A pervasive stereotype of the construction industry is that it’s a man’s field, where few women are employed and fewer still are welcomed. The unfortunate truth of the matter suggests that this is very much the case: women are significantly underrepresented in construction employment and apprenticeship.
Falling Behind or Falling Out?
The level of female employment in the construction industry doesn’t specifically show that women are falling behind in employment and apprenticeship positions. Instead, the employment numbers are so low that “falling behind” would almost amount to “falling out.” The daily reality is that women are not making many advancements in the industry, and that female construction employment is not increasing substantially.
This is not the fault of women who are trying to enter the construction trades. In an article in the Washington Post from June 11, 2014, reporter Vickie Elmer noted that construction employment is 97 percent male, a number that has remained unchanged for more than three decades. Elmer based her article on a report from the National Women’s Law Center covering on women’s employment in construction.
When the report was published, women were employed in some 47 percent of all wage and salary jobs in the United States, Elmer noted. In sharp contrast, women accounted for only 2.6 percent of all construction jobs.
Barriers to Employment
The barriers to women’s employment in the industry are significant. On-the-job harassment is a major obstacle that women face in construction. Generalized disrespect or a belief that women are physically unable to handle the rigors of the work is another. Women also face deeply held ideas that the construction industry is simply not a place for women.
In response, many local and national trade organizations are working to provide more opportunities for women in construction, such as the nonprofit Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) and state-level programs such as Minnesota’s Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA).
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