The bad news: Women continue to be “substantially underrepresented” in the construction trades, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The good news: Nationally, the largest startups of women-owned businesses are in the construction industry.
That’s the word from Dede Hughes, executive vice president of the Fort Worth, Texas-based National Association of Women in Construction.
“It improves all the time, at all levels,” Hughes said. “More and more women are joining the industry, and they are gaining respect.”
In fact, she said, unions are starting to ask the NAWIC to help them attract more women into the trades.
“We fought for that for years,” Hughes said. “Women have proven themselves in this industry. We can do the work and do it well. We try harder, and men are beginning to respect that.”
Talent at all levels is needed, she said, because there is a “huge shortage” of skilled workers in the construction industry , both men and women.
“More people are retiring than coming into the industry,” Hughes said. “Young people are not going into construction. Look at the image.”
The problem has been school counselors who consider the trades a last-ditch place to go “when you can’t do anything else,” she said.
“You have to be skilled,” Hughes said. “We need engineers, project managers, estimators, and these people are highly trained to do what they do.”
But NAWIC, along with other trade associations, are working hard to change that image, she said.
The association has been making inroads since its origins in 1953 as Women in Construction of Fort Worth, founded by 16 women as a support system.
Since then, membership in the international nonprofit organization has grown to 5,500, with 200 chapters in almost every state, representing women in careers ranging from business owners to the skilled trades. NAWIC also has international affiliation agreements with associations in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Some other tidbits from NAWIC:
– As of 2005, 900,000 women worked in construction, increasing from 840,000 the previous year.
– Women make up 12 percent of the construction industry workforce nationwide, with more than three-quarters of them in sales and office jobs; 29 percent in service occupations; almost 15 percent in professional and management ranks; 3 percent in natural resources, construction and maintenance areas; and 2 percent in transportation and material moving.
As for women achieving full parity with men in the construction trades, “We still have a generation or so to go,” Hughes said. “I’m looking forward to having the best of all worlds , working together and using the skills we’ve got to produce a much better product.”