How to Attract More Women to the Construction Industry
By SUE KASKO
Next time you pass a construction site, you’re likely to see a sign that is accurate in more ways than one: “Danger: Men at Work.” Every construction site is undoubtedly a place where there is potential for injury, but more accurately, chances are you’d be hard pressed to find a woman working there. With females making up less than 10 percent of those employed in construction, our industry ranks below other male-dominated workplaces such as farming, the clergy and even software development when it comes to attracting women to the industry.
It’s in our best interests to have a workforce that not only reflects the overall population of the country, but also the end-user of our creations. Women comprise of 50 percent of homeowners and inhabit most of the houses we build, work in the buildings we construct and pay for the renovations we design and deliver.
Why the disconnect, and what do we need to do to bring more women into the fold?
The answer is not so simple as, “hire more women.” We need to get women interested in the dynamic changes taking place within our industry, and we need to communicate that we offer exciting, rewarding and barrier-breaking opportunities for women. Speaking as one who was drawn to the opportunities now offered, I’ve outlined a few ways we can showcase the evolution of this industry that has made it so much more appealing, even to those who may have previously shunned the world of construction.
One key place to start is where most young people begin to think about and decide their future career paths: school. Schools have long failed to target young women with trade programs or construction-centric classes, and we can’t ignore the fact that social norms tend to build a wall between young women and construction employment. We should all be creating partnerships with local technical schools and with local universities to attract and develop future talent.
We also need to do a better job of selling our industry and showcasing the variety of jobs available, from traditional construction work to design, sales, project management operations and headquarters roles like IT, Finance and HR. We are in the midst of a great transformation in this profession, and we need to start showing that off!
In hiring, we should all cast a wider net when seeking talent, and consider applicants with no prior experience in the field. This ground-up approach is extremely helpful in eliminating preconceived barriers for women, and in order for this method to be effective, it must be coupled with a robust employee training program.
A comprehensive training program is arguably one of the most essential components to retaining talent, especially to create confidence in those without as much experience. Training lays the foundation of a burgeoning career, and it cultivates understanding of product knowledge, sales/customer service, systems and the construction industry as a whole.
This is the approach we take at 84 Lumber. No experience or industry knowledge is needed to join our Manager Trainee program, which is the entry point for many roles in the company. As part of this program, we invite Associates to our team headquarters in western Pennsylvania for our three-day “Lumber Camp,” where they can build core skills and learn company values, all while setting a strong foundation for different career paths that are available at 84 Lumber.
Within the past few decades, technology has transformed the construction industry and has spawned a variety of career paths that are much different from the stereotypical blue-collar jobs that may first come to mind. One position that tends to be a popular choice for females is the sales coordinator role, in which they can exercise their love for the technical aspects of construction, such as blueprints and product knowledge, while demonstrating effective communication and relationship building skills. Components and EWP Designer also tends to be an attractive job title for women who enjoy the more technical aspects of construction, and Kitchen and Bath Design for those who prefer the creative end of our work. Women may be surprised to learn that technology enables people in these roles to have greater flexibility, such as choosing their own hours or being out in the field, as opposed to working 8-hour days in the office.
Another very important aspect we need to focus on in our industry is creating a culture that is welcoming to all. It is imperative that human resources executives work with C-suite executives to create an environment in which all employees feel comfortable and supported so that companies can attract and retain top talent. At 84 Lumber, we are committed to creating a workplace where every Associate is respected, valued and able to build a successful career; we have put important policies and training in place to support this commitment. I know that other companies in our industry are also taking these serious steps to create harassment-free workplaces and would encourage all companies to follow these examples by implementing regular harassment prevention training programs and inclusion programs to ensure each demographic in our country has equal opportunities to join our incredible industry.
The fast-paced revolution that has taken the construction industry is exciting for sure, and I’m thrilled to observe that more companies are making it a priority to bring more women on board. It may be based on the fact that my company is led by a strong, successful woman, but I firmly believe that having more women in your ranks creates a decidedly competitive advantage. Studies show that companies with a more diverse workforce tend to be more profitable than those who neglect that area, and that includes diversity of genders as well.
At 84 Lumber, we strive to be the best and believe to accomplish that, you have to have the best and brightest Associates. That means having access to the largest talent pool possible – male or female – is critical. If we build the type of companies that offer technical, sales, design and communications opportunities for women, they will come. It will be a true ‘sign’ of the times to see “Women at Work.”
Sue Kasko is a talent development specialist with over 20 years of experience helping individuals build skills for success and organizations develop talent and leadership pipelines to fuel business growth. Sue is currently the Director, Talent Development for 84 Lumber Company. Prior to joining 84 Lumber, she worked in similar talent, learning and leadership development roles with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Development Dimensions International and US Airways.