Women Have Created Paths For Upward Growth In Construction. Now They’re Working On The Next Step

By on March 22, 2019

From BisNow:  The world of commercial real estate underwent a revolution in the past decade. Although much progress is still needed to reach equality, the overwhelmingly male-dominated profession made room for women to join as project developers, brokers, property managers and other positions, and many women seized the opportunities presented to ascend to the C-suite.

But men still completely dominate outside the office. On construction sites, men constitute more than 90% of the labor force, working a set of high-paying, unionized jobs, ones that can provide a middle-class lifestyle without requiring a college degree.

The disparity may start impacting the industry more in the coming years. Builders have already complained about a labor shortage in the trades, a factor in the steep rise in constructions costs.

Between January 2018 and January 2019, the economy added 2.7 million jobs, including 338,000 in construction, a healthy 12.5% increase, according to New York City-based Marcum, a national accounting firm. That’s the good news.

But as the economy keeps rising and developers start breaking ground on more projects nationwide, demand for skilled workers is increasing, and the labor supply is getting stretched thin. In December, one of the construction industry’s most active recent months, the sector added another 88,000 unfulfilled jobs.

Marcum Chief Construction Economist Anirban Basu, author of the report, calls that “a reflection of the growing difficulty contractors are having filling the expanding number of open positions.”

Recruiting more women might help fill this gap. Opportunities for women have grown in construction, but female employees are still uncommon.

“For every 100 men I see in the field, there are maybe three or four women,” Urban Innovations Assistant Project Manager Amanda May said. The Chicago-based firm helped pioneer the renovation of loft buildings into creative office space.

May considers even a handful of women on job sites a sign of progress, since when she started in development nine years ago, she likely would have seen no other women at all.

Ashlee Pforr, senior project manager of Skender, one of Chicago’s leading construction firms, has likewise witnessed the growth of women decision-makers, but has not seen similar gains on job sites. Out of roughly 60 people in her office, about 20 are women, up from a tiny handful 10 years ago, and on job sites she went from seeing almost no women to about five for every 50 to 75 workers.

The numbers bear out both women’s experiences. Women make up only about 3% of Illinois’ roughly 220,000 construction jobs, including plumbers, welders, carpenters and electrical workers, according to Chicago Women in Trades.

“That hasn’t changed in all these years,” Marketing and Communications Director Sharon Latson-Flemister said.

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