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6 Challenges Facing Women in Construction

Nov. 15, 2021
The construction industry remains male-dominated, even in the twenty-first century.

By Sam Meenasian

By default, many of us associate the construction industry with men. This is understandable, since men make up 89 percent of the construction workforce. That means women, while accounting for around half of the working population, make up only nine percent of construction workers.

Other sectors, such as military and law enforcement, have increased female representation. Yet, the construction industry remains male-dominated, even in the twenty-first century.

In this article we take a look at the main challenges women face in this sector.

1. A Male-Dominated Industry

An overwhelming majority of construction workers are men, even though the number of women in this sector is on the rise. Women who work in the construction sector could find they are the sole female on a jobsite.

Even a self-assured woman may feel like an outsider in such a sea of men. This sense of being different may be a tough experience for some.

Many construction organizations have made it known they wish to hire women, or—as equal opportunity employers—that gender is not a consideration in hiring. But the perception of the industry as male-dominated remains a barrier that tends to reinforce the status quo.

2. Sexual Harassment

Sadly, sexual harassment is a reality in the construction sector. Being outnumbered  9 to 1 on average, women are prone to inappropriate behavior.

The construction industry has limited recent statistics on this problem. The most recent comprehensive studies on the subject are more than two decades old.

One report was compiled by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1999. This study highlighted that 88 percent of female construction workers reported sexual harassment.

Every employer knows that women (and men) have a right to be free from harassment in the workplace. Construction organizations should provide a safe and productive working environment for women. Company policy should be clear in the company handbook, training on sexual harassment should be part of every employees' onboarding process and should be regularly updated.

3. Irregular Working Hours

Hours can be irregular in many types of construction work, particularly on-site work. In some situations, on-site work can even begin before the sun rises.

This is due to the fact that most outdoor work requires workers to work long hours in good weather. Scheduling shifts in construction is hard and unpredictable, as workers need to compensate for short hours during inclement weather.

These types of hours on the jobsite can be a deal-breaker for women with school-aged children. Working before dawn or for extra-long hours is tough on parents.

Employers should do what they can to help all employees—male and female—balance childcare and work. Before agreeing to a job, women should negotiate their job share and shifts.

4. Lift Requirements may be Limiting

Many positions in the construction sector require more mental than physical strength. Yet, certain aspects of construction are physically demanding and sometimes need brute strength.

Many construction jobs require the ability to lift or load a certain amount of weight. These are necessary to ensure that the person performing the job is capable of safely performing routine tasks.

Certain weight or lift requirements may disqualify some women from a task. Yet, it is critical to take those limitations seriously. 

Employers should post any lift requirements when advertising for a job. And when considering a new hire who may not be able to meet those requirements (regardless of gender), consider some other position in the organization that does not have lift requirements.

5. Unfit Safety Equipment

Many pieces of safety equipment and apparel must be form-fitting to be effective. For example, an oversized welder's jacket may ignite during a simple welding routine.

These safety hazards are amplified for women who are small-framed, or light in weight. As more women enter the construction industry, more and more safety equipment are being adapted for women.

However, many construction organizations may not have safety equipment and apparel fit for women in stock. Employers should do what they can to provide the correct work apparel and PPE. Women employees should feel free to voice  their concerns if they feel their equipment is inappropriate for the job.

Remember: is not safe to wear safety equipment that is an incorrect fit for your weight, frame and size, even if your organization is properly covered by general contractor insurance.

6. Shared Portable Restrooms

Portable restrooms are very common on most construction sites. Many women may feel disappointed by this fact, especially if they are used to a ladies' room with ample amenities. Most construction projects do not include gender-specific restrooms.

Yet, most portable restrooms are single-occupant. Keeping them clean and well-maintained is in the interest of everyone on the job site, and if management makes it a priority, most female employees will understand it to simply be part of the job.

Off you go

Every job has its pros and cons, and the construction sector is no different. Women should not take these challenges as a deterrent, since there are bright skies too. For instance, in the U.S., women earn 81.1 percent of what men make, on average. In the construction industry, this gender pay gap is significantly lower. On average, women in this sector earn 99.1 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

Sam Meenasian is the Operations Director of USA Business Insurance and BISU Insurance and an expert in commercial lines insurance products. With over 10 years of experience and knowledge in the commercial insurance industry, Meenasian contributes his level of expertise as a leader and an agent to educate and secure online business insurance for thousands of clients within the Insurance family.

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