Construction has long been a male-dominated industry, but times are changing. New attitudes, new technologies, and new ways of building are creating a construction environment more open to women than ever before. Still, you often need to grind off the rough edges of your company culture before you really attract top female recruits. Here’s how to do that.
To fit in, women must often adopt what are generally more masculine attributes like competing instead of cooperating or using brute force over leverage. They must also put up with people treating them as if they’re incapable—as if they need ‘extra help’ or they’re ‘not up to the job.’
Raven Hoffman, a senior estimator at Syverson Tile and Stone and National Association of Women in Construction member, said women sometimes also struggle with gaining buy-in from other employees. They may have trouble accepting women on the jobsite and overcoming the mindset that women can’t do it. Often, that’s even the case with the women themselves, she said.
For Jessica Wilson, project manager with Cadence McShane Construction Company, she’d experienced others doubting her abilities first hand. She recalls having to work with a state inspector who initially didn’t want to review payouts with her because he doubted her competence—he didn’t think she would know what she was talking about. And she says women themselves sometimes don’t feel up to the task.
“A lot of females still think that a woman cannot do the same job a man can,” she said. “But, if you have the confidence and the knowledge of what you’re doing, you can surpass that misconception.”
Contractors can use a couple of strategies to attract and retain more women. Since women still aren’t guided to careers in construction based on their interests, one avenue is to hire and apprentice women with the interest and aptitude for the work.
The second approach is to hire women who already have the education and skills. In both cases, it’s important to provide a workplace where females are supported equally as the men. For instance, support them when necessary, and insist on them doing the work they were hired to do.
Eliminate Sexual Harassment
Women still face sexual harassment in all lines of work, and male-dominated industries tend to have the worst reputation. But that’s changing. Wilson said increasingly more men now understand how their behavior affects women on the job.
It falls to company leadership though to take the reins in eliminating sexual harassment. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, but harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).”
Contractors need to address sexual harassment when it happens if they want to maintain a reputation of treating people fairly and equally. Sexual harassers are stealing from company resources—they are reducing the effectiveness of those harassed. They are also demeaning others. If that’s not motivation enough, consider the costs of defending against lawsuits.
The first step is to have a documented program that explains how you address and resolve these problems. During resolution, it’s important to document your efforts and use remedial actions. These might include training on your policies, improving the complaining employee’s work conditions, and finally, taking disciplinary actions against offenders.
Rethinking Corporate Benefits
It’s a no brainer that construction needs to attract more people from the younger ranks. Currently, they are in the family-building stages of their lives, and today’s young people are far removed from the “Leave It To Beaver” where the husband went to work and the mother was the “happy homemaker.” That’s why parental leave and other family-focused benefits are slowly but gradually becoming the new norm.
Mary Daley, president of San Francisco Federal Reserve, said recently that “adequate parental leave and affordable childcare options” prevent millions of new parents from going to work, or even returning after childbirth. This is a reality that’s also impacting young fathers—they often perceive fatherhood differently than many fathers of past generations.
“I wouldn’t want to work for an employer who doesn’t have those types of considerations for mothers, families and dads,” said Wilson. “If you want us to come back to work, you have to make it feasible for us to come back. When employers recognize the value of their employees, then those policies are in place to make them better employees. I think it should be on the top of their list.”
Cadence McShane has a short-term disability policy for mothers along with paternal leave for dads. They’ve also included a wellness room for moms who return to work. It seems to have paid off—her employer’s workforce comprises over 19 percent of women, exceeding the national percentage of women in construction by 10 percent.