By: Bryan Zoran
Potential worker shortages in the construction industry could create a series of challenges for the United States and Canada over the next decade. Although there have been recent reports and articles questioning the extent, and even the existence, of looming shortages, many agree that it will be an issue, particularly in certain pockets of North America and specifically with hard-to-fill jobs in the industry.
This shortage is an opportunity to obtain good-paying jobs for both men and women. Yet the construction industry remains male-dominated. This topic recently caught my attention and got me thinking about the difficulties women encounter in nontraditional fields.
For all the advancements women have made, traditional gender roles and perceptions of competency still negatively impact women. Recently, I was in a taxi on the way to the Calgary airport with one male and three female colleagues. The taxi broke down. As the driver was calling for help, I commented to the only other male, “I hope you know how to fix cars.” Luckily, one of my female colleagues called me on my lingering stereotype.
As I like to consider myself forward-thinking, I was quickly reminded of how ingrained gender roles remain. This is true despite the fact my wife, the daughter of an industrial tech teacher, is much more adept than I at fixing things around our house. Honestly, I struggle with this fact. As a man, I should be the one to handle these things. At least that is what many of us were taught. These ingrained stereotypes are not easily removed, despite our best intentions to change. Perhaps this sheds some light on the stubbornness of job industry demographics.
In 2012, women represented only 4% of the construction trade workforce, according to Statistics Canada. This number is even lower in the United States. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) report “Women in Construction: Still Breaking Ground,” found that women hold only 2.6% of all construction industry jobs in the U.S., almost the same percentage as 30 years ago.
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Earlier this year, Employment Minister Jason Kenney pointed out that Skills Canada estimates that one million skilled trade workers will be needed by 2020. More specifically, the Construction Sector Council (CSC) estimated the construction industry will need to recruit over 300,000 workers between 2012 and 2020.
The median hourly wage for construction jobs in 2013 was roughly double the median hourly wage for female-dominated occupations, such as home health aides and child care workers, according to the NWLC report. Therefore, the authors indicate that increasing women’s participation in high-wage, high-skill nontraditional fields, such as construction, is vital to their financial security.
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Looking at the specific jobs women hold in the construction industry shows how traditional gender roles are still pervasive. According to the NWLC report, women are most likely to be concentrated in office positions in the construction industry and least likely to be found in more labor-intensive (higher-paying, on average) positions.
It is worth noting that the percentage of women in other nontraditional, physically demanding occupations has increased considerably.
A positive development for women in the construction industry is increased ownership, as reported in a Fortune article entitled “Women are breaking through the ‘concrete ceiling.”
“While women may not be gaining ground in trades, they are increasingly getting involved on the entrepreneurial side of the industry. The U.S. Census Bureau counted 152,871 women-owned construction firms in 1997. Ten years later, that number had jumped by 76% to 268,809.”
The Canadian Association of Women in Construction (CAWIC) launched its Women’s Advancement Project in Calgary, Alberta in September 2014. CAWIC is working with industry partners to address the skills shortage by promoting the advancement of women into leadership roles within the construction industry. Similar efforts are being made in Ontario and Newfoundland/Labrador.
CAWIC recently received a grant from the Government of Canada for $249,900 through Status of Women Canada to support these efforts. These funds will be used for a three-year project to conduct research and develop an action plan to open doors for women’s entry, retention and advancement into leadership roles within the construction industry.
Other groups and programs across Canada and the United States, such as the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), are also working to break down the barriers that women continue to face in the industry.
As we evolve as a species, one thing everyone can do is to reflect upon their own misconceptions and stereotypes about what women can or cannot do. For instance, when a taxi breaks down on the way to the airport.