Construction Isn't an Attractive Industry to Most Women..But, Can We Change That?

February 13, 2020 Karli Langner

For the past couple of years, Command Alkon has worked to champion women in the industry through a variety of initiatives. One way that we do this is by offering a PowerTalk session at our annual conference (ELEVATE – Construction’s Heavy Work Conference & Expo) to complement our Women Building Amazing series. This year, we hosted a panel discussion with a few female leaders in the industry:

  • Keller Hayes, Project Director at the HOYA Foundation
  • Paula Dunn, Strategic Sales Manager at Master Builders Solutions by BASF
  • Kristy Wolfe, Professor at Bradley University
  • Karli Langner, Marketing Content Specialist at Command Alkon

The key talking points revolved around recruiting women from the available talent pool into the industry, what sort of steps need to be taken to retain them, and how we can ensure they have happy and healthy careers in the years to come.

Why Isn’t the Industry Attractive to Women?

The first topic of conversation struck on recruiting women for the industry. Why is it so difficult to attract women – especially younger women who are deciding/starting out on their career paths – to the construction industry?

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

There's still a huge bias towards women in this industry, and they aren’t being made aware – especially while they are young – that opportunities await them. High school counselors typically don’t discuss options outside of a four-year college degree after high school graduation.

The reality is that so many kids who aren't fit for an academic career are going to college because they feel they have to, meanwhile wasting tons of money and putting themselves in debt from student loans. Even if they finish, there are often meager opportunities after college and very few degrees that will actually give you an edge. Not everyone is meant to be a professional or academic, and that's okay. If only our high schools told kids just as much.

Keller Hayes, Project Director at the HOYA Foundation, is from Denver, Colorado. According to her, 49% of students In their public schools don’t plan on going to college, but unfortunately, most of them haven't been made aware that there are other options available to them. They aren't going to college, and they don't know that they can go to trade school, so what are they doing?

Keller said that in 2015, legislation was passed to prioritize the development of healthcare, technology, and skilled trades career pathways. It wasn't until then that high school counselors began to expand their horizons and mention the thought of skilled trades to students. Even so, the suggestion is most commonly given to male students.

Why Do We Give Jobs a Gender?

Another big problem is that teachers, family members, friends, and other individuals that are instrumental in young women's lives regularly take their strengths and match them with typical gender-marked job titles (for example, a young lady who is good at math should be a math teacher, because women are teachers). Instead, society needs to think outside the box and consider how those strengths can benefit other industries, even if they are historically dominated by men.

We don't have to assume that a woman has to teach what she knows if she doesn't have a fervent desire to. Instead, she can show what she knows. If she isn't passionate about becoming a teacher but she's mathematically proficient, then she can have a great career as an engineer!

Another Way to Drive Change? Get Parents on Board

There is a societal stigma associated with the industry. Who better to squash stigmas than parents? After all, a parent's opinions and approval usually holds the greatest weight for a child.

If parents can realize that there's opportunities within the industry for their daughters, then they can encourage them to do what interests and excites them – because they can make a good living.

They don't have to have a four-year degree, in a field of study that they aren’t super thrilled to be in, only to realize that they might not even land a job. They can learn a trade and start out making $70K/year in some roles. Many construction companies are beginning to offer scholarship opportunities to recruit young talent. Rather than paying to earn a four-year degree, you’re paid to learn a new skill that could result in some big bucks and a good career.

A nice example of engaging parents comes from Command Alkon's global HQ's community of Birmingham, Alabama! Power UP Inc. hosts an annual event called "Power UP: It's a Mother-Daughter Thing." This is an opportunity for mothers/guardians and their 6-12th grade daughters to discover the opportunities available for women in the construction space. The mother-daughter duo can learn more about higher education, talk with contractors, conduct hands-on activities, and participate in a panel discussion led by successful women in the industry. 

What's An Inclusive Environment?

The next piece that we discussed during the PowerTalk is an environment where women feel comfortable. Stay tuned to learn more about how men and women both can create an inclusive work environment.

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