As the construction industry’s labor shortage intensifies, the number of women stepping into the industry has reached an all-time high.
The number of women working in U.S. construction hit 1 million this year for the first time, and women made up a record 14.1% of the sector’s workforce in July, Bloomberg reports.
The gains have come largely out of necessity. The total number of open construction jobs in the U.S. stood at 440,000 in April, the highest in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ available data, which goes back 21 years.
“We cannot afford in this industry to turn down people purely based on gender,” Patrice Haley, a member of DPR Construction’s diversity leadership team, told Bloomberg. “A lot of that veteran talent is starting to retire … We can’t leave any stone unturned.”
A third of the positions women have in the industry are trade jobs like painting and carpentry that are estimated to grow in the next couple of years, according to Bloomberg.
Many firms have launched targeted initiatives at attracting women. In March 2021, Boston-based Suffolk launched a “Rebuild the Ratio” program to increase the number of women within the firm from 28% to 38% in the next 10 years. Suffolk also announced a 10-year partnership with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts and YouthBuild Boston to offer construction and STEM curriculums to Girl Scouts between the ages of 5 and 17.
Although labor participation for women is up, barriers haven’t necessarily been broken. According to an Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 44% of tradeswomen reported they are considering leaving the industry, and a lack of respect or discrimination is the top reason cited. Another 24% reported that they frequently face sexual harassment. Both are issues that the industry has been grappling with for years.