Women in construction are in the minority. Fortunately, the female construction worker population appears likely to grow as more opportunities open up across the United States. Now, let’s examine the history of women in construction and what the future holds for female construction personnel nationwide.
History of Women in Construction
The history of women in construction dates back to 13th century Spain. Records from this time indicate women day laborers used stone and wood to erect structures in the city of Navarre.
Few records exist that highlight the contributions of women in construction between the 13th and 17th centuries. During this time, female construction workers were often left off records. Or, female laborers were included in records only by gender, without an indication of how they contributed to construction projects.
The Industrial Revolution created a global economic boom. In doing so, the revolution opened doors for women in construction.
In the late 19th century, women were recognized for their engineering and architectural expertise. For example, Engineer Emily Warren Roebling spearheaded the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge after her husband fell ill. When the bridge was completed in 1883, she traveled the full length of the structure with President Chester A. Arthur.
Other women were key contributors in the construction sector in the late 1800s and early 1900s, too. Ethel Charles joined the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1898, making her the group’s first woman member. Meanwhile, American Julia Morgan became the first woman accepted to the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts school of architecture in Paris in 1902. Furthermore, Lillian Moller Gilbreth was named the first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1926.
World War II accelerated the growth of women in construction as well. Many men battled on the front lines during the war. At this point, thousands of women took over jobs in construction and other industries.
Laws to protect women in the workforce were enacted in the 1960s. Women continue to make strides in construction and other sectors as well.
Women in Construction Today
In 2020, women comprised 10.9% of the construction workforce in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWC) also points out that more than 1.1 million women worked in construction as of 2018.
The number of jobs across the construction sector is projected to grow approximately 5% between 2019 and 2029, BLS notes. As such, many construction job opportunities could open up for women across the United States.
Why Are More Men Employed in the Construction Industry Than Women?
Several reasons exist for why more women aren’t working in the construction industry. One of the major reasons is that few women apply. Of course, it’s important to look beyond this statement as to why more women don’t apply to be a female construction worker.
Word of mouth is still the primary way many construction companies find new workers. The names those employees give are usually men, friends they have worked with in the past. To change this situation, companies need to become more proactive in recruiting women in construction work.
Another issue is the lack of training and equipment for women in the industry. Women should receive adequate training and the tools they need to be successful in this field. Perceptions from others may make it difficult for them to get hired or even to apply. If they feel they won’t succeed with an application, female construction workers may adopt the “Why bother?” attitude and avoid submitting their application materials for positions with local companies.
Where Are Women in Construction Working?
With the small percentage of women in the construction industry, it’s good to know where they are working. Most women work offsite, and some manage their own construction company. The average female construction worker may find a wealth of construction manager career opportunities.
Regardless, women face many challenges if they want to work at a jobsite. These challenges include little to no access to safety equipment that fits and performs properly.
What Resources Are Available to Women Who Want to Pursue Jobs in the Construction Industry?
Women interested in working in the construction industry can benefit from many resources. For instance, national groups like the NAWC can provide help for women currently in the field as well as those who want to start a career in construction. Another organization, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), trains women for careers in the construction industry and other trades.
Communities and companies can also offer courses and programs to prepare women for careers in this field. They may hire apprentices and train them with skills specific to the jobs. They may work to recruit women specifically and prepare them to pass certification or other exams.
Women can take advantage of professional networking opportunities to engage with construction industry professionals and foster relationships with them. LinkedIn enables women to connect with construction professionals from around the world. Also, women can attend in-person or virtual networking events for construction professionals.
Educating women and training them for jobs in construction is critical for their success in the industry. But, companies must also work to remove gender bias from their culture. They must address the issue of discrimination and hold people responsible for polarizing women in the business. As more women see the viability of a career in the construction industry and shortages of qualified candidates leave companies searching for new hires, the possibility of a diverse workforce can become a reality.
Do Your Part to Build a Diverse Workforce
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