This week we celebrate the women who put on their tool belts, hard hats, office work clothes, and executive suits to build the world’s communities and infrastructure. Construction is no longer “just for men,” and the industry, in general, is working hard to welcome more women into its ranks.
But are women hearing the call and embracing construction as a career choice? This question is often asked during the annual March celebration of women in construction. The answer is yes, but slowly.
A halt in progress
In recent history, the U.S. construction industry has seen some positive signs of women’s interest in construction. From January 1985 to January 2007, the number of women in construction grew by 76 percent (from approximately 538,000 to 948,000 female workers in the office and the field). It took 22 years to see that significant growth, but things were looking up.
Then the recession hit. Just like their male counterparts, many women found themselves without work and left the construction workforce altogether. The progress that had been made was quickly unraveled. By May 2011, construction employment of women hit a recession low point with roughly 707,000 women still holding construction jobs.
Today, while the industry has rebounded, it’s basically back to square one when it comes to women workers. As of January 2017, about 857,000 women were employed in construction, still less than pre-recession levels.
Numbers that need to change
Only 12.6 percent of all construction industry workers are women. That’s an awfully small percentage, especially compared to other major industries. The number of women currently in apprenticeship and college-level construction management programs is also low. Many of the percentages I’ve seen are in the single digits. Construction educators are hoping to change that and are actively recruiting more women.
It’s easy to understand how it can be difficult for girls and women to picture themselves in construction when the majority of workers they see are men. Many women in construction are taking matters into their own hands, making themselves visible by reaching out to local schools, career programs, and other women to share their experiences. Women helping women, in my opinion, will be a major catalyst to increase the percentage of women in construction.
There are positive signs as well. Women in construction have greater salary equality than in other industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in construction earn 93.4 percent of what their male counterparts make, compared to the U.S. national average of 82.1 percent. This certainly is a big incentive for women to take a closer look at construction.
And there is hope with younger generations. Girls are no longer steered into certain career paths. They are excited about engineering, take shop classes, and can weld with the best of them. Construction offers a rewarding career now more open to women. And many are sure to take on the challenge.
Bureau of Labor Statistics