By Kim Slowey
The pervasive shortage of construction workers has led some in the industry to target women for recruitment. But women don’t seem to be choosing the construction industry, at least not in the numbers that some have hoped for and not in the trades, where workers are desperately needed.
So how many women are working in the construction industry? A frequently cited figure from groups like the National Association of Women in Construction, which is leading the charge in recognizing Women in Construction Week this week, has participation at about 9%, and the last 25 years or so of Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Surveys bears that out. However, that figure includes administrative, executive and office positions, categories that have almost always have a decent number of women.
The statistics for trade involvement tell a much different story.
The percentage of women in construction overall has hovered somewhere between 9% and 10% since 1996 and is currently at 9.9%. But of the 8.3 million that were employed in field production of the construction and extraction industries in 2018, only 3.4% were women.
Building inspectors (14%), painters (7.2%) and helpers (5.6%) saw the highest participation by women last year, with their percentages in trades like carpet installation, carpenters, drywall hangers and electricians landing somewhere between 1.9% and 3.7%.
Of the 40 trades listed under the construction and mining category, more than half didn’t include enough women to muster up a statistically significant percentage at all. These included such in-demand trades as plasterers and stucco masons, iron and rebar workers and solar panel installers.
The percentage of women classified as construction managers, however, has grown from 5.9% in 2003 to 7.7% in 2018.
Why women stay off jobsites
So what is it that is keeping women away from construction trades? For one, the roles have traditionally been filled by men, so some women might find the work environment intimidating, especially given accounts of occasional harassment and inequity.
Last year, for example, carpenter Linda Dugue sued her former employer, Long Island-based Pabco Construction Corp., alleging that the company treated her and other female employees unfairly. In her lawsuit, Dugue claimed that women on Pabco jobs were not offered the same opportunities for training, overtime and career advancement as men were and that she was the subject of derogatory and discriminatory comments. The suit alleges that several women were eventually fired and replaced with men.
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