The Construction Industry's Gender Gap

The numbers show that our industry is making some strides toward equality, but we still have a long way to go

October 25, 2019
woman in narrow gap moving toward opening

 

Photo: Pxhere

In September, I had the pleasure of hosting one of Professional Builder’s annual conferences. Held in Scottsdale, Ariz., the event drew attendees from all over the country and from diverse segments of the housing industry, all of whom nevertheless share a common passion for their work. 

We engaged a couple of presenters from outside of the industry, but over the course of the rest of the three-day event, we heard from a wide-ranging group of home builders and remodelers: company owners, sales and marketing executives, project managers, and more, all of whom generously shared their hard-earned wisdom with fellow attendees. Many are facing big challenges in their markets and in their companies, but by the end of our time there, I felt hopeful because of the successes they’d achieved and their desire to accomplish more. 

Essentially, it was an event like many others you and I have attended over the years. Except ... the speakers were all women.

As were the attendees. Yes, it was our fifth annual Women in Residential Construction Conference

The women attending the conference are dealing with the same issues that challenge all home builders today: how to make housing more affordable despite soaring costs, a scarcity of labor, and the fear of a possible recession, along with the usual boatload of day-to-day problems on the job. But they also have a steep hill to climb when it comes to being seen and treated as equals to their male counterparts.

Think that kind of discrimination is behind us?

Here are some statistics from the most recent Census Bureau report: “The 2018 real median earnings of men ($55,291) and women ($45,097) who worked full-time, year-round, increased by 3.4 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively, between 2017 and 2018. The 2018 female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.816, not statistically different from the 2017 ratio. The number of full-time, year-round workers increased by 2.3 million, between 2017 and 2018. The number of men and women full-time, year-round workers increased by about 700,000 and 1.6 million, respectively.”

It’s still true that women earn less than men, nearly 20% less. And while employment numbers show that more women than men joined the workforce in 2018, by quite a lot, the fact is the jobs they’re taking on are mostly in the gig economy: ride-share drivers, couriers, and the like. 

The number of women working in construction has grown as well; not Uber-driver numbers, but a more than respectable increase nevertheless: There were 85% more female construction laborers and 49% more female construction managers in 2018 than in 2017. That amount of growth is good, but the actual number of women who hold those positions remains around 4% and 8% of the construction labor force, respectively.

Greater numbers of women in the industry are working in office and administrative support, management, business and financial, and sales areas. In fact, 73.5% of those positions are held by women. But again, the actual numbers of women employees in those jobs are low, with 350,000 women in management, 464,000 in office and admin support, and 26,000 in sales—small numbers compared with the approximately 10 million people working in construction.

The Census Bureau’s statistics show our industry is making some strides in increasing the number of women hired to work in construction, but we still have a long way to go.

How to get there? A few ideas: If you think women just don’t apply when you’re hiring, you may need to rewrite job descriptions in gender-neutral language and offer paid family leave. If you already have women on your team, try harder to keep them: Provide pay parity, a path to promotion, and encourage them to work with mentors

In 2018, the total share of women working in construction was 9.9%; I think we can, and should, do better than that.

 

editorial director

Denise Dersin, editorial director of Professional Builder, Custom Builder, PRODUCTS, NKBA Innovation+Inspiration, and co-editor of Multifamily Design+Construction, has been in publishing as an editor and writer for 30 years and has worked in the housing industry for much of that time.

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