The workforce is changing and, as opportunity increases for the construction industry, those companies that adapt and embrace diversity and inclusion are the companies that will be best able to compete in the market place and attract top candidates. Improving women’s participation in construction careers is in everyone’s interest, expanding women’s career choice with access to high-wage, career path employment and increasing the talent pool available to industry employers. While many contractors attribute low female participation in their workforce to lack of interest, lack of employment is the principal reason that tradeswomen leave their careers in the construction trades as reported in CWIT’s retention study Breaking New Ground: Worksite 2000. Recent exit interviews with women graduating from or leaving apprenticeship and a survey of more than 50 carpenters confirm that issues related to employment opportunity remain essentially unchanged. If experienced women are unable to build lasting careers in the industry, then too few women are advancing into leadership roles or inspiring the next generation of aspiring tradeswomen to join their ranks. The industry also loses the investment made in building these skills and the opportunity to benefit from diverse talents and experiences. As a contractor, you can, with some intentional effort, find qualified women for entry level and skilled jobs in the construction trades, and, more importantly, your commitment to hiring, training and advancing women in your workforce is the key to growing women’s participation in the industry and cultivating the skilled workforce of the future.
Planning for a Strong Workforce
To be successful, companies need to plan ahead and ensure that the systems they have in place for soliciting and screening applicants will support achievement of diversity and inclusion goals. Start by:
- Assessing current outreach and application processes – asking questions such as: where do we get our applicants? Who does the hiring? What criteria are used to select applicants? What is the success rate of female applicants? Do you have women in leadership roles? etc. See CWIT’s Contractor Equity Survey for additional guidance.
- Evaluate your workforce projections and set a goal with buy-in from all staff involved in hiring.
- Identify strategies for meeting hiring goals and build a concrete plan that establishes timelines and assigns responsibility.
- Provide training aimed at eliminating bias in the selection process. A complete cultural competency curriculum is available here.
- Engage top leadership in promoting inclusion goals, monitoring progress and recognizing achievement.
Working With Apprenticeship Programs and Unions
A frequently stated reason for low female participation on the job is lack of referrals from the union or apprenticeship programs. It is certainly possible that a particular union may not have any women available at the time when you call, but it is also true that most unions and apprenticeship programs will attempt to accommodate you if you specifically request a female or minority referral. These requests, moreover, provide motivation to diversify apprenticeship enrollment, particularly for programs that have faced challenges retaining women due to contractor reluctance to hire them. You can work with your union/s to meet goals by:
- Informing unions and apprenticeship programs that you are seeking female referrals and working consistently with them to identify women who are or will be looking for employment. For example, at the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, contractors are welcome to visit their pre-apprentice classes and can interview and hire participants while class is in session.
- Advertising your openings with community organizations and others that may have contact with apprentice and journey level tradeswomen. In a recent survey conducted by CWIT, nearly all local unions stated that they allow journey-level members to seek their own employment.
- Taking advantage of opportunities to sponsor women into apprenticeship or provide letters of recommendation.
- Getting involved with your apprenticeship program, sitting on the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee or otherwise making your expectations known and working to ensure that women are informed about and have equal opportunity to enter apprenticeship.
Building the Pipeline
You can help change perceptions of careers in the construction industry and attract a more diverse workforce by:
- Featuring pictures of women on marketing and promotional materials and including a statement that women are encouraged to apply. Free pictures of tradeswomen are available on Oregon Tradeswomen Inc.’s Image Library
- Building partnerships with pre-apprenticeship programs, women’s organizations, workforce development organizations and others to provide career education.
- Sponsoring female employees to participate in career education and mentoring activities with girls and women.