After selling my business and going through the journey to my current role as a business consultant for women in the construction industry, I spoke with a lot of women with a variety of relationships with the construction industry. Because I was a business owner for so many years and removed from the day-to-day experience of being on-site, I wanted to learn what was happening for women these days. Unfortunately, what I learned was not a lot had changed from my time in the field, a lot of the same challenges existed.
In the traditionally male-dominated fields of trades and construction, women face a variety of challenges that hinder their progress and success. Despite advancements in gender equality, deep-rooted biases and systemic barriers continue to impede the professional growth of women in these industries. This article sheds light on the six biggest challenges women encounter in trades and construction and explores actionable solutions to address them.
1. Family Obligations
Balancing the demands of a physically demanding job with family responsibilities poses significant challenges for women in the trades and construction industry. Flexible work schedules, family-friendly policies, and access to affordable childcare are essential in supporting women's work-life demands and career advancement. Employers can also offer benefits such as paid parental leave and telecommuting options to accommodate the diverse needs of their workforce.
2. Toxic Work Environments
Instances of harassment and discrimination on construction sites create toxic work environments that adversely affect women's well-being and job satisfaction. Implementing and enforcing strict anti-harassment policies, along with fostering a culture of respect and inclusivity, are essential steps in creating safer and more inclusive workplaces.
Training programs on diversity, equity, and inclusion can help raise awareness and prevent instances of harassment and discrimination. The truth is, there has to be action behind the words - not a roll of the eyes and a hope that it will just go away. There needs to be a zero tolerance and equal application of the rules. The unfortunate thing is, very few women feel that this level of support exists within their organization. And as one of my very first mentors in this industry said to me, “perception is reality.”
3. Lack of Opportunity
I can’t tell you how many women I spoke with told me of instances when they would be the site cleaner for months and months while other, less experienced people (male) would be given opportunities to try new things and they were not. Even if they spoke up for themselves, they still were not given the chance to learn and grow in their trade. It is clear, based on the conversations, gender bias and stereotypes persist as obstacles for women in the trades and construction industry. These beliefs often limit opportunities and perpetuate inequality.
Overcoming these biases is essential to foster inclusivity and create a level playing field for all individuals regardless of gender. Strategies such as education, awareness campaigns, and advocacy efforts can help dismantle these stereotypes and promote a more diverse and inclusive workforce. It all starts with the desire to do things differently, to stand-up for change and that needs to start at the leadership level where they set the standard.
4. Being Overlooked for Advancement
Another trend I heard a lot was that despite possessing equal or even superior skills and qualifications, women often find themselves sidelined in favour of their male counterparts, a reflection of deeply ingrained biases and a lack of recognition of their capabilities. Where men would be promoted based on potential, women often had to prove their worth and capabilities before they would be considered.
This systemic oversight not only hampers their career growth, it also contributes to a wider gender disparity within these industries. It underscores the need for cultural shifts within workplaces, including implementing fair advancement criteria, mentorship and sponsorship programs, and policies that actively promote gender diversity in leadership roles.
5. Lack of Representation
The underrepresentation of women in leadership roles within the construction industry is a significant barrier to gender parity. Despite making up a significant portion of the workforce, women continue to face challenges in advancing into managerial and decision-making positions.
Creating pathways for women to ascend into leadership roles through mentorship programs, leadership training, and advocacy initiatives is crucial for breaking the glass ceiling and promoting diversity in leadership.
6. Limited Access to Training and Education
Women often encounter obstacles in accessing the same level of training and education opportunities as their male counterparts. This disparity in access to educational resources and apprenticeship programs contributes to the gender gap in skilled trades.
Bridging this gap requires concerted efforts to provide equal access to training and educational opportunities for women, including scholarships, outreach programs, and vocational training initiatives tailored to their needs. I see that there are some schools, organizations or even regions that are putting a lot of effort into providing opportunities for women specifically, however, we need to fix some of the other challenges within the industry so this is a space that feels welcoming for women.
7. Inadequate Safety Gear and Facilities
I see this all over the place! Women posting on social media looking for recommendations on the very basics of work pants or tools vests, let alone safety or personal protective equipment that just aren’t available in the sizes and shapes women need. Many manufacturers of gear as well as construction sites are designed with male workers in mind, leading to inadequate safety gear and facilities for women.
Addressing these infrastructure gaps is essential to ensure the safety and comfort of women in the workplace. Providing properly fitted safety gear, gender-neutral facilities, and accommodations for pregnant or nursing workers are critical steps in creating inclusive work environments that prioritize the well-being of all workers.
Addressing the challenges faced by women in the trades and construction industry is crucial for fostering gender equality and creating inclusive workplace environments. By confronting issues such as family obligations, toxic work environments, lack of opportunity, being overlooked for advancement, limited access to training and safety concerns, leaders can create a more supportive environment where women can thrive.
Providing training for your leadership team and your people provides invaluable support, resources, and growth opportunities as well as sets you up as a desirable and leading employer in the industry. Empower your team today by getting in touch to discuss the leadership training options available with ThriveHQ. Click here to schedule your call!