Framework for the Future

The construction industry is a male-dominated field, but women are breaking down barriers and jackhammering through a concrete ceiling for the next generation of women to build careers in construction. 

The future looks promising as the industry is expected to see 12% employment growth by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, experts are applauding the federal government’s plans to increase investment in infrastructure construction in the coming years. 

While there are more than 404,000 unfilled construction positions and a survey by The Associated General Contractors of America found about 80% of construction companies can’t find the workers they need, tradeswomen organizations are celebrating a new commitment from the Biden administration to increase access to and funding for pre-apprenticeship programs for women and people of color. 

Time of transformation

Currently only 2% of workers on construction sites are women, but the drive for a more diverse and inclusive workforce is impacting the industry. Today about 13% of construction-related companies are owned by women; this is a 64% increase in just five years (2014 and 2019). The time is ripe for women to don hard hats and get into the industry and the reasons why are simple:

Women think differently. Research shows female and male brains are wired for different optimizations. This allows for diverse ideas to come to the table and diversity leads to innovation. Construction also requires problem solving skills, an innate ability for many women. Additionally, a 2016 study across 90 countries found that women outperformed men in 11 out of 12 emotional competence skills. Strong emotional intelligence can strengthen the employee work ethic, critical thinking skills, and collaboration.

Career path variety. Construction is not simply about hammering nails. Opportunities such as drone and heavy machinery operators, electricians, welders, plumbers, and more are opening up on many projects. Additionally, women are making an impact by estimating budgets, balancing spreadsheets, managing materials, and navigating the supply chain.

No degree required. It’s possible to establish a construction career without obtaining a college degree. Women who are interested in taking training courses can find financial assistance such as the scholarships offered by The American Council for Construction Education, American Welding Society and the National Association of Women in Construction. Additionally, in many parts of the country, companies collaborate with local communities to offer courses and training programs. For example, when Long Beach City College brought back the trades program, Gene Carbonaro, dean of career technical education, said, “We haven’t even tried to get industry partners, but they seem to be coming to us.” 

Narrower gender wage gap. The earning potential for women in construction far exceeds other industries. Women in construction currently earn on average 99.1% of what their male counterparts make while the national average for other industries in the U.S. is approximately 81.1% of what men take home. 

Growing network of support. As the community of women in construction grows, so do organizations such as the National Association of Women in Construction(NAWIC), Women in Construction Operations (WiOPS) and Tradewomen, Inc. This provides a solid support system for women who may gain insights and mentor others. 

What is Infrastructure?

Driving the industry forward

It’s extremely rare for infrastructure projects to be awarded to a slate of contractors entirely or almost entirely run by women, but at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) a team of women-led businesses was awarded a $25.9 million contract from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The prime contractors, KDG Construction Consulting is headed by Lydia Kennard, former Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director; Destination Enterprises, Inc. was founded and is led by transit engineer Marcy Szarama. The subcontractor firms led by women include Rohadfox Construction Control Services Corp., Fariba Nation Consulting, CER Scheduling Consultants and Virtek Co. 

The new 6th Street Bridge is being raised with a lot of women power. The team of 170 includes 15 women,  the most on any commercial project in Los Angeles and nearly double the Department of Labor’s participation goal of 6.9% female crew members. The $428-million project is being constructed by Swedish construction company Skanska, in a joint venture with San Francisco-based Stacy and Witbeck. Skanska includes a senior executive team that is half women.

Some of the other women making an impact on SoCal construction include:

  •  Erin Young, Project Executive at Clark Construction Group – CA LP, has helped spearhead construction efforts on more than $1.5 billion of work in Southern California.
  •  Tiffany LaBruno, Director of Professional Services at Gafcon, was named to Construction Business Owner’s 2019 Outstanding Women in Construction.
  •  Michele Salas, Regional Senior Safety Manager at Suffolk, was highlighted by Los Angeles Business Journal.
  •  Diane Koester-Byron, founder and owner of I.E.–Pacific in Escondido, shared her experiences in the Times of San Diego and notes that “knowing that women have likely been the hardest hit financially and professionally by the devastating effects of the pandemic, it makes perfect sense to encourage women to enter the construction industry.”

Rebuild SoCal Partnership celebrates women in the industry. Learn more about Women in Construction in SoCal, stay updated by signing up to the Rebuild SoCal Partnership newsletter, listen to The Rebuild SoCal Zone podcast, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.