Each March, The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), a professional association for women in the construction industry, dedicates one week to celebrating and bringing awareness to women in construction.
This year, the 24th Annual Women in Construction Week is March 6-12, 2022. Women in Construction (WIC) Week raises awareness and celebrates the work of women in the construction industry across the country. NAWIC founded WIC Week in 1998 to continue its mission of strengthening and amplifying the success of women in the industry. This year’s theme is “Envision Equity.”
“WIC Week gives chapters nationwide the opportunity to shine a bright light on the construction industry and women’s very important place in it,” said Executive Director Crissy Ingram, in a statement. “There has long been a culture of construction being only for men. If we can get the women who have worked past that barrier out of the shadows and into the spotlight, they can show other women – no matter the age or background – that there countless opportunities for them in the industry.”
More women than ever before join industry
Today, there are approximately 1.2 million women employed in the US construction industry, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Women still account for only 11 percent of the construction industry overall, however.
The number of women entering the construction industry has seen significant growth in the past decade, and although women are still underrepresented in leadership roles, they are making significant progress in growing those numbers.
One notable step in the right direction is the small gender pay gap. The BLS reports that across all industries, women earn 81.5% of what men do. In construction; however, women’s earnings as a percentage of men’s is 94.3%. This is the lowest gender pay gap across industries measured in the US, according to the BLS.
From 2012-2021, there has been continuous upward growth in the number of women employed in the construction industry. In total, the numbers have increased 54.7% from 802,000 women in 2012 to 1,241,000 women in 2021.
Jocelyn Knoll, Partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP, in an interview with www.fixr.com, said, “There are more women who have a seat at the table and on site. This is a good time for women to enter the construction industry, whether as a tradesperson, construction manager, team member, architect, engineer, executive, consultant or professional.”
Joan Barton, General Contractor at Dirty Girl Construction, told www.fixr.com that she has noticed the rise in the amount of women working in construction.
“This has also translated into a general awareness about the need for earlier education and opportunity, as well as a specific outreach by some companies to train and hire more women.”
When asked about the obstacles women face in the industry, Knoll said that the biggest challenges are acceptance and inclusion. “More women must attain senior leadership positions to overcome the outdated biases directed towards women leaders,” she said.
Debra L. Hilmerson, President/CEO of Hilmerson Safety® agrees and points out the “lack of challenging roles and opportunities for growth” as another big challenge: “Very few women hold executive roles in construction. [We] need to offer positions to qualified candidates.”
Other women interviewed by www.fixr.com offered advice.
“Women need to get reached out to more to let them know they’re needed in the construction field. Talking to them at career fairs, using photos of women in promotional content, etc,” said Crystal Felch, Field Engineer at Greiner Construction
And Angela Cacace, owner of A.Marie Design+Build agrees: “A greater focus on how to make programs more welcoming and available for women to acquire the skills they need to find their place in this industry that needs them.” Hilmerson adds that a way to achieve this is with “More education and trade classes in the school system and encourage young girls to participate”.
Hilmerson also mentions that the majority of women are not aware of the various options that the construction industry offers: “Don’t just think construction is about getting dirty and sweaty. There are several options available, such as a construction laborer or craftsperson in the field [...] to project managers, superintendents, draftsperson, engineers, architects, and project support personnel.”
Although there are still challenges to overcome, women have also seen advances and improvements in recent years. As Hilmerson points out: “Years ago, women mainly held administrative support positions such as typing, filing and answering phones. However, in the past 10 years, I’ve seen more and more women holding leadership positions in the field (boots on the ground) and executive positions within large construction firms. While this is great to see, we still have a long way to go!”
Cacace highlights a change in apparel: “There's a long way to go but there are at least some options in apparel now. Our job is physical so attire needs to work with us, not against us. Things that men take for granted from steel toe boots to durable work pants to proper PPE are all items that women need and there has been a lot of progress from companies in recent years.”
Black mentions the increased awareness as the biggest change. “I will say, the biggest difference — I feel safer. I think ‘Me Too’ brought about an incredible awareness. Even though I was the boss, I would still get bullied by (male) subs. There were a number of times where I was threatened and afraid. Certain guy subs didn’t like it when I saw they were doing something wrong and questioned it. I think guys check themselves now. I’m grateful for that awareness. It’s a good thing for everyone.”
Organizations like The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and Professional Women in Construction (PWC) offer support, leadership and networking opportunities as well as scholarship and mentorship programs.
1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (Table 17)
2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women in the labor force: a databook (Table 19)
3. Professional Women in Construction (PWC)
4. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC)
5. Deloitte. 2022 Engineering and Construction Industry Outlook