WIC Week: Harnessing the Full Power of the Workforce


By Maja Rosenquist, senior vice president, Mortenson

It’s no secret that women working in construction represent a sliver of the entire U.S. workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 10.9% of the construction industry is made up of women, and only 2.5% of all tradespeople are women. Building a pipeline of women who consider construction a viable career and creating a work environment that provides meaningful career development opportunities is something I’ve written about before here, but the need to make major changes in our industry has become more urgent in the last two years and will only become more so over the next decade.

According to Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), we’ll need more than half a million workers to meet demand in this year alone. Looking ahead, the picture becomes more dire. A recent report from the National Association of Home Builders shows the construction industry will need more than two million workers over the next three years. Right now 32.5% of the construction industry is over 50 years old, and according to NCCER, a wave of retirements has already started. We must address the workforce pipeline shortage now, and the best way to do that is to harness – finally – the full power of the entire workforce.

Creating real change is much more than a simple numbers game. As leaders across the industry, now is our chance to work together to increase parity, create a more welcoming environment for women and underrepresented audiences, and strengthen our workforce pipeline for the next generation.

Increasing Parity

If we want to see change, we must start holding ourselves accountable for the environment we create in our workplaces. In construction, that starts on the jobsite. Oftentimes, the reality is that women are relegated to ‘light’ work jobs like sweeping or opening gates. It’s pretty hard to advance in your career when you aren’t given the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to take on bigger roles on the job site – operating heavy equipment and using tools to develop a particular expertise that would lead to higher-paying craft jobs. In fact, 73% of women in construction feel passed over for roles because of their gender. Given those statistics, the problem isn’t just getting more women into the industry, it’s keeping them here. Opportunities for advancement are essential to retention.

At Mortenson, we have implemented a sponsorship program for our craft team focused on women and communities of color. We have also developed specific programs aimed at providing the experience women need to advance on the construction site. Our Women’s Skills Nights are available to all team members and are focused on safety, tool use, reading blueprints and IWP training. We also provide career mapping, where we lay out the specific skills needed to advance and help our craft team members chart a path toward their goals – hopefully as part of the Mortenson team. We also measure how we advance people and how we pay people. We hired an external party to conduct a pay equity audit so we can make sure that we’re fair in how we move people through the organization and how they’re compensated.

Creating a Sense of Belonging in the Industry

Beyond adding numbers, to understand how our industry is doing when it comes to creating an environment where people want to stay, benchmarks are vital. Mortenson developed aggressive, quantifiable goals for each pillar of its DEI program. We are laser-focused on workforce composition, aiming to meet or beat the composition of the communities in which we operate. When it comes to creating a sense of belonging, we engage our team members through a survey every two years to understand if everyone feels like they are being heard, and if we are creating an environment where inclusion is felt in a meaningful way. That survey data helps us to understand how we’re performing and to establish corresponding goals, including both quantitative and qualitative measures.

Our work to create a path to advancement for more women extends to our industry advocacy. This year, we’re hosting Mortenson’s national Women in Construction (WIC) Week, happening March 7 – 11, with programming aimed at career development for both our own team and partners in the industry, along with resources to empower attendees to continue the conversation on project sites and with others in the construction industry. Mortenson is a founding member of the Time for Change consortium, a group of six national general contractors who banded together with a single purpose: identify ways to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the construction industry. That effort resulted in the first Construction Inclusion Week last fall in which tools, training and support were provided to the 200,000 workers that made up the consortium and its partners.

Building the Pipeline, Together

Right now, just 12% of the construction workforce is under the age of 24 and more than 29% of the workforce is expected to retire by 2026. This is an alarming statistic, but it also represents an opportunity to build something new. By engaging with students of all ages and identities, and letting them see the possibilities in the construction industry as one more opportunity for a STEM career, we can reframe the way the industry is viewed. This is an exciting and noble profession – and a vital one for the future of our country.

For our part, we’re working to share the meaningful careers available to girls in construction through a variety of ongoing youth outreach efforts, including our day-of-service that will wrap up this year’s WIC Week on March 11. More than 100 team members from Mortenson’s Denver office will volunteer at our nonprofit partners including: Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, Firefly Autism, Florence Crittenton, Food for Thought, Girls, Inc., Mile High Youth Corps, STEMblazers and Transportation & Construction Girl.

While this isn’t just a numbers game, a continual push to educate, promote and mentor the next generation of women can make a huge difference in representation. We’re seeing that internally at Mortenson. Women currently make up 30% of all non-craft positions, up from 26% in 2015. And women make up 12% of craft positions today which is up from just 7% seven years ago. We’re also making progress at the leadership level – 30% of our board members are women.

No single construction firm can fill this worker shortage; this is a team effort, and we must start treating it like one. Every firm out there needs to be working to build the pipeline, introducing more people to the immense opportunities available within construction and creating the kind of environment where people choose to build and grow their careers. Our industry, our economy and our communities will be better for our collective efforts.

Photo courtesy of Mortenson

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