As a woman who’s been through, well, a lot, I have a pretty good understanding of what many women want in their jobs. Having worked in several nontraditional occupations, as well as having been an HR manager, I think I have a good idea of what contractors need in employees, too. With the construction industry booming and a critical labor shortage looming, we need to get creative in recruiting. By continuing to look in the same places for workers, employers and hiring managers are missing out on half the population—women. Women are eager to earn a living wage and do something constructive. Not every woman is going to be interested in concrete, but I believe much of the reason is that they have never been exposed to it or introduced to all of the exciting careers available.
Attracting and retaining a skilled and dedicated crew is essential to getting contracts. The skilled labor force is shrinking, and women are a frequently overlooked resource, ready and willing to fill the void, to earn decent salaries. As a business owner, you may be wondering about the effects of bringing a woman or women into your primarily male organization. How will the guys handle it? Will they be distracted? Are there legislative issues you need to worry about? Do you need to provide special bathrooms?
From my experiences in the field, doing research, and talking to women with a lot more experience than myself, today you really don’t need to worry about most of those questions. Yes, you will need to provide some diversity and sexual harassment training, but you should already be doing that. For the most part, I have not had problems with my coworkers as the only woman on an otherwise all male team, but management drives company perceptions and plays a key role in how the team will receive new members.
While bathrooms can be an issue, especially when working offsite or in remote locations, this should not be a determining factor in hiring decisions. Once, while working on a highway crew, my male coworkers were tremendous gentlemen by creating a tent with their backs to me when there was simply nowhere else to go. My recommendation to women considering nontraditional occupations that may place them away from amenities, is always pack plenty of supplies.
I certainly never expected to get into concrete, yet I just graduated with my Ph.D. in Urban Studies from the University of New Orleans (UNO) and wrote my dissertation about women in the U.S. concrete construction industry. I have not followed a traditional path professionally or academically, but my interests have remained constant.
I began my studies at UNO in 2003. Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans Aug. 29, 2005, and it will always be a defining moment in my life because it changed me and altered the course of my research, and my graduation date by an entire decade.
After a long journey to recover, I returned to New Orleans in 2011 and started working as a dispatcher in the concrete industry for Baker Ready Mix. I was disheartened that women still earned less than men for the same work, but I was intrigued to discover the pay gap was much smaller in construction. Women in construction typically earn about 92% of what men earn.
As I learned more about concrete itself, I decided this would be an interesting topic for a degree in urban studies. If any substance exemplifies the urban form, it is concrete. To me concrete epitomizes the cityscape, but I also learned that there have been tremendous advancements in concrete technology, green building, and decorative concrete, making it more sustainable and aesthetic.
What can a contractor expect from a female employee?
Because there are so few women working in nontraditional occupations in construction, most report working harder and committing to memory much more than their male counterparts in order to be able to prove themselves on the job. Meanwhile, rarely will a woman be boastful about her knowledge. In part, this is due to a fundamental difference in how men and women approach promotions and job opportunities.
According to research by Mercer, men will apply for a position with only 20% of the necessary qualifications, while women tend to wait until they are certain they have about 80% of those qualifications. You might already have your next foreman on staff. She just hasn’t applied yet. It’s not due to lack of confidence, but rather, it’s a matter of style. So be mindful when writing job descriptions, and actively look in-house at everyone on your team. Recruiters and career counselors tend to overlook women for construction positions when suggesting opportunities to jobseekers, and we all need to try to take off our blinders when evaluating a candidate.
There are some great localized organizations that are developing training pipelines, apprenticeships, and pre-apprenticeships for skilled trades and target nontraditional workers, but they are in sharp competition for dwindling federal funding and they are not available everywhere. You do have to put in the time to search.
Specifically, for the concrete industry, the Women in Concrete Alliance (WICA) is an international organization with a network of talented women who’ve made tremendous accomplishments in concrete. Check out WICA’s website