Highlighting the ‘Unique Benefits’ Women Bring to the Industry

March 8th, 2023 by Travis Rains

The National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) is petitioning the construction industry to combat challenges, such as a retiring workforce, by recruiting and retaining women, “the largest demographic percentage of our population.” Having met with 176 tradeswomen and analyzed survey responses from 770 women in construction, the organization is now highlighting the unique benefits women bring to the industry while shedding light on obstacles they may encounter.

NCCER says the goal of a white paper entitled “In Her Own Words,” which included management teams, was to highlight the benefits women bring to the industry, as well as obstacles women encounter when entering and remaining in the construction workforce. Along those lines, surveyed women also provided recommendations for recruiting and retaining more women.

According to NCCER, studies show that for every four people leaving the construction industry, only one enters. Furthermore, it’s predicted that 1.9 million craft professionals will be in demand by 2025, evidence that the “multi-generational challenge” will require a diverse workforce. While investments are being made throughout the country in infrastructure and more, the study notes that the recruitment of women to the industry is more than just a way to fill the workforce gap.

“This view is incomplete because it ignores the unique qualities women bring to the jobsite that contribute to an improved work environment,” NCCER’s report said.

One such quality noted by the focus groups is that women follow the designed, prescribed work process rather than relying on physical strength and experience. That comes into play as technological advancements have reduced or removed reliance on physicality. Additional benefits include a focus on teamwork, attention to detail, jobsite cleanliness and organization, and improved safety performance.

“Women are role model workers. They want to work safely. They follow process and procedure,” the focus groups found. “Generally, I find that [women adhere] better to compliance and HSE process and procedures.”

In fact, a survey of 2,780 construction craft professionals found that crews with at least one woman reported higher individual performance as compared to crews comprised of all men.

“The women emphasized that many of their male colleagues largely focused on personal and individual achievements rather than the overall performance of the crew,” NCCER wrote. “In contrast, women are more focused on making sure that the entire team is functioning at a high level rather than on their own individual achievements.”

So what can the industry do to be more attractive to women?

According to survey responses, the construction industry continues to struggle with discrimination and sexual harassment. While improvements have been made in office settings, “adequate improvements” have not necessarily been realized in the field.

“For those construction leaders currently working on this issue, the suggestion from the focus groups was to get feedback from women in the field to determine if it is having a positive impact,” NCCER wrote. “In fact, creating women resource groups that meet monthly or quarterly provides great feedback for the company, helps women feel connected, and provides a greater sense of belonging.”

Respondents also say the industry needs a renewed focus on ensuring consistent hiring practices, as women report continued obstacles in obtaining employment. For example, several women received no response from craft companies when submitting applications, but then resubmitted those same applications only with a gender-neutral name. They then report receiving a response.

“The sentiment among the groups was that tradeswomen cannot contribute or demonstrate their abilities if they are not able to get through the door and prove themselves,” NCCER wrote.

Another big-ticket item addressed by the focus groups was the need to accommodate mothers. The survey of 770 women in construction found that 25% of tradeswomen reported facing disciplinary action for missing work for family emergencies against 4% in managerial, administrative and technical positions.

Construction companies that find a way to address childcare challenges could see bolstered interest from women and families, the organization continues.

“If we want construction careers to be a viable option for all people, we have to change the culture and perception of our industry, starting with our own projects,” NCCER wrote. “We must recognize that we are not effectively appealing to the largest percentage of the population, and this is negatively impacting our project outcomes.”

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