Women in Construction The Buzz


Historically, the construction industry has been very male dominated. But these days, more and more women are working in construction.

Some work in sales, others serve in management. Still others are out there on the construction sites swinging hammers with the guys. Some have even started their own construction companies.

Unfortunately, discrimination can be a big drawback for many women in the industry, says Ruth Bramham. Bramham is project coordinator of the planning and renovations department at a university.

"Promotions to supervisory or management positions often bypass competent women because men still can't tolerate being told what to do by a woman," she says. "There are very, very few women in senior positions in most construction companies of any size."

The women who do work in management positions may be responsible for a variety of tasks. They may purchase building materials and land acquisitions. They may work on contracts or project estimates. Or they may put together quality control programs. Others may work in hiring and supervisory positions. And some may even oversee entire projects from start to finish.

There is also the construction site itself. However, it can be tough for women to break into construction site jobs, says Bramham.

It's becoming easier for women to get into management jobs, but harder at the trades level, she says. "Women's enrollment in [management] university courses has increased substantially over the past 10 years."

Julie Lyssy is the marketing director of the National Association of Women in Construction. This is a group based in Texas. She says it's not necessarily a matter of gender -- it comes down to how you approach the job and what you're capable of.

"It can be tough to get ahead in any industry and construction is no exception," she says. "Your attitude and aptitude are most often the two determining factors to how far you get and how quickly you get there."

More women are entering the construction industry these days because of two factors: there's a growing number of women in the workforce in general, and technology is continuing to advance.

"Some sheer physical strength is still needed, but the advancement of the tools of the trade has significantly changed the requirements of many positions," Lyssy says. "Also, women in the workforce are more common. In the United States, nearly 50 percent of the workforce is women."

The Economy and the Construction Industry

The size and depth of the construction industry magnifies the impact of an economic downturn on workers, says Lyssy. "Many projects were put on hold due to financing issues. This, in turn, affected all [areas] of industry from engineers to architects to general contractors to every category of sub-contractor."

Despite the poor economy, Lyssy says there is an increasing need for skilled construction workers. Many trades workers are reaching retirement age, and will need to be replaced.

"There is pent-up demand for planned and in-progress projects," she says. "The trick is getting the financing in place to move forward."

Discrimination in the Industry

Despite the expected growth in the industry, it can still be hard for women to take advantage of the job opportunities.

"Unfortunately, women still face more challenges than men in the construction field, such as discrimination in the hiring process, sexual harassment and negative stereotypes," says Matt Smith. Smith is a heavy equipment operator.

"Most employers have zero-tolerance rules in place to cover harassment," he adds. But even that doesn't mean that women and men are working on an even field yet when it comes to construction. "These rules aren't always enforced as strictly as they should be," he says.

Smith has witnessed discrimination and harassment firsthand while working on construction projects with women. However, he says it is getting easier for women to get ahead in the industry.

"With a flood of young people entering the trades, I think that attitudes are shifting away from the old-school boys club outlook and that women getting into construction have a bright future ahead of them."

Links

National Association of Women in Construction
A group that helps women succeed in the construction industry

Women Contractors Association
Promotes the growth of female owners and executives in the construction industry