The Glass Netting: Women in Construction

According to recruitment expert Dalyn Kut: 'Employees in construction want a more progressive, forward-thinking work culture that values individual employees.'
By Rachel E. Pelovitz
March 27, 2023

Construction firms are being hit the hardest by the talent shortage: 93% reported having open positions and 91% of firms were struggling to fill those positions, per a 2022 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk. The solution is glaringly simple, according to Dalyn Kut, head of construction recruitment at global talent firm Actalent: Hire women.

Kut specializes in engineering and construction management and has half a decade of experience finding and placing talent in capital expenditures, power generation, power delivery and alternative-energy market projects across the United States. In this interview with Construction Executive, Kut discusses recruiting women, creating an inclusive organizational culture and attracting a diverse workforce.

How is recruiting women in the industry different from recruiting men (in terms of approach, benefits, etc.)?

In terms of recruitment, all individuals weigh their values differently. I often see women emphasize their desire for long-term career opportunities, defined paths for career advancement and diversity in benefits. I often highlight different aspects of the role, such as medical leave, child care or job security. Of course, it all depends on at what point you’re meeting someone in their career.

It’s also important to make women feel comfortable throughout the interview process and ensure they understand how to approach an interview. Some women only apply to jobs in which they feel fully competent; in a survey published by Harvard Business Review, for example, more than one in five women reported that if they didn’t meet the qualifications of a job posting, they didn’t apply because they felt likely to fail. The entire industry can overcome that barrier to entry by being transparent about the hiring process, instilling confidence before the interview and bringing other women into the interview process.

How does parental leave change the hiring conversation?

Parenthood for all individuals can cause career anxiety. Parents can be fearful of telling their employer they are expecting a child, being replaced while taking leave or that their role will change significantly upon return. On top of that, paperwork surrounding the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be difficult to fill out, and for many individuals, it is their first time discovering how the filing process works.

It's crucial that employers revisit their parental-leave policies and establish one if they haven’t already. Companies are offering more paternal leave every year, and, in this tight labor market, construction employers need to stay competitive. Companies should then educate new hires on both the FMLA and their work-leave policies. Publicizing your maternity and paternity benefits will entice a wider range of applicants overall.

To assuage fears about losing out on career growth and promotions during leave, employers should develop an independent growth/promotion plan with the new hire. This will help candidates and employees feel confident in their career paths within the organization, and ensure the employer understands the goals and needs of the individual. In addition, educating your applicants on the accommodations for new parents, such as safe breastfeeding rooms, employee assistance programs or employee resource groups, will help provide leverage in the hiring conversation.

What safety features onsite do women value?

Whether a site is local or not, break-ins are a big concern for both men and women. As your company rolls out safety features, it’s important to be inclusive and equitable to all genders from the very beginning. Some companies have developed safety programs, which may include environmental, health and safety employees, to help individuals onsite feel secure. Employers should provide safety training that teaches employees how to protect themselves and others. Company-issued cellphones, locks on trailers and jobsites as well as designated keys can also go a long way toward establishing a safe work environment. And when it comes to PPE, employers need to provide equipment that fits all body types—not just men.

What protocols should be put in place for women traveling or visiting sites at night?

Lighting can a big factor on a jobsite—especially in the winter. I would recommend, where appropriate, that construction sites consider a designated security officer, a security booth and established points of entry. Having a map or drawing of the project site prior to arrival can also make the individual traveling feel more secure and confident in their surroundings at night and ensure they know where to go if they need assistance.

An additional concept employers might consider could also be offering self-defense training that is accessible to all employees. I recently took a self-defense course myself that catered to women within the construction industry and found that I learned new ways of handling myself in “at-risk” situations.

Do all companies need designated sexual harassment training, or does a generalized approach to respectful language suffice?

Companies should have established training programs for all employees on how to treat others, as well as inclusiveness training. Employers should also work to provide access to mission-oriented groups, such as the National Association of Women in Construction. While some of these diverse groups have entry fees, companies can cover them or pay for the expenses of going to a conference. Furthermore, employers can offer their own established programs in inclusion, diversity and equity. .

If someone feels uncomfortable or is harassed, companies should have an anonymous reporting method alongside established levels of escalation on how a complaint is handled aligned with a disciplinary protocol. Women, and all employees, need to know what the consequences are for sexual harassment and how such behavior will be handled within an organization.

How can companies cultivate a more inclusive culture that overcomes concerns of workplace safety?

Construction companies should start by looking at state and local guidelines regarding workplace safety and progress from there. While many states don’t require a yearly renewal of training, for instance, best-in-class companies often do.

Remember that the impact of an employee’s actions matters more than intent. Harmful interactions, such as microaggressions, can be well-intentioned but are still inappropriate. If your company has established an open-door policy or a point of contact that employees can approach when they are offended, you can better learn how to create a culture of inclusivity from that feedback. Employers should also avoid “othering” language that can make people feel excluded and establish social media and phone boundaries, so that workers aren’t messaging others outside of work without their consent.

How else can companies attract a diverse workforce?

As the industry evolves, we see employees in construction want a more progressive, forward-thinking work culture that values individual employees. That means creating a career path that details an organization’s structure and where opportunities for advancement lie. Visible pay bands and salary ranges allow candidates to understand the relationship between experience and compensation and ensure pay equity. As far as bonuses: Avoid making them discretionary, since they can be perceived as biased. Companies should post visible KPIs that employees can reach to receive a bonus.

I was just talking to a local contractor that increased its university presence by crafting a scholarship for women high-school graduates who want to pursue a career in construction. During recruitment, they target all groups. They lead introductions around DE&I and prepare women for leadership roles. Those are the kind of things companies can focus on to create an advantage in recruitment. Promoting these efforts and advertising them on job listings can go a long way toward attracting a more diverse workforce.

by Rachel E. Pelovitz

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