Women in Construction
Shifting toward greater gender diversity
The construction industry is beginning to shift toward greater gender diversity, a trend which is both a result and a cause of an evolution in what a career in construction can look like. The future of the construction industry will benefit from increased gender diversity, if it can evolve to establish a culture of equity through rewarding and impactful careers in construction.
Construction is an outlier when it comes to the employment and pay of women, the contrasts are exemplified by the two figures on this page. In terms of women as a percentage of the total workforce, construction has the smallest share of any major industry in the US, at only 10.3 percent, as shown in Figure 1. The next smallest share is in transportation, with 24.1 percent. Figure 2 shows the gender wage gap for all US industries, and construction immediately stands out as the only major industry in the US to have practically no gender wage gap: the average woman in construction makes 99.1 percent of the average man. Meanwhile, the national average across all industries is 81 percent, and no other industry is above 90 percent. Although women are compensated comparably to men within the construction industry, the low level of women working in construction begs the question of access and opportunity readily available to women.
Figure 1: Share of women as percentage of total workforce
Figure 2: Gender wage gap by industry, construction industry in redEach bubble represents a major US industry, bubble size shows total workers
Historical Norms vs. Changing Roles
Historically, the share of women working in construction overall has generally remained below 10 percent. This is primarily a consequence of perceived gender roles, both in the industry and in society at large. There is now real evidence demonstrating a shift in that perception, as over the past two years, the share of women in construction has begun to trend upward, breaking the 10 percent barrier for the first time in 20 years.
There are several possible explanations for this jump. From an economic standpoint, the shortage of overall construction labor has led to rising construction wages, attracting more workers in general to the industry. In terms of cultural values, many firms in the industry have focused on building more diverse teams through broadening recruitment initiatives and training programs, and heightened attention to the value of diversity as a competitive strength.
As construction technology continues to advance, the industry has also seen a major shift in the core values in traditional roles. These progressive values emphasize innovation and disruption of the status quo, requiring diversity of thought and experience to drive progress.
Progress and Opportunity
Although efforts have been made across the industry to increase gender diversity through hiring and apprentice programs, simply aiming to increase the number of women working within the existing system may not be the solution. The existing cultural dynamics present barriers to entry that will not break unless they change.
We envision a long-term, sustainable future which considers the experiences and challenges of women at the center of a solution, and addresses issues including pay inequity and underrepresentation within unions, while offering the chance to be at the forefront of technological change. We must rethink how we approach what it means to have a career in construction. Redefining the traditional standards to be more inclusive of a diverse experience will not only provide greater opportunities for women but advance the industry as a whole.
Worthwhile progress has already been made, as the number of women in the industry grew three times faster than the number of men in 2019, but a major opportunity remains if this trend can be sustained, and greater diversity can be achieved in coming years.
From a broader perspective, we see fundamental changes in how the construction industry operates, with an increased focus on efficiency, productivity, and safety, all enabled by a rise in technology, as a lasting and sustainable solution that will draw a more diverse workforce.
Figure 3: Number of new registrations in construction apprenticeship programs, by gender and union status, 2016
Figure 4: Share of women as a percentage of the total construction workforce
Employment growth rates by gender, all employees in the construction industry
Average annual growth rate of total employee count in the construction industry, 2017-2019
Source: JLL Research, Bureau of Labor Statistics