Women in Construction Week, which was started by the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) in 1998, will be celebrated March 5th-11th this year. It aims to recognize the important role women play in the industry, highlight their achievements, and help promote opportunities for women in construction.
During Women in Construction Week, various events and activities are organized around the country. Women in the industry come together to share their stories and help highlight the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in construction. While these efforts help boost women in construction, their reach extends further to help address challenges throughout the industry.
Addressing the qualified worker shortage
The construction industry has long suffered from a qualified worker shortage. The 2023 Construction Hiring and Business Outlook Sage sponsored with the Associated General Contractors of America found that 80% of firms surveyed are having a hard time filling positions, and the majority think it will remain hard or get even harder to fill positions in the coming year. This has made it clear that construction businesses cannot thrive in today’s environment with a business-as-usual mentality. Businesses must look for new ways to retain and attract workers. This is especially critical as workers are leaving the industry at a faster rate than new hires are being brought in.
A key piece to solving this hiring crisis will be attracting new, diverse candidates that have been traditionally underrepresented in the industry, such as women. Women made up only 10.9% of the entire construction workforce in 2022. The good news for women considering a career in construction, is that there is a lot of opportunity and room for growth, including plenty of management positions. The gender pay gap is also smaller in the industry. On average, women make 82.9% of what men make, while in construction women earn on average 95.5% of what men make. While this is a good start, there is of course work to be done until we have complete gender pay equality.
A stellar role model
During an “Inclusion in Construction” session at Procore Groundbreak last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer Price, the first female superintendent at Samet Corporation. Samet is a Sage customer (using Sage 300 Construction and Real Estate and Sage Estimating) and a leading contractor in the Southeast, headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Samet team has made inclusion a recruitment priority – women now account for around 20% of its workforce, and they are just getting started.
Jennifer has more than 20 years of experience in the industry. She’s come a long way since her first internship where she was yelled at to get off the job site by a burly superintendent. Her passion for construction comes across instantly as she shares stories that helped shape her into the confident and empowered construction leader she is today. Our team recently had a chance to speak with Jennifer about her experience in construction and how we can support more women to join this incredible industry.
Providing training and opportunities for girls
Jennifer believes strongly in providing exposure to the industry at an early age and beginning conversations with girls in middle and high school. It was in middle school that she first considered a career in the AEC space. She remembers an engineer coming to speak to her sixth grade class and making the comment that if you’re good at math and science, you should consider becoming an engineer. His words stuck with her, and she went on to earn a degree in structural engineering. Jennifer had the added benefit of being exposed to the industry through her father who was a builder and often brought her to job sites.
However, most girls are not as familiar with the industry so it’s important to conduct school outreach and promote trade schools and vocational programs. These programs provide hands-on experience and can help girls gain the skills they need to pursue careers in the field.
Jennifer’s current project is actually a trade high school. Aspire Trade High School will be a free charter trade high school where students can come in and learn construction trades or focus on a variety of other areas including culinary, computer science, and automotive trades. Many of the partners working on the project are sponsoring labs in the high school where they can come in and introduce the students to their respective trades.
Recruiting from other industries
Another way we can help recruit women to the construction industry is by reaching out to women who have left other industries or are looking for new career opportunities. Jennifer is involved with She Built This City, a Charlotte, North Carolina based organization with a mission to “provide industry disruptive programming that sparks interest and builds pathways to lucrative careers in the skilled trades for youth, women, and marginalized communities.”
Jennifer recently gave a job site tour to a group of about 20 women participating in a She Built This City introduction to construction class. The all-ages group came from a variety of backgrounds and included a teacher and a nanny who were exploring other career opportunities. Most hadn’t stepped foot on a job site before, so it was fun for Jennifer to introduce them to the field and have an honest conversation about the many benefits of working in construction as well as some of the challenges. Jennifer also likes to point out that there are other opportunities in construction aside from building – it takes a whole team of managers, marketers, accountants, and other positions to complete a successful project.
Women supporting women
The construction industry has become much more welcoming to women in recent years. Construction internship and mentorship programs are becoming more common, enabling girls today to learn from the experiences of the women who came before them. There are also a lot more organizations helping to promote women in construction. Jennifer is heartened by the growing network of women in the industry and knowing that they are not alone in this.
When Jennifer started out in construction, she didn’t have any female colleagues or a support group of peers to turn to. That has changed over the past two decades as she now has other female superintendent friends and follows thought leaders in the space who have their own podcasts and platforms aimed at helping other women succeed in construction.
The future looks bright
As for advice, Jennifer wishes she could have given her younger self, but can now share with other women? “Know your worth. Construction can be intimidating but it’s important to get rid of self-doubt and be confident and know you are smart enough and capable enough. Construction isn’t a man’s world. Sure, they have a lot to offer the industry, but we do too. We belong in this industry.”
Talented, committed, innovative, and passionate women like Jennifer are working hard every day to help pave the way for future generations of women in the field. The future of construction is a whole lot brighter because of them, so let’s celebrate these women and their contributions to the industry this week, and every week of the year.
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