How to Create an Inclusive Workplace for Women in Construction
Updated: Mar 13, 2021
This week was Women in Construction Week, a week to celebrate and elevate women in the construction field. More than ever, women are breaking down the barriers of this male-dominated industry to imagine, design, and construct the world around us.
However, the fact still stands that only 10.1% of the construction industry is comprised of women. Within that 10%, nearly 87% of those women are in office positions, and only 2.5% are working in trades. When our industry is not inclusive, the final constructions we build aren’t either. Historically, the exclusion of women from design and construction has resulted in critical design oversights such as colder interiors, unequal access to restroom facilities, and uncomfortable architecture for women.
With construction work expected to rebound by 2022, now more than ever, we must work to diversify our worksites and organizations and bring more women into the design and construction world. So how can organizations in the construction industry increase the number of women working and create more equitable and inclusive environments for them? To help answer this question, we've assembled a list of four areas where organizations can begin improving their work culture and creating a more supportive and inclusive environment for women in construction.
#1- Actively recruit and hire women for the job.
To increase the number of women in the construction industry, we must begin by hiring them. That means that everything from our job listings to our hiring processes and decisions must be inclusive. This idea may seem obvious, but there are actually many obstacles unknowingly in the way of bringing more women into roles and positions that organizations should be aware of.
It all begins with your job listing. As the first point of contact, a job listing isn't just an outreach tool for potential talent but a window into your organization's culture and work environment. Be sure to begin your listing by outlining your company's identity and qualifications towards diversity and inclusivity. Communicating this information first helps illustrate an organization's commitment to creating a safe and welcoming workplace and will help applicants gain more confidence in joining your team.
Ensure that the copy on your job listing isn't using gendered language that may turn away female applicants by running your listing through tools like this Gender Decoder- which highlights gendered words and offers impartial suggestions and alternatives.
When it comes to interviewing, always include women in your hiring panel. Doing so clearly communicates your organization's company culture to applicants and provides an invaluable perspective into prospective applicants' future behaviors and interactions on site. During the interview, also be sure to keep your questions consistent across interviewees and not ask different questions to applicants of different genders.
Connect with future female builders by reaching out to women through high school and college career fairs and events. Even if you aren’t actively hiring, your organization’s presence in these spaces can communicate a commitment to inclusivity and inspire the next generation of female builders.
#2 - Build a safe, welcoming, and healthy job site culture.
Sure, your company can look welcoming and inviting on your job listing, but it doesn't mean anything if your job sites are uncomfortable and inhospitable places for women and minorities. A study by the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 88 percent of women construction workers experience sexual harassment at work, compared to 25 percent of women in the general workforce. This is simply unacceptable, and it is up to all of us to fix it.
Properly accommodate their safety and equipment needs. This means considering and supplying proper fitting PPE for women. Women without properly fitting PPE place themselves in an increased risk of danger on the job. Additionally, 57% of women claim that improperly fitting PPE has hampered their ability to perform their job correctly. Having the right safety equipment will lead to safer, better, and more efficient work for your female employees.
Implement diversity training and discussions into your toolbox talks to set the standard for behavior and culture onsite. These discussions establish your company's expectations of employees and communicate to women on site that they are supported and protected in the workplace. When 86% of men say they're committed to calling out sexism, but only 31% feel comfortable doing so, we're not doing a good enough job cultivating a supportive working environment for women. By starting each day with dialogue around diversity, leaders create a safe space to talk and provide a framework for your team's interpersonal accountability.
Ensure that your organization takes a zero-tolerance approach against sexist comments, behavior, or attitudes of any kind on the job site and in the office. Many tradeswomen report that they are reluctant to report workplace safety and health problems lest they be tagged as complainers or whiners, Be sure to create safe and open communication channels for employees to come forward and bring up issues, events, or concerns without fear of reprisal or personal consequences and, most importantly- follow through on addressing them. If your female employees face stress from discrimination and uncomfortable workspaces, they are less able to focus on their work. On a construction site, distractions while working amidst heavy machinery, utilities, and heights can be fatal.
#3 - Offer opportunities for training, networking, and career growth.
Supporting women in the construction workforce means more than protecting them; it means empowering them with the knowledge, resources, and skills they need to succeed in their careers. When your organization is intentional about connecting female employees to growth opportunities, you're helping build solidarity amongst women in construction, expand their skill sets and industry knowledge, and cultivating women's representation in the industry.
To bring balance to a male-dominated industry, we must elevate more women to positions of power and authority. Be sure to build up women in your organization by offering any training and learning opportunities that become available, as well as being intentional to notice and publicly celebrate your female employees' successes and accomplishments in the workplace. Most importantly, be intentional about promoting women to leadership and executive positions. Skanska’s Gender Equality initiative is a fantastic example of intentionally elevating women in the construction industry.
Provide networking, resources, mentorship, and other material and career support for women in your organization by partnering with and supporting women-focused organizations. Organizations like NAWIC or ANEW are vital pillars of support for women in our industry, and Turner Construction’s Girl’s Build It program is opening the doors to the next generation of female builders.
Help your male employees become allies to women through training and learning resources that help them understand issues facing women in the workplace. Resources like JP Morgan Chase's 5 Steps to Becoming a Better Male Ally and Promundo's So, You Want to Be a Male Ally for Gender Equality provide a great framework to get started.
Finally, close the damn pay gap. It’s 2021. Enough is enough.
#4 - Refine your company culture towards inclusivity and equity.
The culture of your organization directly shapes the health and productivity of your employees. For employees to thrive and succeed, they must be supported, valued, and protected. To establish a thriving work environment for women in an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry like ours, we must focus intensely on establishing an equitable and inclusive culture.
Identifying power structures and established dynamics is a vital step in changing your company culture. Many organizations unknowingly perpetuate a male-centric culture through established practices and procedures in decision-making, communications, and interpersonal relations. Tools like Harvard's training on identifying implicit biases in your organization can help.
Diversity isn't a quota but a commitment. When creating goals for diverse hiring and employment, having a diversity goal is important but is not a substantive metric for a company's culture. What truly matters is women's participation, support, and presence at the leadership level in driving decisions and impacting changes within your organization. Always seek out, listen to, and implement your diverse employees' ideas and interests.
Lastly, it is crucial to understand the issues facing women in our industry are intersectional. In our industry, People of Color face tremendously higher rates of discrimination and prejudice on the job. For instance, 35% of white men said they were asked to justify themselves more than once, but 61% of women and 68% of engineers of color reported that outcome. Additionally, LGBTQ+ people in construction face hostility on the job, with 53% overhearing the word "gay" used as an insult. An equal workplace means being equal for all. Diversity in your organization requires a multifaceted, inclusive approach that includes race, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
It is our duty as construction and design companies to focus on these actionable areas and initiatives so that we can change the face of our industry. When organizations in our industry are bold allies to all, more women and diverse individuals will feel comfortable entering the construction field. We're working to do our part at lumenomics, but together, we can build an industry that's as diverse as the communities we serve.