Women in Construction Inspiring the Next Generation

With all the focus on STEM careers, let’s not forget there are many occupations outside of computer science and coding that require excellent math skills and a fair bit of science. The construction industry is an untapped opportunity for women where they currently make up less than 9% of the workforce. And whether you’re a project manager with an engineering degree, a carpenter making calculations in the field or a materials specifier looking for the optimum concrete recipe there is room for you.

The statistics are staggering, less than 3% of the professional roles in construction are held by women, less than 2.1% of carpenters and 5% of electricians are women and in most of the other skilled trades the number is too small to be recognized in Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting. With a looming labor shortage in the construction industry it is critical that we find ways to encourage girls to consider the industry as a viable option.

We must first acknowledge the role our implicit bias plays.  The Harvard implicit bias test, with over 850,000 participants, reports that over 56% of the respondents moderately or strongly associated the word “female” with “family” and “male” with “career”, while only 4% had the reverse.  This bias is deeply rooted in our society and often holds back women in male dominated industries, such as construction. Once we are aware of our own bias, we can work to ensure we are not using them to discourage girls from pursuing less traditional careers.

Then we need education, both for girls and their parents. We can start with the earning potential for those employed in construction. In the skilled trades, the 2016 median salary for a carpenter was $42,000 and $55,950 for an electrician.  These are good paying jobs which do not require a college degree and offer the opportunity to advance from apprentice, to journeyman, to foreman and even into management if desired. For those who obtain a college degree, the median salary for a Construction Project Manager in 2016 was just over $97,000.  And if that isn’t convincing enough the gender wage gap in construction is 94% vs. 80% for the workforce overall. Finally, 12.3% of women owned businesses with more than $1 million in revenue are in the construction industry.

Many organizations and companies are taking the mission to heart, many chapters of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) run summer camps to introduce girls to construction. Kiewit, a national construction firm, sponsors a leadership summit for female college seniors enrolled in a construction related degree program. Goldie Blox toy company was launched with the goal “to get girls building”.  Even Lego was an early pioneer, publishing a brochure in 1974 that read: “To Parents. The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls. It’s the imagination that counts. Not skill. You build whatever comes into your head, the way you want it. A bed or a truck. A doll’s house or a spaceship. A lot of boys like dolls houses. They’re more human than spaceships. A lot of girls prefer spaceships. They’re more exciting than dolls houses. The most important thing is to put the right material in their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them.”

It is up to all of us, men and women, to encourage girls to explore all their options and I for one hope that many of them see a career in construction as a viable choice.