In a year of “Swiftie,” “Barbie,” and “Beyonce,” the numbers are in: women drove the economy in 2023! With this spotlight on women’s spending power, it is only fitting to explore their growing influence on the construction workforce. While women still make up a small portion, there are indications of this number changing for the better.
Earlier this year, Metal Construction News reported, “In his 2023 State of the Union address, President Biden recognized Saria Gwin-May, a 34-year female journeyman ironworker from Cincinnati. Gwin-May’s acknowledgment was reflective of the growing trend of a new, diverse generation of construction workers, specifically the increase of women workers.”
What Percentage of Women are in Construction?
According to the “State of the Industry” report by BigRentz, “Of all the people working in construction, women hold only 10.9% of the construction jobs in the United States. As of 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that women make up about one in 10 workers in the construction workforce. As women make up 47% of all employed individuals, the construction industry only benefits from about 1.25% of women in its workforce. The rate of women in construction in the United States has grown by 2% since 2011, when women made up only 8.9% of the construction labor force.
Why are More Women Suddenly Working in Construction?
The BLS estimates that the construction industry will grow by 4% between 2021 and 2031 — equating to about 168,500 new jobs each year over the decade. With this expected growth, companies are looking to recruit more women than ever before to bring their skill sets into the field. To help, the U.S. government and industry associations are responding to and encouraging women in the construction workspace. Bureau programs like Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations (WANTO) grants are helping to fund training programs that specifically address increasing women’s participation in skilled trades. For example, the Biden Administration’s Talent Pipeline Challenge in connection with the infrastructure bill incentivizes equitable workforce development by committing $800 million in funding for training programs that meet the goals of the challenge.
Also, many federal and private contracts now have percentage-based requirements for the inclusion of women and minorities in a contractor’s workforce as a prerequisite for being awarded work. Some states have incentives and grant funding for programs that are geared toward increasing a diverse workforce. For example, the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) and its Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS), announced in late 2022 the availability of $25 million in funding to improve access to training and employment opportunities for women and underserved populations within the building trades.
At this year’s METALCON in October, women accounted for just over 15% of the show’s total attendance providing evidence of this growing trend of women joining the construction industry. A new special networking event, “Metal and Mimosas,” was filled to capacity and gave women in metal construction an opportunity to gather alongside leaders and peers who are shaping the industry. Plans are underway to continue this program and offer additional opportunities unique to women at METALCON 2024.
Is Construction a Good Field for Women?
Research points to several unique qualities that women bring to the industry—namely, they have a team-focused approach, attention to detail, keep a clean and organized job site, and are focused on safety. Instead of relying on physical strength, women are more focused on following the work process which drives efficiency and positively impacts safety scores. Lee Ann M. Slattery, sales support manager at ATAS International Inc. and past METALCON speaker, shares, “With the overall shortage of skilled tradespeople, entry-level pay is higher than many other career options, and there is a lot of opportunity for advancement, including future business ownership. Business owners in our industry are also becoming more aware of how women can positively impact their teams and contribute with ideas and different ways of thinking, which can result in a more inclusive company culture.”
In this MetalTalk™ recorded live from METALCON in October, Heidi J. Ellsworth, founding partner, sits down with Kelli Nolden with DoneRite Home Maintenance and Michelle Kettering with LTD Exteriors to discuss women in metal construction and the metal industry as a whole. Nicole and Michelle have both trained with John Sheridan, owner of Sheridan Metal Resources LLC, and were part of METALCON’s new hands-on Training Zone. They share their experiences with metal roofing installation and training as well as providing resources and advice for women interested in metal roofing as a career. John explains, “Most companies have women involved in the business, but it’s all on the management end. But there’s really no reason why women can’t be involved in the actual installation end of things.”
Outlook for 2024
Women have long been a leading force driving the economy — with their labor force participation and median weekly earnings growing. With 2023 as proof, look for this upward trend to continue into the New Year, even in traditionally male-dominated industries such as construction.