3 Ways the Construction Industry is Prioritizing Gender Equality

There hasn’t been a better time for young women looking to get into construction.

Construction has long been an extremely male-dominated field – in the U.S., women make up about 9 percent of the construction industry. For college women majoring in engineering, architecture, or development, the lack of gender equality in this industry can be disheartening. However, the industry is changing to be more welcoming to women, and major players in the construction industry are working to level the playing field and improve the gender balance.

The percent of women working in construction is projected to grow to from 9 percent to 25 percent by 2020. There’s still a ways to go before women even make up a quarter of the construction workforce – and even further to go before reaching equality – but there are clear changes happening in the industry that show that gender equality is a priority. 

Women are no longer expected to only hold office or support roles.

There are many different jobs available in the construction industry, ranging from sales and office jobs to management and leadership roles to on-site work, maintenance, and production – and women can hold any of them. In 1985, 68 percent of women in construction held clerical or support jobs – today, less than half of women in construction hold sales or office positions. 31 percent hold positions in management, and 21 percent work in natural resources, construction & maintenance.

It’s not just the numbers that have improved but the visibility of women in construction as a whole. Representation and visibility matters, and top construction companies are ensuring that their websites and career pages reflect the diversity of their workforce, breaking down stereotypes of where women should or shouldn’t work. 

Photos Courtesy of Lendlease

Companies are pushing for gender equality, diversity, and inclusive cultures.

For the industry to continue to improve its representation numbers, companies need to lead the charge and make diversity a priority. The good news – there are companies doing just that. Lendlease, a global construction firm named the “Top Construction Firm for Women” by Pioneering Women in Real Estate, has established Diversity & Inclusion as one of its guiding principles, alongside health & safety, sustainability, and customer focus.

To stay true to this guiding principle, Lendlease has implemented a number of steps to measure its broader commitment to diversity and inclusion. The company requires all employees to complete an Unconscious Bias online certification (which introduces the concept of unconscious bias), and provides its employees with practical skills for embracing diverse people, skills, perspectives and experiences. Lendlease also measures workplace inclusion through employee surveys, and its D&I dashboard monitors and identifies issues that need to be addressed. To specifically address gender diversity, Lendlease tracks the percentage of women on their team, including in senior executive positions, ensuring the company continues to increase representation across the board.

By building diversity & inclusion into its core principles and measuring its effectiveness, Lendlease is showing its commitment to creating a workplace where all employees can thrive, rather than treating D&I as an afterthought.

There are strong communities and support initiatives for women in construction.

Finding a mentor and a community of people is important in any industry. Construction’s low percentage of women makes this more challenging, but conferences, associations, and formal initiatives from companies can help.

The National Association for Women in Construction (NAWIC), for example, has chapters across the country and provides its members with opportunities for professional development, education, networking, leadership training, public service and more.

“We have different jobs but the same goal – to enhance the success of women in the construction industry,” said Dove Sifers-Putman, the 2018-2019 National President of NAWIC.

Mentorship is a key component to that success, says Sifers-Putman. It’s why NAWIC has an Emerging Professionals Committee and created its own mentorship program. But companies need to create their own mentorship initiatives as well.

“Companies need it,” said Sifers-Putman of formalized mentorship programs. “And not just the big companies. The larger companies are doing it, but the smaller companies need to be doing this as well.”

Employee Resource Groups can help young women and underrepresented employees connect with mentors, while at the same time bringing together a community of people and fostering inclusion. Erika Irish Brown, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Bloomberg LP, writes on Bloomberg that, “Most people, especially [young people], seek some sense of belonging, engagement, development and access, so why wouldn’t we invest in creating the proper forums and acknowledge intersectionality through collaboration and inclusion?”

Many construction companies are seeing the value in these programs, including Lendlease. Lendlease offers an Employee Resource Group for women, as well as a mentoring platform that matches employees with mentors across its distributed workforce. 

Beyond Employee Resource Groups and mentorship programs, conferences are creating a community for women in construction and providing visibility for female leaders. Lendlease organizes an annual, internal two-day women’s conference that provides networking and professional development opportunities for its employees, and is also involved in a number of external conferences for women in construction. Since 2014, Lendlease has been a diversity sponsor of ENR’s Groundbreaking Women in Construction Conference and most recently spoke at NAWIC’s annual conference on the topic of reducing unconscious bias and creating initiatives, programs, and development opportunities for women. From Employee Resource Groups to female-focused conferences, women in construction are more visible than ever, and young women in construction should know that there’s a whole community ready to provide career support and mentorship.

The construction industry has made major strides to prioritize diversity and push for gender equality. However, a workforce that’s 9 percent female is a far cry from equal, and there’s still a lot to do before achieving significant representation. Companies like Lendlease and organizations like NAWIC should be seen as leaders in this industry – paving the way to make gender equality in construction the norm. To college women hoping to enter this field, know that there is a place for you – and be sure to look for those companies that are putting in the work to promote gender equality and create an environment that’s inclusive and supportive of all its workers. 


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