Women in Construction Week, a campaign by The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) to highlight women as a visible component of the construction industry, runs March 4-10. Follow our conversation on Twitter @SkanskaUSA
Today, only 9% of workers in the U.S. construction industry are women. Yes, you read that correctly. It is a relatively small percentage when compared to other industries. Why is that?
There is still somewhat of a perception that the construction industry is only for burly guys with hard hats and shovels, digging and operating heavy machinery in all types of weather. This view of the industry has been around for generations. We’ve all seen the cartoons of big guys whistling as a woman walks down the street or images of guys walking beams high in the sky.
The truth is the industry is not the same business it used to be. Construction jobs continue to grow in complexity and scale. It continues to evolve, with an increasing focus on technology and techniques that can streamline processes, improve safety measures and enhance worker productivity, requiring a more diverse set of skills.
Additionally, jobs in the building trades, engineering and design can be lifelong careers that support families, providing employment with competitive wages. Especially with the tremendous opportunity for infrastructure jobs in the U.S. If you don’t believe me, check out this story on construction boom cities in the U.S.
The perceptions that have continued to linger need to change.
How you can help
There has been a great effort to shift the view of the construction workforce, but we still have a way to go. And now is the time. Especially when you consider the opportunities ahead, and much talked about shortage of skilled labor in the trade. According to an estimate by the Associated Builders and Contractors, there are roughly 500,000 unfilled construction jobs.
As an industry, we need to do a better job educating the younger generations in general about construction career opportunities, but in particular, young women so that we can continue to bring in diverse perspectives to strengthen our teams. Kids are impressionable and watch what we do and say.
In lower and middle school, there is no difference between the sexes in math and science based test scores. The same is true in high school, yet the number of boys taking AP type exams to prepare for further degrees in the math and sciences is greater. Boys outnumber girls 3 to 1 in computer science tests, 1.5 to 1 in Physics and just slightly in Calculus while girls outnumber boys in English, languages and environmental sciences. Women are just as good at math and science as men and just as capable in an engineering field. Let’s encourage and promote young girls in the field.
What the construction industry can start doing today to create a more level playing field:
Volunteer in your local middle and high schools to encourage young women to seek opportunities in the field
Develop and enforce a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy – not only for employers but for everyone on a job site
Connect with women’s organizations and share job and training opportunities to their members
Facilitate mentor opportunities for women joining the industry
Provide more flexible options for young parents and those responsible for taking care of children with special needs or aging parents
Ensure all crew members have properly fitting personal protective equipment
Make it a priority to hire and work with other subcontractors or venders that are women
Ensure that adequate gender-neutral restroom facilities are available on every job site
In honor of Women in Construction Week, below are thoughts from a selection of female Skanska leaders on their experiences, the industry and what they believe it will take to build an equal playing field: