Thinking of a career in construction? Why more women are drawn to the industry, and the challenges they face

Are you considering a career in construction? Why more women are drawn to the industry, the challenges they face and the support available.

It’s almost impossible to go a single day without driving by a jobsite or spotting a crane somewhere on the horizon. That’s hardly surprising, considering the US construction industry saw over 300 billion dollars in new construction in 2019 alone. 

In a thriving industry consisting of over 11.2 million workers, opportunities for growth and expansion are endless. Yet, construction is still one of the most male-dominated professions in the world. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up only 10% of the construction workforce, crossing the 1 million employees threshold again in 2018, a full decade after the recession saw numbers start to decline. In reality, this works out to many females being the only woman on a jobsite for every 100 construction workers.

But it’s progress, and the field is steadily becoming a lucrative and rewarding career option for professional women. 

We’re taking a look at some of the growing opportunities for women in construction, as well as how they’re overcoming obstacles to find their ideal roles and carve a path for themselves and future generations.

What types of jobs do women in construction typically have?

While the total number of women working for construction firms is increasing, the positions that they hold are still largely administrative and office-based rather than hands-on roles on the jobsite. 

In a study of jobs held by women in the construction workforce, the breakdown was: 

  • 45% sales and office
  • 31% management
  • 21% construction and maintenance
  • 1.5% service occupations
  • 1.4% transportation

Those hoping to climb the ladder and progress into leadership roles most commonly find themselves in project management or administrative occupations, particularly within real estate. 

The number of tradeswomen (those working in hands-on roles as general contractors or subcontractors) currently stands at only 2.5% of total construction industry employees. However, the tide is beginning to turn.

Between 2014 and 2019, there was a 64% rise in women-owned construction firms to now account for 13% of the industry as a whole. The opportunities are there and they’re growing—for good reason too. 

After spending the better part of a decade rebuilding itself from the 2008 recession, the construction industry is now facing a new kind of crisis: a significant labor shortage for skilled craftspeople. 

For many young adults, college and a four-year degree are strongly encouraged over skills-based apprenticeships with electricians, plumbers, and other construction jobs. With 41% of the current construction workforce anticipated to retire by 2031, the US could be in demand of over one million craft professionals in the next 10 years. 

Creating positions for women on the jobsite and then training and supporting them as they don their hard hats, is the only way for the industry to survive. But first, there are a number of challenges to overcome as the construction industry aims to diversify and broaden its workforce.

What challenges do women face in the construction industry?

Construction isn’t an easy career field, and that’s especially true for women. They face a number of unique challenges in the industry. Let’s dig into a few of the biggest ones. 

1) Pay gaps

It’s tough to have a conversation about women in any field without mentioning pay disparity. The national gender pay gap across all industries is 81-82%, but fortunately, for women in construction, things are looking up. 

On average, they typically earn 99.1% of what their male counterparts are making. But for women of color, this drops even further to 81% for Black women and 53.3% for Hispanic women. While there’s still a long way to go when it comes to equal pay for equal work, the discrimination faced by women in the workplace doesn’t end there.

2) Gender bias

Gender bias, particularly when it comes to recruitment and training, is still a significant issue for women looking to advance in construction. Industry-wide, less than 8% of those working in construction management are women and, in one study, 60% of employees who reported gender discrimination at work were women.

There’s still significant work left to do here and improving company culture should be a primary goal for every construction company in order to make tangible and lasting improvements.

Diversifying across all levels of an organization goes hand-in-hand with reframing company culture when it comes to building a thriving business. With already low percentages of women in the construction workforce, it’s hardly surprising that leadership still largely falls to men. 

Without female role models in senior positions, young women are often discouraged from applying for promotions or even looking for work in the field to begin with.

But this also offers women already in the industry even more opportunity to look for advancement and step into leadership positions, providing ongoing support and mentorship for their coworkers. They play a crucial role in eliminating the existing challenges in the workforce, along with helping to retain the top employees thanks to their contributions in recruitment and training.

3) Safety 

Adequate training also extends to the jobsite, particularly when it comes to safety. 

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the construction industry is one of the most dangerous in the country. Roughly three and a half per 100,000 full-time workers died on the job in 2019, with 20% of worker fatalities in private industry being in construction–accounting for one in five worker deaths that year. When it comes to jobsite injuries, construction sees 71% more non-fatal injuries than any other industry in the country.

All workers have the right to feel safe and protected at their workplace. The New York Committee For Occupational Safety and Health reported in 2014 that, although overall rates of women injured at work were lower than men, this could be accounted for in the proportionate levels of male to female employees. 

Injuries acquired by women workers are mostly due to lack of suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), with safety goggles, gloves, hats, harnesses, and respiratory equipment often too large for many women to safely wear.

Not only is this ill-fitting equipment uncomfortable, but it puts women at a much greater risk of injury. Poor sanitary facilities for women employees on jobsites also contributes to a large number of health issues for female construction workers.

Are there any resources to specifically support women looking for construction jobs?

The challenges facing women in the construction industry are still numerous, but a number of resources, nonprofit organizations, and support systems are now working toward industry-wide improvements.

1) National Association of Women in Construction 

The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) is a nationwide organization that lists networking, apprenticeship, and employment opportunities for women looking to start a career in construction. Their annual Women in Construction Week, or WIC, continues to grow every year as more women join the industry.

The goal is to “highlight women as a viable component of the construction industry [and] provide an occasion…to raise awareness of the opportunities available for women…and emphasize the growing role of women in the industry.” 

NAWIC also works closely with schools and local chapters to provide scholarships and educational opportunities, allowing women across the country to see a career in construction as a viable option.

2) Women Contractors Association 

The Women Contractors Association (WCA) is also a rapidly growing organization, offering monthly networking events and resources to women business owners and executives that can help them to grow their business. 

3) Women Construction Owners and Executives

Similarly the Women Construction Owners and Executives (WCOE) USA organization advocates for women business owners in the construction industry, providing resources to grow each member’s professional development and network.

They also assist women in advancing within the industry and support them in finding executive management positions across the country. The WCOE also works to create legislative networks across the US to “monitor and pursue legislative advances for the business and constructive community.”

4) Online networking groups

Women have also found a home in online networking groups, particularly when searching for new jobs and industry training. Linkedin groups like the Women in Construction World Series offer training through conferences and webinar updates to support women working in construction in ways that extend beyond typical workplace resources.

How can you support diversifying the construction industry within your own business?

Hiring women to join your construction business has plenty of benefits. Studies even suggest that greater diversity across teams creates higher revenue, profits, and market value. 

Like any other employee, women can bring desirable qualifications and skills to your company, both as administrators, like project managers, and sales directors, and in more physical roles as contractors and jobsite workers.

By creating inclusive job listings, reaching out to women in your communities, and providing ongoing training and support for the candidates that you hire, greater opportunities will be made for women to build exciting careers in the construction industry. 

You’ll help fight against existing stereotypes and significant challenges that women face in the field, ultimately creating an exceptional team that’s focused on hard work and great results.

Kat is a Contributor at Hourly, a people platform that helps small businesses save time and money by seamlessly connecting the dots between workers’ compensation insurance, time cards, and payroll.

Photo by Jason Yoder