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How hiring women can move the construction industry forward

JUL. 01, 2020

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • To meet construction industry staffing needs, employers need to recruit women – but that’s just one of the reasons they should actively expand their hiring practices.
  • In a field traditionally occupied by men, women may feel out of place and face obstacles that their male counterparts don’t.
  • There are several specific actions that employers can take to increase recruitment and improve retention.

 

Female construction worker looking at sketch of building plansOne of the greatest challenges facing the construction industry today is prolonged talent shortages. For years, construction firms struggled to fill vacant positions. In fact, according to recent survey data from the Associated General Contractors of America, 81% of construction firms reported difficulty filling positions in the past 12 months, and 65% of firms anticipate that they will struggle to recruit qualified workers in 2020.1 Furthermore, a quarter of employers in the construction industry view the availability of qualified workers as the factor that poses the greatest risk to the industry in 2020.2

Despite the pressing need to recruit more workers, the construction industry has traditionally failed to recruit one key demographic in sizable numbers: women. In fact, women make up only 9.3% of the construction industry’s workforce.3 Looking at trade positions such as laborers, women make up less than 4%.4

This glaring discrepancy is an example of inequality, but it’s also a blueprint for moving the construction industry forward. Simply put, if employers want to fill positions and meet client demands, they should consider bringing more women into their ranks.

The value of inclusive hiring

It’s a statistical fact that women are needed to fill the staffing needs in the construction industry. But there are many other reasons that employers should expand their hiring practices.

  • WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP ROLES CAN INCREASE PROFITABILITY. A Peterson Institute study indicated that more gender diversity, especially having women in C-suite roles (chief executive officer, chief operating officer, etc.), can increase profits, and not just for construction firms. Furthermore, a recent study by McKinsey & Company found that companies with diverse executive teams that included women were 21% more likely to be more profitable than the average company.
  • IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE A VARIETY OF PERSPECTIVES. Diversity of thought can help businesses innovate and find solutions to challenges they may have otherwise missed out on. Fresh viewpoints can also enable companies to better serve a wider range of clients. The construction industry’s client base is becoming increasingly more diverse, and gender-inclusive construction teams can have an easier time discerning the needs of those clients.7
  • HIRING WOMEN INCREASES THE TALENT POOL. Hiring for skilled trades continues to be a challenge for many businesses, particularly in the face of a labor shortage. In fact, the labor market is so tight for the construction industry that, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, 81% of construction companies believe filling positions will be difficult for the foreseeable future.8 In a difficult labor market, businesses that widen their search for qualified candidates will not only have a more diverse workforce, they will also be more prepared to address challenges driven by the skills gap.

Benefits aside, hiring women can only help an organization if they actually feel welcome there.

What keeps women off job sites?

Many women simply never consider working in construction. Entering a work environment that has traditionally been occupied by men may make some women feel out of place.

Once in the field, women also face a number of obstacles that their male counterparts don’t. A recent report from McKinsey & Company examined the future of women in the workplace and the construction industry:9

    • 43% of global organizations do not monitor gender pay gaps that can lead to pay issues
    • 73% of women in construction feel passed over for roles because of gender
    • 60% of women across all industries report experiencing gender discrimination

Knowing these challenges, it’s not hard to imagine why women don’t gravitate toward construction. Luckily, identifying the issue is the first step toward solving it. And that’s good because companies need the benefits that hiring women can bring.

What can be done

In many instances, women are looking for the same things as their male counterparts when selecting a career: A good salary, flexible benefits and professional growth opportunities all matter. However, there are a number of specific things employers can do to increase recruitment and improve retention of women. Here are a number of ideas:

  • COMMIT TO DIVERSITY. Organizations should empower women by bringing a commitment to diversity and inclusion into their core values and formalizing that commitment. This commitment starts with the actions of an organization’s leadership. Above all else, it is vital to create an inclusive workplace culture in which men and women are valued equally.
  • DEVELOP PARTNERSHIPS. Construction firms can demonstrate their commitment to diversity by partnering with national organizations such as Professional Women in Construction and the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).
  • UTILIZE PRE-APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS. While apprenticeships in the trades offer good jobs with benefits, only a small minority of apprenticeships are filled by women. Pre-apprenticeship programs can provide women with the foundational skills, support networks and knowledge base needed to succeed in an apprenticeship.
  • ENSURE THAT JOB LISTINGS ARE INCLUSIVE. Job descriptions are often a candidate’s first experience with a company. Using gender-neutral pronouns and being selective about the language used in job descriptions can prevent an organization from unintentionally creating a bad impression with female candidates.
  • HIGHLIGHT NONTRADITIONAL ROLES. Construction is a broad industry, and there are many roles that people don’t typically associate with construction firms. These roles can be especially important to point out to female applicants. Across the industry, women fill critical jobs in sales, management, engineering, architecture and transportation.10
  • PROVIDE A NETWORK OF SUPPORT AND ADVANCEMENT OPPORTUNITIES. Construction firms that want a diverse workforce need to make it a priority at all levels, not just during the hiring process. Providing strong mentors, access to resources throughout their career and advancement opportunities is key to retaining these employees.
  • CONSIDER YOUR BENEFITS. Life extends beyond the workplace. Many women in the construction industry are juggling multiple responsibilities, including raising a family. Construction firms that offer maternity benefits, family-friendly flexible work policies, and professional development and mentoring for women tend to recruit and retain women at a higher rate than firms that do not.

Keep in mind that these strategies will be effective only when paired with workplace cultures that support gender diversity.

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  1. Diversity of thought can help businesses innovate and find solutions to challenges they may have otherwise missed out on.
  2. Construction firms that want a diverse workforce need to make it a priority at all levels, not just during the hiring process.
  3. Life extends beyond the workplace, so firms that offer family-friendly benefits tend to recruit and retain women at a higher rate than firms that do not.