When you think of a construction worker, what image comes to mind? Chances are you think of a man, and that’s no surprise. Women are only 2.6% of all construction workers, and that number is the same as it was 30 years ago. Our new report, Women in Construction: Still Breaking Ground delves into some of the reasons why women are so underrepresented in construction and what can be done about it.
Despite women’s increasing share of other male-dominated jobs—such as sheriffs, police detectives, and firefighters—the numbers of women in construction have barely budged. The roadblocks women faces to entering the construction field have serious economic consequences for them and their families, especially given that construction jobs typically offer women the opportunity to earn higher wages. The median hourly wage for construction occupations is about double the median wage for female-dominated occupations such as home health aides and child care workers.
One major obstacle is the persistent harassment and hostility that women face in construction. According to a U.S. Department of Labor study, 88 percent of female construction workers face sexual harassment on the job.
Shané LaSaint-Bell (pictured here) knows all about that. She is a woman who loves welding. But the discrimination she has had to endure is enough to make many women quit. As she says, “On the construction site, men . . . see you as a woman who shouldn’t be there. They give you a hard time to press you to quit. Women are groped, grabbed, and relentlessly harassed. A lot of women leave the job before a year is out. It’s just too stressful. It’ll never change without having more women on the work site.”
There is lots of work to do to ensure that women have equal access to these high-wage jobs. Federal agencies charged with enforcing antidiscrimination laws must step up their enforcement on worksites, as well as in career and technical education classes and apprenticeships that are the pipeline for these jobs. Only then will we begin to see more women in hard hats.