To draw more women workers into the construction industry, contractors must provide an inclusive, welcoming environment with well-established diversity, inclusion and career advancement programs: That was the message from panelists on a webinar this week focused on strategies to recruit and retain women hosted by CPWR, the Center for Construction Research and Training.
Here are some of the top ways that firms can make themselves more attractive to women workers:
Programs are the key to long-term success
Training women and people of color hasn’t been enough, the industry needs policies and programs to promote their success, said Mary Vogel, executive director of Building Pathways, a Boston-based nonprofit dedicated to the recruitment of underrepresented workers to the building trades.
The methods to do that, Vogel said, are many. Outreach, applicant assessment, occupational skills training, apprenticeship placement and partnership with industry stakeholders help ensure women don’t just set foot on the jobsite, but find their place there, Vogel said.
Still, programs can only do so much — they must give women the tools to succeed.
“We do say we’re a GPS, not Uber,” Vogel said. “We’re not gonna hold their hand to apply to an apprenticeship program, but we’ll let them know what that process is and expose them to the various trades.”
Multiple speakers touched on the need for affordable quality childcare, something that women deal with more often than men.
TradesFutures, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, has recently established programs in New York City and Milwaukee to provide applicants with vouchers to help them pay for their childcare needs.
Nicole Schwartz, executive director for TradesFutures, outlined the process: In New York City, 10 families will receive $1,000 a month for support for childcare, while in Milwaukee, vouchers can pay for up to half of childcare costs for the full year.
The programs are still in their pilot phase.
Deliberate recruiting and culture change
Kathleen Dobson, safety director for St. Louis-based Alberici Constructors, said outreach for the future of the workforce doesn’t start early or often enough. Even career days for middle school are often too late, as students have begun to make plans for their high school path, which could steer them away from the trades.
Kids who don’t have parents in engineering or construction often don’t know about opportunities in these sectors.
But while recruiting needs to start earlier, it isn’t sufficient on its own. Dobson said the workplace also needs to be built to feel safe and equitable for women.
Women often don’t report microaggressions or harassment, and can feel as if they don’t have a voice in a work culture where such behavior is tolerated, Dobson said. Eventually, they often leave the industry.
“As people retire in the industry, we need to fill many, many, many positions, so why would we be excluding women and those other underrepresented work groups?” Dobson said.