Trades opportunities key to hiring, retaining women in construction


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In recent years, firms have made strides to attract women to the construction workforce, such as more inclusive jobsite culture, better-fitting PPE and benefits designed to foster a healthy work-life balance. 

Progress is being made, but slowly. Women now make up 10.8% of construction workers, compared to 9.1% a decade ago, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That share remains even smaller for craftswomen.

Here, Construction Dive talks with Maja Rosenquist, senior vice president of Minneapolis-based Mortenson, to learn more about the state of the company’s efforts to recruit women to the industry, what more can be done and how to measure success. 

The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.

CONSTRUCTION DIVE: What are the major hurdles to bringing women into the trades and retaining them?

MAJA ROSENQUIST:  From a female craftsperson’s perspective, a variety of hurdles that often begin on the jobsite can hinder career development and long-term engagement in the industry. The industry needs to give women more opportunities to acquire skills crucial to pursuing higher-paying, more advanced craft positions such as operating heavy equipment and mastering tools. Otherwise remaining engaged and progressing in one’s career becomes extremely challenging. 

Headshot of Maja Rosenquist

Maja Rosenquist

Permission granted by Mortenson

 

While the makeup of tasks on a construction site can vary, the lion’s share of time is spent on direct construction — activities like framing, roofing, electrical, plumbing and finishing work — with less time devoted to things like site prep and cleanup. 

We want to see women get more access to this bigger piece of the pie in terms of skill development to create additional opportunities and support that promote on-site advancement opportunities. 

Construction’s culture is known to have been less-than-welcoming in the past. Has that changed?

The good news is that access and the opportunities that accompany it are changing. Challenges still remain and for many women, going into a field that’s still very much male-dominated can be intimidating because of issues that historically plagued the industry. This includes sexism, harassment and microaggressions that created an uncomfortable and hostile work environment. 

Growing awareness about gender inequality in construction has helped address these issues and improve practices. Many are working hard to promote diversity and inclusion in construction, offering training programs, mentorship opportunities and creating supportive networks for women. 

We see encouraging signs and continued collaboration between construction companies, trade unions, training providers and government agencies can inspire widespread adoption of inclusive practices and accelerate positive changes. One such collaboration among construction companies is Construction Inclusion Week. 

What is Mortenson’s game plan for recruiting more women to the craft workforce? 

Getting more women into the industry starts with a concerted effort to hire more women. That means getting out into the community and helping more women and girls see the building industry as a viable option. But hiring more women is just one part of the equation. To make a real difference and keep talented women in the pipeline, the industry must also support parity — from the office to the field. There needs to be clearer opportunities for meaningful careers — not just jobs —  in this industry for both men and women.  

At Mortenson, we have taken several steps. We have implemented a sponsorship program for our craft team focused on women and communities of color. We have also developed specific programs aimed at providing the training and education needed to advance on the construction site. 

What other benefits does a culture change bring?

By having more diverse voices at the table, companies gain access to different perspectives and experiences, leading to richer discussions and more creative solutions to complex challenges. 

Some of the biggest challenges we face as an industry — not least of all is a massive labor shortage — can be solved by harnessing the full potential of our available workforce. By tapping into female talent, companies can access a larger pool of qualified candidates, increasing their chances of finding the best person for the job. 

This mindset change could also lead to increased interest from younger generations, who are highly attuned to diversity and inclusion in the work opportunities they pursue. In a Deloitte survey, 76% of Gen Z respondents expect their workplace to be inclusive and welcoming to all. 

Has progress been made?

Progress is being made in improving the experience and opportunities for women in the construction industry. While there is still much work to do, women’s participation in construction has been steadily increasing over the past decade with immense opportunity for continued improvement. It’s crucial for leaders to remain committed and guide continued progress toward a more inclusive and equitable future.



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