Perhaps the single greatest reason that women are underrepresented in high-skill, high-wage construction careers is lack of awareness and belief that they can be successful candidates in this male dominated industry. For apprenticeship programs, this means that if you want to attract greater numbers of female applicants to your program, you will have to put extra, and specifically targeted effort, into both outreach and career education. This effort, however, will be rewarded, as women, many of whom are the sole support for themselves or their families, want and need opportunities that provide middle-class wages and benefits, without the upfront investment of a college degree. It is estimated that today 70% of working women are clustered into just 20 of 440 occupational categories, most of which are low-wage, female dominated occupations. Though many women enjoy teaching or caring for others and choose to work in these fields, this distribution certainly does not reflect the huge diversity of talents and abilities present in women as well as men. Given the knowledge and opportunity, many more women would choose to work in the construction trades, enjoying physical work, technical challenges and the pride and satisfaction of using hard won skills to create the necessary, permanent, and, often beautiful, structures and systems that make our society work.
Barriers to Recruiting Women
- Limited exposure to and information about trades careers including benefits or entry routes to apprenticeship, and their potential eligibility.
- Less likely to have vocational education or work experience related to these occupations or even informal skill building through friends or family members.
- Careers are not marketed to women and there are very few visible tradeswomen demonstrating that women can have successful careers in the industry.
- Lack of confidence that women will treated fairly and respectfully.
By employing just a few simple strategies, you can address many of these issues and be successful in opening up these career opportunities to aspiring tradeswomen.
1. Cast a wide net
These careers appeal to wide range of women, from low-income women attracted by the hourly wage to college graduates who have discovered that they do not enjoy life behind a desk. Suggestions include:
- Collaborate with a women’s organization such as the YWCA or other community based organizations serving women to help spread the word.
- Provide education and resources to community organizations and public agencies (unemployment offices, one-stops, etc.) to help them understand the benefits of the industry and opportunities for women.
- Run ads in the newspaper and send out public service announcements to all local media outlets.
- Post flyers in venues frequented by women (schools, gyms, women’s sports teams, daycare centers etc.)
- Participate in job fairs and other high visibility community events, such as parades.
- Use social media such as Facebook and other on-line job services to reach women who are not connected to any service provider
- Involve tradeswomen and other members in recruiting through their personal networks
2. Use promotional materials that feature and specifically address women
Broadening your outreach will not attract more women to your program unless you make your intention clear in your materials and your message. Women continue to comprise less than 3% of the construction workforce, so it is not surprising that many women do not even consider the possibility that they are qualified for and welcome in the industry. Having very little information about apprenticeship programs and the construction industry in general, most, lacking experience and connections, assume they are not qualified and are not likely to respond in large numbers to advertising that does not address them specifically. We recommend that materials:
- Contain a headline featuring the word “Women” to get their attention.
- Feature pictures of tradeswomen prominently. Downloadable pictures of tradeswomen are available through Oregon Tradeswomen Inc.’s Image Library.
- Provide some encouragement and/or information about the benefits or reasons women might want to consider a career in the trades.
3. Pair outreach with career education
Translating this increase in awareness into greater numbers of successful applicants can be improved if you provide opportunities for women to get additional information and experience with your program. Consider working with a tradeswomen’s organization or other pre-apprenticeship, workforce development, or community organizations to organize a career education event for women in your area or host field trips for aspiring tradeswomen at your facilities. Hands on field trips, led by instructors and tradeswomen in your union, are a wonderful way to introduce women to your trade. They have the opportunity to work with the tools, hear from female members, and develop a comfort level with returning to complete an application. To reach a broader audience, you are also welcome to use and/or adapt our career education handbook “You Can Do It, A Woman’s Guide to Construction Careers”and career education video which can be downloaded from this site. Please contact us at (312)942-1444 if you would like to receive copies of the book or video.
4. Involve tradeswomen in your recruitment efforts
There is really nothing more effective in capturing women’s interest than meeting tradeswomen who are happy in careers most women do not consider to be realistic options. CWIT involves tradeswomen in every aspect of its recruitment and, in fact, program graduates and tradeswomen are by far the program’s largest referral source. Bring them with to career fairs, provide them with flyers and other promotional materials, encourage them to share information with their networks and be ambassadors for the program. On the side bar you will find workshop materials you can use to prepare women in your union to conduct outreach and represent your program at career fairs and the in the community.
5. Take steps to ensure that your program is one that you would feel comfortable referring your sister or your daughter to
If the perception that women can’t be successful in the construction industry is true for your program, changing this culture is an important part of your recruitment plan. Yes, there are women who are so skilled, so committed and so confident that they will rise to the top no matter the obstacles, but they are few and far between and not the bar by which you can measure the effectiveness of your program in integrating women. Most women, like most people, invest their time, their resources and their hopes in careers in which they feel they are likely to succeed. This is critical, because word-of-mouth is the most powerful recruitment tool you possess. As we’ve talked to programs around the region, we learned that most of them rely heavily on referrals from union members who are not, for the most part, referring women. In other words, the success of your recruitment strategies are, in many ways, tied to the results of your application process, the extent to which women are employed and being trained on the jobs site and their retention in the trade. It may be difficult to improve your record with few women in the program, but as you craft your outreach plan, ask what happens after a woman knocks on your door and work to ensure that her experience will motivate her to sell these opportunities to other women and help her fellow apprentices see the program as a viable option for the women in their lives.
6. Set Goals and Make a Plan
When asked about recruitment goals, most apprenticeship programs respond with “as many as we can”. This is wonderful of course, but without a concrete goal, it is difficult to build consensus, develop a plan or evaluate the results. To be successful, it is important to set goals, dedicate staff time, and develop specific plans and timelines. Building women’s participation in your program will require targeted and sustained effort and it is important to be able measure incremental progress and expand on the strategies that are having an impact on these numbers. Here are some tools to get you started.