What do women in construction want? Respectful treatment, like anyone else


In 2020, more women than ever worked in the trades—over 300,000. The numbers have grown about a third—100,000—over the last five years alone. But women still make up just 4% of workers in construction. (It was 3% in 2015).

How can the construction industry attract and retain women workers? The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) decided to ask women in the trades that and other questions. In the largest survey of tradeswomen ever, the group obtained survey responses from 2,635 tradeswomen—almost 1% of all women working in trade occupations.

Here are some of the results, published in November:

  • UNEQUAL TREATMENT 48% reported that they are held to a different standard than their male co-workers, face discrimination in many aspects of their work, and sometimes contend with an unsupportive if not hostile work environment.
  • MISTREATMENT 26.5% report that they are always or frequently harassed just for being a woman; 23.6% report that they always or frequently face sexual harassment; 21% of women of color report that they are always or frequently racially harassed; and 19% of LGBTQ respondents say that they always or frequently face harassment based on sexual orientation.
  • THINKING OF LEAVING 44.4% say that they have seriously considered leaving the industry. Of those considering leaving, lack of respect or discrimination is the most cited reason for wanting to leave, with 47.2% rating it very important, and 38.8% said problems they raised were not taken seriously.

The report also identified things that could make a difference in retaining women workers in construction. Among union members, 46% said support from their union local was a “very important” factor helping them succeed in the trades. Workplace policies (e.g., anti-harassment policies) were identified as “very important” by 45% of respondents, followed by having an employer committed to diversity goals (39%) and project owners with incentives or hiring goals for women (38%).

Access to childcare was big too: Among mothers with children under 18 who seriously considered leaving the trades, 69.3% mention difficulties finding child care, and 63% mention lack of pregnancy accommodations as very or somewhat important reasons for leaving.

IWPR is a union-allied nonprofit think tank, and has AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler on its board of directors.

MORE: Read the full report here.



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