National Women in Construction (WIC) Week is an important week for the future of our industry. Each year, we celebrate women who have crossed the threshold of entering a traditionally male-dominated industry, and succeeding. Hopefully, that threshold is less imposing and the door is open wider with each passing year – it needs to be.
… It all began in Fort Worth, Texas, at a time when roles for women were more traditional and well-defined. The year was 1953, and 16 women employed in the construction industry established Women in Construction of Fort Worth. Now, over 60 years later, that tiny support group has grown into the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) with chapters across America and around the world. One of the original Women in Construction, Alice Ashley, characterized the NAWIC founders as having, ‘electricity in our veins, cement dust on our shoes, sawdust on our minds.’ What a radical way of thinking for women in the 1950’s!
The organization’s 1953 objectives are still true today:
- To unite for the mutual benefit of the women who are actively engaged in the various phases of the construction industry.
- To promote cooperation, fellowship and a better understanding among members of the Association.
- To promote education and contribute to the betterment of the construction industry.
- To encourage women to pursue and establish careers in the construction industry.
- To provide members an awareness of the legislative process and legislation as it relates to the construction industry.
– Lori Keener, The Austin Company
Sixty-six years later, we are facing significant shortage of skilled trades, construction professionals, preconstruction professionals, architects, engineers and more. What has changed is that NAWIC was formed because the women needed it. Today, the industry needs NAWIC more than ever. It is, and will grow further, into an extremely mutually beneficial relationship.
The industry’s growing concern is who will be building our environment in the future?
As I perused the internet to research how this week was being celebrated, a common theme is to connect with girls in high school and plant the seeds for a career in construction. I fully support this strategy, but offer further thoughts below.
The need to encourage careers in construction is not gender-specific. It needs to reach everyone. The message needs to be one of unmatched opportunity for everyone; anyone willing to learn a trade or profession, work hard, and commit to safety and quality.
As of 2016, women accounted for 9.1% of the construction industry census; however, that included office, sales, engineering and other no-trade categories. In the field, that percentage drops to about 3.1%. But, there are a number of programs in-place to change that:
- In New York City, NEW (Non-Traditional Employment for Women) is a workforce development program that is partnering with unions, contractors and owners to place more women in construction apprenticeship programs. To date, they have placed over 1,300 women in good paying union construction trades.
- Goodwill of north Georgia offers an apprenticeship training program aimed at women who are interested in the construction trades.
- In Chicago, Chicago Women in Trades is establishing similar programs to promote and train women in the construction trades.
- In Biloxi, Mississippi, Moore Community House is offering the same.
Clearly, there is a growing awareness of the opportunity for women in construction. This is good for the industry – men and women. There is opportunity for all. Building awareness for women builds an awareness for all. Opportunities will be merit-based.
It is all coming at a time when vocational careers are being recognized for what they always have been – a source for rewarding work and creating something with your hands. This is a risky, dangerous business that requires care, diligence and a commitment to look out for each other. But, it is a rewarding business with good pay and work that is anything but monotonous. Accomplishments in our business are about as tangible as any industry. If you are not in a remote wilderness, you cannot go far without seeing the product of the hard work of men and women who shape our modern world.
Congratulations to all the women who have contributed to this amazing product. Let’s spread the word on how rewarding and gratifying this business can be.
“I used to not like being called a ‘woman architect.’ I’m an architect, not just a woman architect. The guys used to tap me on the head and say ‘you’re OK for a girl.’ But I see an incredible amount of need from other women for reassurance that it can be done, so I don’t mind anymore.”
Zaha Hadid, Architect
“A woman with organizing skills can run a construction company without ever picking up a hammer and nail.”
“When I bid out our construction projects, I call contractors personally to close the deal and get the best price or enhance the scope of their deliverable. You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”