Women In Construction: An Untapped Resource

It is undeniable that the face of the construction industry workforce is changing. For years, construction has remained a predominantly male industry, with men comprising the majority of contractors, architects, engineers, and craft workers. But more and more, women are entering construction-related fields, challenging the public perception of construction as a male-dominated industry.

According to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), between 1995 and 2002, the number of women in construction increased 18 percent, growing from 762,000 to 897,000.

However, this number accounts for less than 10 percent of the 9.6 million total workers employed in the construction industry in 2002. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey, women accounted for only 9.6 percent of the entire construction industry workforce in 2003.

The Center for Women's Business Research, a Washington, D.C.-based firm conducting research about women business owners, reports that the number of women-owned firms in nontraditional industries, such as agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation, communications, and wholesale trade, grew by more than 17 percent during the past five years.

The American Institute of Architects also reports that women accounted for 20 percent of registered architects in 2002, up from under 14 percent in 1999.

Despite these positive gains, the number of women in the trades and the number of female civil engineers in the United States have remained relatively flat. But industry associations and companies across the nation are starting to take notice and implement actions to encourage young women to consider careers in construction.

For example, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is conducting a study this fall to examine the question of why girls who are technically inclined do not go into engineering. Nearly 40 engineering organizations and 12 universities have agreed to join the study, which will feature workshops to educate teachers and high school girls about engineering and get feedback about why women do not select engineering as a career.

In addition to the study, ASCE will produce a television documentary about women in engineering and construction that will air in February 2006.

In Birmingham, Ala., Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) member firm BE&K Construction decided to meet the challenge of encouraging more women to enter the trades head on. To help raise awareness among young women of the opportunities provided by careers in construction, BE&K founded "The BE&K School of Industrial Construction: It's a Girl Thing!" - a week-long day-camp program that offers high school girls training in jobsite safety, welding, carpentry, and electrical crafts.

The camp is led by BE&K women construction professionals that work at regional BE&K projects. The program was launched in 2000, with an enrollment of just nine girls. Each year since then, camp attendance has doubled in size, and a new camp was recently established in Carrollton, Ga., west of Atlanta.

ABC is recognizing the efforts of women in the trades at the national level as well. In the past two years, two of ABC's top annual awards were presented to women in the construction industry.

In 2002, ABC recognized Mary Hodge of BE&K, Birmingham, Ala., with its Craft Professional of the Year award. Hodge is skilled in four trades - instrumentation, welding, pipefitting, and electrical work, and has achieved journey-level status in both the pipefitting and electrical crafts.

In 2003, ABC presented its Craft Instructor of the Year award to Christine Thorstensen Porter, instructor at the Construction Industry Training Council of Washington (CITC), Seattle. Porter has taught CITC's second-year electrical course for 18 years, as well as the Washington State Approved Electrical Continuing Education classes for seven years. She holds a Washington State Electrical Journeyman License and a Washington Electrical Administrators License, and earned her Mastery of Vocation Instruction certificate in 1995.

For an industry that is continually facing the threat of worker shortages, women represent a vital, untapped resource. Clearly, the construction industry workforce is changing.

But the industry must do more to help accelerate this change. We must remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure that all women are aware of the incredible opportunities provided by careers in construction.

Carole Bionda
National Chair, Associated Builders and Contractors
Vice President, Nova Group
Napa, Calif.

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Publication date: 09/20/2004