A recent program in New York City has led to a boost in the number of women in construction, a traditionally male-dominated industry. The Nontraditional Employment for Women, otherwise known as NEW, trains around 225 women each year to work in construction, maintenance, and utility fields.
Currently, women workers only make up around 3% of the nations construction staff. However, programs like this have led to a sharp increase in the number of women claiming construction positions. In fact, NEW has increased New York City’s number by up to 6%, which is closer to the national average of 9.1% of women construction workers.
“While union construction jobs offer good pay and benefits, few women consider a career in the building trades,” claims the president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, Gary LaBarbera. “[NEW] does an outstanding job of advocating these careers for women.”
The program will recruit and train these women in an effort to establish more women in apprenticeship programs offered by such unions. NEW is typically around eight weeks long and teaches women to read measuring tapes, the proper way to lift heavy materials, and more. This is essential since lifting a 10 kg box will put around 180 kg of force on the spine.
But they’re not the only advocates for women working in construction jobs.
Massachusetts has passed a legislative mandate for 6.9% of casinos to staff more women during the construction process.
There is also a nationwide organization, Professional Women in Construction. This group supports women in making industry contacts and connecting women with potential clients.
“There are a lot of organizations like Professional Women in Construction that provide mentorship, networking and opportunities for growth and business development to women in the industry,” notes Schillivia Baptiste, owner of the construction firm Laland Baptiste.
However, this doesn’t mean that the construction industry has become a welcoming place for women.
While new construction companies that promote women workers are often welcoming, many women are still struggling to feel accepted in this traditionally masculine working environment.
Amanda Gray, an architectural and commercial account manager, notes the frustrations she’s experienced on the job to CNBC.
“Gray started talking about the technical details for an upcoming project when a male consultant stopped her and asked, ‘Ma’am do you even know what the cut section of a building is?'”
Gray laughed because this is a basic aspect of construction, like establishing a home’s foundation with beams spaced 12 feet apart.
Even if there are construction workers who try to withhold judgment, many still mistake new women construction workers as secretaries.
Unless these traditionally masculine industries begin to change the diversity inherent in the system, this type of bias will likely continue.
Baptiste notes that this kind of bias often begins in childhood, where young girls aren’t introduced to all the options that are available to them. Even as more young girls engage in STEM programs later on, the lack of early exposure is crucial to diversifying the workplace in the future.
Though it might seem like a difficult feat, this isn’t the first time women have invaded a traditionally masculine industry. After all, more than 36 million children of all genders will play an organized sport each year, but many started as activities for young boys.
Breaking new ground in the construction industry is vital to pave the way for women workers. And this is becoming increasingly essential as the construction industry suffers from lack of employment across the country.
For example, the Texas housing industry has been suffering from a chronic labor shortage since the time of the Great Recession. It’s estimated that Dallas alone is short by at least 20,000 construction workers.
Now, the average age of a construction worker in the United States is breaching 50 years old. People simply aren’t exposed to the benefits of this line of work, while those few who are may avoid the industry since 15 out of every 100,000 workers might die on the job.
Luckily, these trends may begin to shift as more women workers are hired, from Dallas to Canada.
One Canadian working mom notes how to manage work and family life for people in the industry. Lora Bourck, the co-owner of Artistic Skylight Domes in Ontario, relies on the three Rs: reflect, refuel, and get results.
It’s a tough life as a working woman, but when has it not been a challenge? With strong, independent women like these leading the charge, it won’t be a surprise to see the industry transform in the near future.