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How to Hire More Women into Construction Roles

March is Women’s History Month. Throughout March, NAHB’s workforce development team will highlight women in the construction industry and how to recruit and retain women in the trades. 

For contractors needing to fill a never-ending labor shortage, the solution may be obvious, though often overlooked: Turn to a huge untapped pool of talented women. After all, women make up about 47% of the U.S. labor force but only 11% of the construction industry, with the number in building trades estimated to be in the low single digits.

Although this answer may seem simple, hiring women into construction is anything but. Poor recruitment efforts and unfair stereotypes around what women can — or should — do on a jobsite continue to stand in the way of contractors developing capable crews and women finding rewarding work.

These trends are changing, says Brandon Bryant, president and owner of Red Tree Builders in Asheville, N.C., and former president of the North Carolina HBA. In his home building company, more than 40% of his employees are women. And that is because they have intentionally sought out female employees and have provided them with an environment where they can succeed.

To help other contractors do the same, Bryant discusses why women make exceptional construction industry employees and how companies can recruit and retain them for the long haul.

Why Female Workers and Productivity go Hand in Hand

In Bryant’s experience, women as employees often demonstrate qualities that make them effective in the construction industry, such as a keen attention to detail and a commitment to staying organized.

Research has borne out these observations. In a National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) study of women in construction, 69% of focus group participants agreed that women tend to be more careful in executing their tasks by following required detailed specifications. In addition, 45% mentioned that women excel in maintaining organization in the workspace, ensuring cleanliness at jobsites, and handling tools and equipment responsibly.

Together these qualities help contribute not only to a more efficient jobsite, but a safer one, too. According to the focus groups, following safety protocols was a high priority for women, often because women feel they have a duty to protect themselves for the well-being of their families.

Women also help create more cohesive teams. In another study from the Construction Industry Institute, respondents with at least one woman on their work crew reported higher individual performance (including safety, attendance, quality, productivity and initiative) than those in all-male crews.

Strategies to Increase Hiring

How can contractors hire more women into roles where they can thrive?

  • It starts with recruitment. Construction company leadership needs to be proactive in recruiting women to fill open positions. For Bryant’s company, that means visiting trade schools that are training women in construction-related jobs. Whereas many contractors demand only employees with years of experience, Bryant and his team place considerable value on training as well. “If someone is willing to go into debt to be trained, that shows a really deep level of commitment,” Bryant said.

    Intangibles such as creativity and work ethic can be more important than a track record of construction jobs. “I can teach someone how to build a house,” Bryant said. “I can’t teach someone to be responsible or loyal.” On candidates’ resumes, look for experience that can be transferable to a jobsite, even if those experiences aren’t construction related.

  • Promote the rewards. A selling point is undoubtedly pay. According to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), women in construction earn on average 95.5% of what men make. Although still not equal, it is a far smaller gap than most industries: Women in the U.S. earn on average 82.9% of their male counterparts’ wages.

    With that said, the rewards of working in construction extend beyond pay. It is a chance to be creative, make an impact on a community, and leave a legacy, Bryant says. “There’s not many jobs that allow you to do all that,” he added.

  • Communicate diversity of roles. With the proper training and equipment, women can learn to perform any task on a jobsite — from operating forklifts to painting and cleanup. But construction work stretches beyond field work. In Bryant’s company, women fill roles such as electrician, but also project manager and director of operations. There is a wealth of opportunities for women to pursue leadership, management and ownership roles in today’s construction industry.

Once companies have women on staff, contractors need to create a work environment that encourages them to stay and grow. Read more of Bryant’s insights on how to retain female employees on the Builder’s Mutual blog.

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