Construction 'Not Your Father's Industry Anymore'

November 6, 2018
Little girl in front of brick wall that says "for women"
Photo: Unsplash/Katherine Hanlon

Women may be the solution that the residential construction industry is searching for as its labor shortage continues, though women already in the field have not necessarily been welcomed.

Today, women account for less than three percent of the industry's workforce. According to U.S. Department of Labor data, if the share of women working in the field doubled, the labor shortage would essentially be eliminated. Currently, the field is down 275,000 workers due largely to the Trump administration immigration crackdowns, the lack of Millennials in the force, and still-recovering builders unable to take on the cost. The cost to build and buy homes continues to rise, and in the meantime, construction demand is expected to keep rising -- National Association of Home Builders economist Stephen Melman forecasts housing starts to grow between four and five percent in 2019, requiring 12 percent growth in construction jobs by 2026, Curbed reports.

Director Lorien Barlow’s documentary, “Hard Hatted Woman,” which comes out in 2020, follows five tradeswomen, all of whom have experienced significant sexual harassment. “Everything from inappropriate comments to sexual assault,” she explains. “Conversations can be extremely crude; men might have porn on their phones [at work] that’s shown to everyone.” That’s not necessarily the case at the managerial level, but most of the job openings in construction are in the trades.

Without an established web of contacts and mentors, women often struggle to advance. “A lot is based on the soft skills, networking, and many women don’t have entrée to that,” says Barlow. “I’ve rarely met a tradeswoman who’s 100 percent satisfied with the opportunities she’s had for advancement. Maybe she’s been ten years in the industry and is still getting laid off several months out of the year.”

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