The construction industry still has a ways to go when it comes to hiring women, but the trend is moving in the right direction.
The construction industry, long dominated by images of men in hardhats carrying lunch pails, has shifted in recent years. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women made up 9 percent of the construction workforce in 2016. In 2021, the number had grown to 11 percent.
This, obviously, is not a seismic change – it’s still very much a male-dominated field – but the increase is encouraging as it signals that the industry as a whole has decided that diversifying workforces is now a focus.
And for good reason. Along with technical expertise, there are specific skill sets women often bring to the table – skill sets that align perfectly with construction industry needs, like being detail-oriented, tenacious, and capable of galvanizing teams.
Women also bring a different perspective to a traditionally male-centric profession, advocating for more voices at the table while being willing and able to hold themselves and others accountable. Imagine the advancements we would have achieved if women had a seat at the table earlier.
Hardhats and PowerPoints. While the number of women in construction has steadily – if not rapidly – increased since the days of Rosie the Riveter, in recent years, it has become less of an anomaly for women to be in leadership positions.
There is still much work to be done, of course, but the trend is promising. Referencing IWPR again, women in the role of construction managers made up just 7.4 percent in 2016 but grew to 8.6 percent in 2021.
This seemingly minor bump actually translated into a large number of jobs for women in management, from 60,088 throughout the industry in 2016 to 85,914 in half a decade.
Keeping this trend moving in the right direction, however, will require women in the industry to continue reinforcing and supporting the hiring of others. It will also require increased allyship from men – not just in support of expanding the number of women in the industry but in recognizing and understanding the barriers women often face and calling out those barriers when they see them.
Walking the walk. At OAC, we seek to embrace diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging as part of our DNA. We have actively sought out female leaders to join our board and have a dedicated group for women, minorities, and other under-represented people in the industry to come together, share their experiences, and support one another.
In order to dispel the conventional belief that construction is a boy’s club, we encourage our female employees to share their work and how it inspires them with younger generations. We have created space for OAC leaders – men and women – to mentor and support women and minorities in the development of their careers as construction professionals.
To us, this focus on expanding the role of women in construction isn’t about diversity for diversity’s stake. It’s smart business. We work with diverse clients, and our teams should represent that diversity of backgrounds and skill sets. New ideas being brought to the surface is the key to remaining competitive and creative.
The construction industry is changing rapidly. New technologies, new building methodologies, bigger and bigger projects – keeping up with all these changes requires a new way of thinking about the industry as a whole. It now requires a level of creativity arguably not seen in the industry since the industrial revolution.
The challenge for many construction companies is balancing this change while still fostering strong relationships and communication. Through this change we find that women, with their perspectives and strengths, play a pivotal role.
While more women and people of color still need a seat at the table, there are positive signs that the construction industry is starting to focus on being more inclusive and more encompassing.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s exciting to see the foundation that is being laid for more inclusivity.
Amber Hardwick is vice president and general counsel, Christina Millan is a director, and Melissa Teichman is a vice president at OAC, a national design and construction performance management firm. To learn more, visit oacsvcs.com.
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