Create a Female-Friendly Culture in Construction

With the rise of technology, the change in mindset and a new generation of leadership, the role of women in construction will not just change—the numbers of women in construction are sure to grow.
By Annalisa Enrile
April 10, 2018

In 2014, Price Waterhouse found the highest incidences of sexual harassment were reported in the entertainment industry and in construction. Four years later, the #metoo and Time’s Up! movements have thrown a spotlight on women and the workplace, demanding solutions that are comprehensive and empowering.

Women have been in construction since the 13th century, mostly as laborers and in the building trades. Today, there are few women who work as laborers, but the majority of women in construction work in sales, management and support roles in the office. Women make up about 9 percent of the construction industry in North America and up to 20 percent internationally. These numbers have not significantly changed in the last decade and there has been little upward mobility through promotion. This is true even though construction has a higher than average rate of equity (91 percent) than other industries (83 percent).

The Male Paradigm

Despite the close parity in pay, construction remains a “good old boy’s network,” referring to a male paradigm. A Vice TV episode focused on men in construction and gender and reports of harassment toward women bordering on abuse and assault. This is in line with recent cases reporting sexual abuse and harassment.

The National Women’s Law Center found 88 percent of women in construction experienced harassment. Harassment occurs in the form of catcalls, sexist remarks, lewd drawings and being treated as if they are not qualified.

Increasing Possibilities

Governments are creating incentives for women in nontraditional fields, which includes construction. Getting in the door is only the beginning. What happens once women are hired? Companies are becoming more aware that they have to be accountable for their workplace environments.

There is an increase in sexual harassment training. Interactive trainings and workshops also delve deeper by exposing micro-aggressions and creating safe spaces for women to report incidences. The National Association for Women in Construction (NAWIC) is located in 150 U.S. cities. Their mission is “to promote and advance women in construction” and they do so through hosting events where women can share experiences and best practices and provide support. In Los Angeles, NAWIC Chapter President, Priscilla Chavez states, “NAWIC LA has taken a keen interest in STEM outreach by speaking to young boys and girls about careers in construction and have also awarded scholarships to young women.”

Research reveals real change is dependent on action at the executive level. Construction managers and executives have the power to set the tone in their companies. Melissa Afkari, a senior enterprise resource planning (ERP) consultant, credits her success to her experience working with high-ranking women and also to the fact that her company is owned by women, who also run the company’s board of directors.

In fact, female leadership has influenced the all-male senior leadership team. “Executive leadership has provided me with opportunities—I have done things like present at our annual users’ conference. I was the only woman on stage and afterwards, was surprised by the amount of women that approached me who said they were so glad to see a woman on stage at a tech conference.”

The growth of women in the construction industry is not just empowering for women but for business as well. The Harvard Business Review found that women’s instincts and emotional intelligence make them skilled change managers who are able to lead during crisis and easily pivot.

Technology as an Equalizer

New developments such as growth of technology solutions have opened up possibilities for women. In particular, the development of construction software has been a growth opportunity. The progression of women from project administrators on the jobsite to technology based roles and then vertically into purely IT or other tech-related roles has been expanding in the last decade.

Coupled with more specialized education, this has made it easier for women’s work to extend past the jobsites. Skillset, capability and education are the drivers of these technology positions and women are finding a good fit in the “ConTech” environment. Women are quickly moving into areas of executive leadership as CIOs and CTOs. Just as technology is redefining the construction space, it is also influencing the professional possibilities for women.

The Future is Female

Initiatives like “Build Like a Girl” and “Women in Construction Week” as well as growing scholarships, educational outreach programs, formal mentorship networks and other services are making a difference at increasing the role of women in the industry. With the rise of technology, the change in mindset and a new generation of leadership, the role of women in construction will not just change—the numbers of women in construction are sure to grow.

by Annalisa Enrile
Dr. Annalisa Enrile is a Clinical Professor at the University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. Dr. Enrile has been working in the anti-trafficking movement since 1993 as a researcher, advocate, activist and practitioner.

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