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By Megan Headley
December 4, 2017
The construction industry may be facing an image problem that is stifling contractors’ ability to recruit a more diverse workforce and deal with the ongoing labor shortage successfully. Not only is today’s youth looking everywhere but construction for jobs, but the industry is still ignoring virtually half of the potential workforce with its ongoing reputation as a boys’ club.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that the number of women in the construction industry--already dismal--has actually decreased since its peak in 2007. Between 1985 and 2007 the number of women in construction grew by 81.3 per cent, only to drop dramatically during the recession. As of December 2016, women made up 9.1 per cent of the construction industry in the United States, predominantly in sales, office, and managerial positions.
Why aren’t women applying to more construction jobs? The truth is that more women are showing interest in construction careers, but that doesn’t always translate to a job in the field.
"Universities are seeing more and more women enroll in their programs, which in turn means more females are graduating with construction degrees and entering the workforce,” said Ashley Richards, Managing Partner - Construction & Real Estate Practice, Kaye/Bassman International Corp., a Dallas-based recruiting and executive search firm. “Women have had a strong role in construction in business development, marketing, and accounting roles; now they are becoming a part of all sides of the business including being superintendents, project managers, and estimators.”
To encourage those highly qualified applicants to view your firm as a serious contender, you might start by examining your hiring practices.
Watch Your Wording
As Wendy Zang, Managing Search Consultant for Helbling & Associates, an executive search firm focused on the construction and related industries, commented in a May 2017 company report, “The difference in recruiting women actually begins with how women approach career opportunities.” Zang pointed to studies that show that women are less likely to apply for positions when they don’t meet 100 per cent of the qualifications. “It’s rare that any candidate meets 100 per cent of the qualifications for any position, as often job descriptions are a wish list of every skill or qualification an employer would like to have,” Zang added.
In a recent interview, Zang elaborated on this issue.
"Companies that are serious about reaching out and recruiting more women do need to give some consideration to this phenomenon,” she said. “Often our clients list requirements as more of a wish list than a checklist of all the experience a candidate must have.”
Zang advises construction firms that are serious about encouraging diversity begin with the wording on their job descriptions. “Keep a list of requirements to things that are actually required (i.e. degree, technical training, etc.) and list other qualifications as preferred."
It can also be beneficial to reach out in person to potentially qualified candidates--via job fairs or other networking opportunities--to open the door to ongoing communication with candidates who may be a good fit for the company.
Create a Safe, Supportive Space
Of course, the single biggest factor to more robust recruitment of women is creating a working environment that supports them and their advancement. Today’s typical workplace can seem decidedly unfriendly to women; add in the challenge of navigating a worksite as the only woman on the team.
“I think step one to any strategy for either recruitment or retention is 'do no harm,' so to speak,” Zang commented. “We’ve seen an explosion of sexual harassment charges in politics and entertainment recently, and people are increasingly aware of hostile work environments. Even one or two bad managers can really impact a company’s reputation. Making sure your own house is in order is critical.
"We have entered a time when sexual harassment has been brought to the forefront, and companies are being forced to face it head on. Construction is no different,” Richards agreed. “Women want to feel safe in the workplace and not have to put up with actions or language that would make them feel inferior.”
Richards noted that her clients are taking a proactive role with human resources to put in place strong policies and procedures designed help protect the women in their workforce.
Going beyond this minimum, other firms are exploring benefits that support women’s predominant role as the primary caregiver--benefits that ultimately prove attractive to all candidates.
"Construction companies have begun offering paid maternity leave, which is a very positive change. Some have also creatively designed paid leave programs that allow for their employees, both men and women, to take extended time off to care for sick or aging parents," Richards said.
Priority Number One
At the end of the day, gender diversity is becoming a priority for construction-related companies. That means todaz firms that put policies to support a diverse range of candidates in place can gain an edge. Those who wait to make these changes risk becoming obsolete.
"All companies, of course, want the best fit for the job, first and foremost. But companies are recognizing the many benefits of a diverse workforce, including, according to recent studies, an increased profitability. Our clients are asking for a diverse set of candidates from which to choose," Zang has found.
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