Women have found their place in every profession in the world. There are women CEOs of multinational companies, women doctors, women engineers and women scientists. But construction?
That has always been a man’s world. Or so goes the common perception.
The History of Women in Construction
Truth however is that women have been doing labor-intensive jobs from as far back as World War II when so many of our men where away, fighting for our country. Women solved the enusing shortage in the labor force. They worked in factories and shipyards, digging ditches, operating huge cranes. They did anything and everything they could to keep the country’s economy running.
But the going was not easy when the men returned from war to take back their place. “Hard-hatted women” who still wanted to work shoulder-to-shoulder in primarily male-dominated workforces faced obstruction and ridicule. But a small number of them persevered. They paved the way for future generations of American women who wanted to do the same.
The first documented report of women in construction was from as far back as the late 1800s. Emily Roebling was the `first woman field engineer’ who was involved in the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge. Louise Blanchard was the first American woman to work as a professional architect. Lilian Gilbreth graduated as an industrial engineer and was the first honorary member of the Society of Women Engineers.
The pioneering spirit of these women set the stage for others to dare to dream as well. In 1979, Barbara Res – the first female hard-hat boss in United States — led the construction of the Trump Tower.
Gender in Construction Today
Today, even though the percentage of women working in construction is below 10%, the last decade or so has proved that women are not averse to finding jobs in this tough but rewarding field that has always been in high demand.
What does data say about participation of women in the construction field?
Here are some key findings:
- As of 2018, women represented 9.9% of all construction employees.
- 86.7% of them were filling office positions while 13.3% were trades people.
- By 2020, the number of women in construction is expected to increase to 25%.
So is the bias against women working in construction finally disappearing in these modern times?
Given the continuing rise of the female workforce in this field, it certainly seems that way.
Into the Future
According to Tamara Crooks from the National Association of Women in Construction, more and more women are training for new jobs in the construction industry. “We notice that the numbers between male and female in classrooms is starting to equal out,” she told Marketplace.org. “[Now], you have just as many women joining those courses as you have men.”
Following the footsteps of other industries, construction is waking up to the need for a diverse employee base. A recent study by McKinsey found that companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity were 35% more likely to outperform others financially.
“The concept of a true team with different skill sets and expertise coming together to produce a great building is not a small undertaking and brings great reward,” said Shannon Gustine to a gathered group of industry women at the annual Women’s Leadership Seminar in Greeley, Colorado last year. “Having young women identify construction as their passion and making it their career should be, as with any other field, encouraged and embraced.”
The `Women in Construction Week’ event, that took place in March this year, re-emphasized the growing role of women as qualified members of the construction industry. It also raised awareness of the many opportunities available to build their careers here.
Indeed, AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) companies are embracing diversity and working to close the gender gap. And women are educating themselves about the many advantages of working in construction — such as leadership roles and competitive salaries.
There’s so much for women to do here: from becoming valuable resources for their peers and sharing their first-hand experiences to inspiring a new generation of women to also step forward and accept their rightful place in the construction industry.
The work has only just begun…