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Women slowly gaining a foothold in construction careers

Originally published in the San Diego Transcript

Americans watching the recent Democratic presidential debates may not even take notice of history being made. But for the first time in our country’s history, six women are running for President of the United States.

Forget for a moment whether you agree with their political views. It’s worth stopping to take note of this milestone, which grow fewer as barriers keep being broken. People no longer think twice when they encounter a woman working as a police officer, scientist, or entrepreneur.

But they are still surprised to cross paths with women in construction.

Construction remains one of the most male dominated professions left in the United States. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that women hold just nine percent of the seven million construction industry jobs in the United States. This isn’t much different than the number of women in construction in the 1970s.

According to research gathered for a new infographic on women in construction, 86.7 percent of women work in office positions; just 13.3 percent of women are trade professionals. But here’s some good news: between 2007 an 2018, the construction industry saw 94 percent growth in female ownership – the highest of any industry in the U.S.

For the good of the construction industry and the American economy as a whole, we must support these positive changes. Recruiting and training the next generation of craft professionals is crucial for the construction industry. Predictions about the supply of well-trained construction workers are pessimistic just as the industry is poised for tremendous economic opportunity. Women represent the biggest untapped talent pool available to fill 790,400 new construction jobs by 2024 created due to industry growth combined with a rapidly aging workforce.

What obstacles are stopping women from seeing themselves in construction careers? According to the research, 43 percent of construction firms aren’t monitoring gender pay gaps. Seventy-three percent of women say they’re passed over for roles because of their gender in construction. Eight out of ten women in construction say they feel left out of company social events, where valuable team building and networking takes place.

What resources would make a difference? Nationally recognized groups such as the National Association of Women in Construction can provide mentoring and networking opportunities to help women enter the industry and support their training and advancement.

This summer, more than 70 San Diego high school girls enjoyed the opportunity to learn about careers in construction through Camp NAWIC 2018, a hands-on free summer day camp. Camp NAWIC celebrated its 12th year of investing in the next generation of construction professionals at the Kearny High School of Engineering, Innovation and Design. Attendance by campers has doubled each of the past two years.

Camp NAWIC was created as a community outreach project to kindle interest among high school age girls in pursuing careers in the construction industry. Camp activities and projects are designed to challenge the students to discover their options. Girls learn teamwork and trade skills. Instructors and camp mentors are all construction professionals, including many from the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego, who is a strong supporter of Camp NAWIC, providing volunteers including expert instructors to work with the campers.

This is the kind of hands-on, direct effort we must support to build workforce capacity. Many women never even consider working in construction due to a lack of role models. At programs like Camp NAWIC, and other industry efforts, women learn there is a place for them in the construction industry, and they can thrive.

One of the best reasons for women to consider construction careers is financial. Construction has been successful closing the gender pay gap. Women out-earn men in several male-dominated construction jobs including craft professionals, construction supervisors, maintenance painters, and aircraft and vehicle mechanics. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 40 percent of all female construction craft professionals earn at least $50,000 a year.

With increased competition both foreign and domestic, companies wish to grow their own talent of skilled laborers. Industry leaders, educators, career counselors, advocacy groups like NAWIC, ABC San Diego, and parents everywhere can no longer sit on the sidelines thinking the problem of inclusion will eventually solve itself. It is a step toward wage equality in the workforce for women while simultaneously addressing the skilled craft professionals shortage. It benefits everyone involved.

Les DenHerder is President and CEO of HPS Mechanical, Inc, and chairman of the Associated Builders and Contractors San Diego board of directors. For more information visit

ABCSD  I  13825 Kirkham Way Poway, CA 92064  I  Tel: 858.513.4700  I  Fax: 858.513.2373  I  I

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