Walk into any hardware store and the issue is obvious: Shelves and shelves are lined with men’s pants, boots, gloves, and jackets. There might even be a collection of “unisex” gear, but ultimately those products are based on men’s sizing. If you’re a woman in the industry, the options are not looking good.
In the past, you may have had to settle for men’s pants with a belt at the waist and the legs hemmed, men’s “small” gloves that don’t fit your palm correctly, or women’s athletic gear that wears out after a few rigorous days on the jobsite.
But settle no more. Finally, a growing number of manufacturers, both large and small, are stepping up to fill the gap that has existed for far too long.
One major reason why tradeswomen have been underserved for years stems from the fact that they are underrepresented in the field. According to the National Association of Homebuilders, while women make up 47 percent of the labor market as a whole, they only make up about 9 percent of the construction industry. Even more dismaying is the fact that women only make up 3 percent of the group that the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls “natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations,” i.e. the largest category of workers actually out in the field.
In the midst of an acute skilled labor shortage, women represent a huge untapped opportunity for increasing the construction labor force. But a lack of exposure, respect, and resources may be keeping them out, says Amy James Neel, training director at Oregon Tradeswomen, an education and mentorship program for women in the trades.