It was the late 1980s and hanging in most jobsite trailer was a tool catalog featuring scantily clad women wearing hard hats and tool belts. I was a young engineer, finishing an intern assignment for the summer on a construction site and my project manager and superintendent invited me to lunch to celebrate. Imagine my surprise when after ordering lunch, the lights were dimmed in the restaurant and the lingerie show began, it was about that same time when I realized I was one of the only women sitting at a table as opposed to walking around one in my underwear. As I recall, I didn’t even react, I think I was too stunned, I ate my cheeseburger, said thank you and good bye and beat a hasty retreat to my car. Fast forward 25 years, although I know sexual harassment still exists in the construction industry, I am also optimistic that many contractors and industry partners have recognized the importance of women to the success of construction and have zero tolerance for this behavior.
Why am I optimistic? Between 2007 and 2016, women owned construction firms grew 56% with women now owning 13% of the construction firms in the US. A recent google search found that only 2 construction industry suppliers still put out calendars featuring women and tools. Women in Construction organizations like NAWIC, FWC and WCOE continue to do great work supporting women in the industry and opening doors to opportunity for bidding, learning and networking. And over the last 18 months, more organizations are getting in the game. In our area a local trade association hosted a women in the industry breakfast featuring an amazing group of panelists, the event was standing room only, they followed that up with a Networking through Improv event for women that was overflowing as well. Several large General Contractors have launched Women Employee Affinity groups focused on providing education and most importantly access for women in their organizations. Procore launched the “Women in Construction” initiative holding several sold-out events across the country. ENR held its 8th annual “Ground Breaking Women in Construction” and Building Design and Construction held its 2nd “Women in BD&C” event. Both events attracted a large number of participants, which speaks to both the number of companies supporting their female employees and the increased number of women employed in the industry.
And on a smaller scale, a local general contractor made golf lessons available to all their engineers to ensure women and men were comfortable participating in an upcoming golf outing. Another local contractor increased their maternity and paternity leave this year to make it easier for their women and men employees to stay engaged in their career and start a family.
And most importantly as we continue to mentor women in college programs and those who have recently entered the workforce, fewer and fewer of them are reporting that they are encountering sexual harassment.
Society as a whole and construction in particular still have a long way to go in creating work environments that are female friendly. We can all do our part to encourage continued efforts to create an inclusive industry, we will all benefit in the long run.
If you’d like help launching a women’s affinity group or raising gender awareness in your organization, contact Constructing Opportunity, LLC.