Construction is one of those industries notorious for being male-dominated and, at times, not as welcoming to women. What’s that experience truly like? Here are some opinions of women working in the construction industry, because who better to describe a woman’s experience in construction than actual women?
Challenges Women Face in Construction
Women make up only 4% of the workforce in natural resources, construction, and maintenance. This is due to a number of obstacles they face, which ranges from inadequate bathrooms to insufficient outreach to young women.
As Latisa Kindred, an electrician of 19 years describes, women are often doubted, and they then turn the doubt on themselves:
“Every time you walk into a job as a new hire, once again you’re going back to your first year of apprenticeship and you have to prove that you’re worthy of being there. Because you’re constantly questioned, you’re questioning yourself.”
Sarah Liles, an estimator and project engineer, also notes that women often need to self-advocate in a way that men don’t:
“You have to take responsibility for your own education. And men don’t, they can just sit there passively and other guys will offer to teach them.”
Multiple women have complained that much of their equipment was made with men in mind, creating a safety hazard for women and others on the job site. Even something as simple as job-specific gloves can be hard to come by.
Further, sexual harassment was another common issue. In 1999, 88% of women reported being sexually harassed in the industry. This is almost 20 years ago, but with recent stories of a woman being raped on the job, it seems that the threat is still, unfortunately, very real.
Other Ways Women Have Described Their Experience in Construction
Women make some additional notes about what it’s like being a female in the construction industry.
On how others perceive them…
Vanessa Casillas, a bricklayer for 10 years, noted that when looking for work recently, the foreman’s right-hand man seemed skeptical of her slender frame and red nail polish. Her response: “…,these are no-chip.” She then went on to describe the laughter it drew from a dozen fellow tradeswomen.
Tamara Rivera, a former carpenter with 24 years of experience and now a council representative for the New York City Council of Carpenters, says that unions have an effect on the types of jobs women are offered:
“Women experience construction very differently on the non-union versus the union side. You see very few women in [the non-union] side, and if you do see them they’re holding a stop or slow sign or flagging. You don’t really see them as electricians, plumbers, or carpenters. Likewise, other specialized trade unions, like ones for plumbers and electricians, have a host of women members. We have careers, which is important.”
How to Make Construction More Inclusive
There are several ideas on how to make construction a more inclusive place.
Make women leaders. The best way for women to change the culture in construction is to become leaders themselves. They know the kinds of challenges women construction workers experience and, as a result, may offer some effective solutions.
Implement diversity education. Teaching employees diversity and acceptance helps create a better team, more accepting of differences, including gender.
Break down stereotypes at a young age. As the cost of college continues to increase, younger generations are reconsidering technical education. Construction outreach should take place at the high school level. It should be done in a way that teaches students that there’s no stigma in either gender choosing to work in the field.
Resources for Women in Construction
Fortunately, despite the obstacles, there are plenty of people wanting to see women succeed in construction and other technical jobs. Here are some resources for women looking for support as they pursue their careers.
Sisters in the Brotherhood: With chapters throughout the US, female carpenters can get support from local peers. Often, they are found in the same areas that Carpenter’s Local Unions are found, so if there’s a Carpenter’s Local, you can likely also benefit from Sisters in the Brotherhood. They even have a facility in Las Vegas for training and an annual conference.
According to Rivera: “It’s uplifting and creates morale to keep us going and strong. It’s easy to get lost in this industry because it’s majority men.”
Chicago Women in Trades: Chicago Women in Trades is a nonprofit that trains women in high-paying, skilled jobs traditionally held by men. The organization has worked to close the wage gap, with many of those trained making over $40 an hour in a variety of construction jobs.
The Future for Women in the Industry
Many are optimistic about women’s future role in the construction industry. Rivera believes that the future is bright for all minorities, including women. Pointing out that the minorities are becoming the majority, she says:
“We’re coming from all walks of life; we don’t discriminate. When someone tells me construction isn’t diverse, I have to beg to differ on that. I can’t speak for other areas of the country, but as far as in New York City, it’s very diverse and bilingual.”
Here’s to hoping that as women increasingly join the construction workforce, they manage to achieve leadership roles that’ll help shape a more friendly workplace in the future.
Learn more about the women of the construction industry: