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Industry Trends

Women in Construction: Opportunities in a Growing Industry [INFOGRAPHIC]

Articles - Jul 20

Women in Construction: Opportunities in a Growing Industry [INFOGRAPHIC]

JLG Industries, Inc.
World-leading access equipment manufacturer
McConnellsburg, PA

From the manufacturing boom during both World Wars to the Great Recession of 2008, the U.S. labor market has seen several major shifts in the past 100 years. One shift that continues to impact the country today is the rise of women in the labor force.

Beginning in the 1960s, the U.S. saw a sharp increase in female workers that continued into the 1980s. This increase slowed in the 1990s and has since leveled off, with 56.9% of women participating in the labor force in 2019.

As women joined the workforce, their pursuit of higher education also began to rise. Women’s take-home pay increased as well, though the pay gap between men’s and women’s wages still exists in some industries today.

Women’s employment numbers also vary widely by industry. While they make up more than half of all workers in occupations like education and health services, financial activities and hospitality, women remain vastly underrepresented in agriculture, mining and construction jobs. In fact, women made up just 10.3% of the construction workforce in 2019.

In 2019, 57% of women participated in the U.S. workforce. But just 10% of the construction workforce was women.

But even though the number of women in construction has historically been low, more women have started to pursue construction jobs in recent years. This industry represents a huge opportunity for women to enter steady, well-paying jobs that range from field technicians to carpenters to project managers.

And the best part? Experts forecast that this industry will experience faster-than-average growth through 2026.

Let’s explore what it’s like to be a female construction worker, including statistics, benefits, barriers and initiatives designed to help women succeed in this traditionally male-dominated field.

A Brief History of the Female Construction Worker

Historically, women haven’t typically held jobs in construction, and it’s important to understand why. The biggest factor is cultural—it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that women even began to routinely wear pants outside the home, let alone put on a hard hat and go to the job site with men. Western society was built on traditional roles for men and women, and in the past, this tradition has discouraged women from holding jobs in fields like construction and engineering.

However, this concept of traditional roles was challenged in the 1940s during WWII when thousands of women went to work in shipyards and factories to help support the war effort in the absence of civilian men. Once the war was over, women were expected to go back to the home. Many refused, leading to the dramatic increase in women’s employment over the next several decades.

Still, women who entered the workforce in the budding years of the women’s labor movement often steered clear of skilled jobs. Instead, they went into occupations that were considered “female professions,” like nursing, teaching or secretarial work. Women who opted for nontraditional employment were met with a less-than-welcoming response from both their male counterparts and from other women who still held fast to the traditions of the day.

In recent decades, though, women have begun to break down the barriers they face, seeking employment in the trades and the broader industry. Their participation in the construction labor force is trending up, and not just among office jobs and management roles.

The Rise of Women in Construction

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the number of women working in construction trades in 2018 was the highest it’s been in 20 years thanks to a 17.6% increase in women’s job growth between 2017 and 2018, a figure that eclipses the 3.7% increase in total construction job growth in the same period. The share of all women in the construction industry also rose by 13.8% during that time, showing that more and more women view the construction industry as a viable employment opportunity.

The rise of women’s employment in construction is higher than the rise in overall construction employment.

Professional Women in Construction by Role

The construction industry encompasses a wide range of disciplines, from general laborers to skilled tradespeople. Between 2017 and 2018, nearly all these professions saw a rise in the number of employed women.

Women’s Job Growth Across Job Titles

Women's Job Growth Across Job Titles

Job Title % Increase in Employed Women
Construction tradeswomen 17.6%
Laborers 21.6%
Painters, construction and maintenance 22.6%
Carpenters 1.8%
Pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters 70%
Electricians -0.6%
First-line supervisors 15.8%
Construction and building inspectors 66.6%
Construction managers 0.3%


Increased Opportunity for Women in Construction

So, why is the number of women turning to careers in the construction industry on the rise? There are many personal and economic factors that make this type of employment an ideal choice for women across the country. Plus, as more and more women choose jobs in construction, the number of female mentors in industry associations, female-focused initiatives and women-owned construction companies increases, helping younger women see it as a possible career path.

Why Are Women Turning to Construction Careers?

More Job Security

In February 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the lowest unemployment rate in the past 10 years. Although this is an indication that the economy has taken a turn for the better, a declining unemployment rate can also create a shortage of workers.

This is exactly what’s happening in the construction industry. Because of the current labor shortage, many construction companies are unable to fill open positions and in turn, have had to turn down projects since they don’t have enough workers to complete them.

Experts cite many reasons for the labor shortage—from high retirement numbers among baby boomers to negative stigma around construction work among younger generations. No matter the cause, the labor shortage has opened the door for women to make an impact in an industry that, in many cases, will free them from a traditional “desk job” while offering secure, steady work.

Reduced Debt & Hands-On Training

As of 2019, women suffered from almost $929 billion in student loan debt—a figure that accounts for nearly two-thirds of all the student debt in the U.S. This is another area where the construction industry can help alleviate a problem that affects women nationwide.

Many construction jobs require a high school diploma coupled with practical experience that can usually be gained at a two-year trade school or vocational school. Workers may also opt for an apprenticeship. As an apprentice, a worker can learn a skilled trade, like pipe fitting, carpentry or bricklaying, in a supervised, hands-on environment.

Each of these programs cater to a booming industry, and they cost thousands less than typical four-year degree programs. In some cases, employers even pay for workers to receive job training. Plus, while the market for college graduates is completely saturated, construction and building companies are strapped for skilled tradespeople, making these jobs easier to find upon graduation.

Comparable Salaries & Benefits

Although there is still a slight discrepancy in the construction industry, the pay gap between men and women is significantly lower in this sector than in others. Women typically earn 99.1% of what men earn in construction, while the national average has women taking home roughly 81% of what men do.

Many construction jobs require only a high school diploma and on-the-job training, yet they pay well above minimum wage. In addition, with the opportunity to work full time in construction jobs rather than hold down several part-time jobs, workers receive benefits like health insurance and paid time off.



Mean Annual Wages of All Skilled Tradespeople

Job Type Mean Annual Wage
Residential building construction $47,140
Non-residential building construction $55,970 
Building finishing contractors $47,140
Foundation, structure and building exterior contractors $47,750
Highway, street and bridge construction $52,900



Mean Annual Wages of All General Laborers

Job Type Mean Annual Wage
Residential building construction $37,910
Non-residential building construction $43,330
Utility system construction $41,880
Foundation, structure and building exterior contractors $39,220
 Highway, street and bridge construction  $46,010



Lifestyle & Job Satisfaction

Another less tangible benefit to women working in construction is a boost in their overall job satisfaction. Unlike many offices, construction gives employees the satisfaction of having built something real at the end of the day. Whether it’s building a new road, wiring a school or completing construction on a hospital expansion, the work that people in construction do can affect the daily lives of millions.

Though many people consider construction jobs to be hard—and sometimes dirty—work, these jobs also help employees maintain an active lifestyle. Rather than being desk-bound all day, construction workers are free to move around and work with their hands.

Barriers for Women Construction Workers

The recent rise of women in construction holds promise for an industry in need of workers, but there are still barriers that exist for women who choose construction as a career path. While some of these barriers will require continued effort on the part of employers to resolve, others have started to fade as more and more women choose this career path.

  1. Unconscious Bias: Some attitudes and beliefs are so ingrained in our culture that people’s decisions are influenced by them without their knowledge. For example, a female employee may be left out of social events without being given the opportunity to make her own decision about her participation.
  2. Gender Discrimination: Discrimination is the conscious decision to refuse women the same opportunities or privileges that would be afforded to men in the same position.
  3. Higher Risk of Injuries: Because most of the construction workforce is male, safety equipment that is designed based on female anthropometric (body measurement) data isn’t always made available.
  4. Lack of Female Mentors: When women first entered this sector of the workforce, much of their training was given by men who weren’t keen on helping a woman advance within the industry. Today, there is still room for improvement, but overall there are many more empowering initiatives and resources for women in construction.
  5. Pay Gap: Though there is less of a gender pay gap in the construction industry when compared to other industries, a discrepancy still exists. To overcome this barrier, employers must continue to commit to diversity initiatives that will create a fair and balanced workplace.

Barriers for Women in Construction

Past & Present: Spotlight on Female Leaders in Construction

Thanks to the valuable contributions of many famous and not-so-famous females, more women than ever have set their sights on the construction industry as their long-term career path. These women are just a few examples of female leaders who have had a positive influence within the industry.

Pioneering Female Leaders in Construction



Historical Women

  Emily Roebling Julia Morgan Elsie Eaves
Her Position

Stand-In Chief Engineer

First Female Architect Licensed by California

First Female Member of American Society of Civil Engineers

Her Story She stepped in when her husband, chief engineer for the Brooklyn Bridge, became ill and died. She saw the project through to completion. Most well-known for her design of Hearst Castle, she also designed YWCA buildings specifically created to serve women.  She worked in road, bridge and railroad construction and leaned heavily on data to track construction projects.



Modern Women

  Elizabeth Diller Roni Savage Sheryl Palmer
Her Position

Architect & Founding Partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Environmental Engineer and Managing Director of Jomas Associates

Chairman and CEO of national builder Taylor Morrison

One Thing to Know She’s the mind behind The High Line in NYC. She founded her own company in 2009. Her career path changed multiple times on her way to success.
Recognition Named to the 2018 Time 100 List  Black British Businessperson of the Year, Best Business Women in STEM Award, Precious Awards Entrepreneur of the Year Company named America’s Most Trusted Home Builder for third consecutive year in 2018



How Construction Companies Can Continue to Recruit & Retain Professional Women

The construction and trades industries represent an opportunity for women to work in secure, well-paying positions that require far less training and less debt than other occupations. Here are several ways construction companies can continue to recruit and retain women.

  1. Train all employees on the signs of unconscious bias and set clear expectations for how everyone at the organization should be treated.
  2. Highlight all accomplishments in equal measure, focusing on the strengths of individual employees without allowing gender to enter the conversation.
  3. Brainstorm ways to involve young girls in your organization to show them that construction and engineering are viable career paths.
  4. Foster good working relationships and a sense of inclusion between women and their male counterparts.
  5. Continue focusing on diversity initiatives and issues that appeal directly to female employees—like paid maternity leave—to recruit and retain more women across the industry.
  6. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy on workplace discrimination, sexism and bullying.
  7. Use a merit-based, results-oriented structure to award promotions and pay raises.
  8. Stock safety equipment and uniforms in both male and female cuts and sizes.


Conferences & Initiatives

Women in Construction Week

Held annually in March, Women in Construction Week highlights the growing role of women in construction and raises awareness of the opportunities available to them in the industry.

Groundbreaking Women in Construction (GWIC)

An annual conference that caters to women in architecture, engineering, consulting, contracting and related businesses. 

Women in Construction Conference (WIC) 

A leadership and networking conference in Washington, D.C., that covers topics from negotiation and career growth to quality control on the job. 

Women in Construction USA 

An event that attracts 1,000+ attendees annually and is focused on empowering women in construction-related fields. 


General Associations

Professional Women in Construction (PWC) 

An organization whose goal is to “support, advance and connect women and promote diversity within the architecture, engineering, construction (AEC) and related industries.” 

National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) 

An association that helps women within the construction industry with professional development, networking, leadership and education. 

Women Construction Owners & Executives (WCOE) 

A network of executive women in the construction industry that promotes mentorship and advocates for issues important to women in the industry. 


Job-Specific Associations

Women in Skilled Trades (WIST) 

An organization that develops programs and events to inform women about career opportunities in the construction skilled trades. 

Women in Construction Operations (WiOPS) 

A group focused on facilitating mentorship opportunities between women in operations, managerial, estimating, engineering and design professions. 

Women in National Electrical Contractors Association (WIN) 

A collaborative forum designed to help advance the careers of women who work in the electrical contracting industry. 

Women in HVACR 

An association that helps women grow their careers in the HVACR industry through networking, mentoring and education. 


Women at Work: Statistics, Barriers & Opportunities in Construction



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