

The construction labor shortage has made rethinking recruitment efforts a necessity. This also makes the time ripe for organizations to further explore how to help women find success in the construction workforce.

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum has recently launched a task force comprised of 48 organization representatives across the trades. Their strategy is to supply companies and colleges with best practices to increase the participation and retention of women in these programs. Then, they hope to track outcomes and provide actionable data on strategies discussed for years.

Construction and trade organizations can start taking real action in 2020 to encourage more women to join their ranks. The National Association of Women in Construction, for example, partners with several councils, education programs and associations to develop training and education initiatives.

Companies can revisit their apprenticeship, training, and recruitment initiatives to evaluate how they work with established best practices. Cultural changes like removing gendered language from job listings, developing family-friendly benefits and creating inclusive branding can help women feel that these career opportunities speak to their needs and professional goals.

Looking Toward 2020

Assuming the economy and demand for construction continues as it has been for the last decade, we're likely to see a lot more women in the industry. By the early 2020s, the number could reach beyond the 2006 figure of over 1 million. 

The change is slow but progressing at a steady pace. Moving one step at a time keeps us going forward.


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