The percentage of women working in construction is just over 9 percent, but due to the high demand for skilled tradespeople, more women are finding employment in the industry. With this growth, there are still a number of challenges these women face.
Safety is important for all construction workers, but also for women, in particular. On an OSHA website dedicated to women in the industry, one major concern is making sure that there is safety equipment available that properly fits. Women are often smaller in stature or otherwise not suited for the personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by men.
As NPR’s Marketplace pointed out, the numbers don’t support mass-produced safety equipment either; equipment that would be exclusively manufactured with women’s bodies in mind. . . “For example, heavy-duty work gloves are mostly designed for big hands and that can be a hazard in some instances,” said Mary Jo Emrick, a welder who’s been in the industry for 40 years.
There’s also an issue with something that should be considered basic on the job: bathrooms. “Many sites don’t have a women’s bathroom and women often aren’t allowed to use the men’s port-a-potties,” says Tamara Crooks with the National Association of Women in Construction, “there’s still not enough trades women on job sites [to] require a separate [bathroom].”
As the #MeToo movement highlighted the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace in general, within the construction industry it can be unusually high. According to a 2014 report from the National Women’s Law Center, “A study by the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 88 percent of women construction workers experience sexual harassment at work, compared to 25 percent of women in the general workforce.”
Where there’s construction work, there’s good pay
For those who take on these many challenges, there can be a good reward. The gender pay gap is much narrower in the construction industry. Working women in the U.S. earn approximately 81.1 percent of what men make. In a construction job, however, women earn on average 95.7 percent of their male counterparts take home.
James Mescall, one of only two women in a welding class at Austin Community College in Texas notes, “I feel like in this field I can make more money.” It’s likely that salaries will stay competitive while women continue to be a minority in construction because wages don’t typically get slashed until women begin to dominate a field.
As the demand for construction jobs increase, women in leadership positions are also taking on roles to mentor others in the field in an effort to shape the industry.
In Southern California, these organizations provide more information for women in construction: National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), Women in Construction Operations (WiOPS) and Tradewomen, Inc.