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Stedman: Construction needs more women

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Not long ago, sidewalk supervisors peering through the fence at a construction site gazed upon a scene that society considered quintessentially male.

But thanks to some enlightenment — and necessity — that’s starting to change.

Today, women are turning up at worksites more and more often, doing jobs their parents wouldn’t have dreamed for them. Still, men continue to dominate construction work. In 2021, only 11% of construction industry employees were women. More than 45%  of women in the industry say they’ve never worked with a woman construction manager.

But the present moment offers a unique opportunity for women to enter the field at all levels. The construction industry, like many others, is struggling with a labor shortage. Nationally, 500,000 jobs are waiting to be filled. So, the question isn’t, “Should a construction company hire qualified women?” but rather, when good workers are so hard to come by, “How can we get them interested in our company?”

Those workers are ready and waiting for the right opportunity. More than 1 million women left the construction labor force during the COVID pandemic, often to stay home with their kids during mandatory school closings. But life has essentially returned to normal, and many women are ready to return to work.

Women construction workers bring a lot to the table. For starters, we are born multi-taskers. We know how to balance and juggle duties. We can handle many things at once and handle them well. We are also open to innovation and new solutions to old problems. You’re less likely to hear “because we’ve always done it that way” from a woman.

And we embrace change within our field and the wider world. Consider how employee diversity is changing the types of spaces we build. Lactation rooms, prayer rooms and all-gender restrooms — to name just a few — are quickly becoming standard components of many commercial office buildings. Women involved in such projects can provide insights that add value to both the process and the end product.

If all that isn’t compelling enough, consider this eye-opening statistic: Hiring more women can help fatten the bottom line. A recent study found companies with a diverse team of workers are 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than those with less diversity. That’s a benefit you can take to the bank.

Additionally, the notion that men resent — and resist — women colleagues on the job site and in the office is outdated. I can tell you from my experience that male construction employees accept women as co-workers. I’ve worked alongside several guys who saw me as a valued team member and treated me as such.

When construction companies go looking for new employees, they should take the time and effort to recruit women. That investment will pay dividends for years to come.

Ashlee Stedman is a senior project manager at a general contracting company in Seattle/InsideSources

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