Opportunities for women to work in construction have historically been lacking. Whether driven by a lack of suitable mentors and training, gender bias or little to no expansion of traditional recruiting channels, women comprise only 13 percent of the industry’s workforce. Fortunately, the tide is turning due in part to a growing number of companies and organisations taking action to increase diversity and inclusion across the industry.
While they still represent a minority in the construction workforce, women like Amanda Bulow, a procurement and estimating specialist with over 20 years of industry experience, are breaking down barriers. In 2017, she created Awesome Women in Construction, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting women in the industry, providing networking opportunities and advocating for change.
“It started with an email inviting a small group of women to connect over coffee,” said Bulow. “It was such a positive experience that we decided to do it again. Each person brought someone to the next gathering, and within three months, we had 48 women attending a breakfast for no other reason than to connect and support each other. I knew we had tapped into something special.”
Creating Pathways for Women
Although the adoption of technology and its growing pervasiveness are opening up new opportunities across construction, bringing women into the industry hinges on creating awareness that those opportunities exist.
“There was no set pathway for a construction career,” said Bulow. “I didn’t wake up one day and decide to pursue a construction career. I worked for a building company while studying at university, and they offered me a full-time administrative job. It was an opportunity that came to me at the right time.”
Bulow’s path isn’t uncommon. Hannah Corley, an operations manager at Jordi Construct, shares a similar experience. “I always thought of construction as men working on jobsites,” she said. “I unexpectedly fell into a career in construction. I previously worked in government, so I knew very little about the construction industry until someone brought a job opportunity to my attention.”
Construction isn’t typically among the career choices presented to students as they prepare to enter the workforce, which is one reason women don’t often consider jobs in the industry. Raising awareness about opportunities is something Bulow thinks will move the needle in attracting more women to construction. “Most women are unaware of what the industry has to offer them,” she said. “There are multiple pathways to careers in construction, but women can’t be where they can’t see. Intentional efforts to increase awareness of opportunities and pay scales among women will help, but there is still much work to be done.”
Leading construction businesses are spearheading educational programs as a starting point to generate student awareness and interest. Trimble, for example, gifts technology labs to universities around the world, providing educators and students with access to the most up-to-date hardware and software tools that the company makes, as well as the training necessary to be ready for the job on day one of their careers.
It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint
Attracting women to careers in construction is only the first step. “It’s okay to do a big marketing campaign to bring women into the industry, but companies need to provide support and reasons for them to stay,” said Bulow.
In many cases, women must work harder to earn the respect of their coworkers. “It can be easy to get intimidated by stereotypes,” said Corley. “Working in construction takes confidence and a willingness to put yourself out there. Instead of walking into a room or onto a jobsite and comparing myself to everyone, I think about what I can bring to the table.”
Along with confidence, connecting women with mentors who can provide advice and inspiration, and create a sense of safety and community, is vital. “When I started in this industry, there wasn’t anyone I could turn to for guidance or advice,” said Bulow. “Early in my career, I had to work harder for recognition and inclusion, but I’ve never been afraid of a challenge. When I didn’t get an invite to lunch with the boys, I invited myself. It takes a lot of confidence, but as a young woman in a male-dominated industry, that can be hard to navigate without support.”
Finding opportunities for career growth and development can also be challenging. Hiring managers often rely too heavily on their own networks to fill roles, which can be limited in diversity. “I’ve worked in the industry for ten years, and along the way, I’ve had to throw my hand up for opportunities,” said Corley. “Sometimes you have to open those doors for yourself.”
Bulow echoes the importance of putting yourself out there and taking chances. “I worked in administration for a while, but it wasn’t long until I was ready for more,” she said. “I met with human resources, knocked on the estimating manager’s door, and asked him to consider me for his next opening. Six weeks later, I was learning how to order materials and labor for residential construction.”
In addition to creating a supportive work environment, flexible working options are critical for making construction a more attractive and progressive choice for female talent. “Construction is fast-paced and demanding,” said Corley. “Flexibility and parental leave can break down many of the barriers to women entering the industry by helping them balance their personal and professional obligations.”
Reshaping the Narrative
The industry’s adoption of technology and changing attitudes toward gender equality are attracting more women to careers in construction with each passing year. With the demand for skilled workers on the rise, now is the time for the industry to inspire and empower young women to pursue careers in construction. “I think the age-old perception that construction is for men has diminished,” said Corley. “People generally are starting to see that the industry is open to everyone.”
5 April 2023
Publication: Viewpoint APAC LinkedIn