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Is The New face of Construction Feminine?

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When is the last time you saw a woman donning a construction hat? It’s a pretty rare site to see. The construction industry has been predominantly male for a very long time, whether that’s because women have shown a lack of interest in the industry or have not viewed construction as a career option is yet to be determined. What we do know is that there is a lack of female role models in construction, and a lack of female construction workers in general.

According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, the number of women in construction has almost doubled, from about 619,000 in 1985 to 1.1 Million in 2007, which sounds promising, however when you consider the fact that women only accounted for 9% of construction jobs in 2010, when they made up 47% of the work pool- it’s still pretty low.

Statistics are great indicators for what’s going on in the economy, but they don’t always tell the full story. Wanting to get some more perspective, I sought out a female veteran in the industry.

Meet Ginny Schaefer, a 40+ year modern day Rosie the Riveter. Unlike many other women in construction, she is not in administration, she works right at the job sites alongside the men. A rarity now, back in 1977 unheard of.

“When I was young, I had always helped my dad on the side with handyman items at home and I just loved the hands-on work… When I was in college a friend invited me to her house that she was building in the woods one weekend and I instantly fell in love. It was all women building and I loved the rebel aspect; I got interested and started reading a book called Against the Grain, by Dale McCormick written in 1977, a carpentry manual for women.” -Ginny. That is probably the biggest difference between then and now, you don’t have to drop out of college to work in the industry, in fact colleges are advocating their construction courses.

When I asked Ginny why she thinks there are so few women in construction she replied, “Loss of trade school in public education really hurt us. Not seeing examples of women in construction at career days-they aren’t able to visualize themselves in the role.” I also asked Ginny why she thought women make good construction workers, “We speak woman and homeowner and we are often speaking and working with the woman in the partnership. We’re great multi taskers, detailed and neat. Also our nesting instinct comes out, wanting to really build rooms for families that they can enjoy.”

I’m imagining for some women it may be a little intimidating to work in a job that is most if not all men, Ginny had this experience at many of the companies she worked at. We hear quite a bit about gender inequality and unfair treatment felt by women. While the struggle is very much real, Ginny’s story is just the opposite. “I was so fortunate to work with some amazing men throughout my career, who were extremely supportive, great teachers and never once made me feel uncomfortable for being a woman.”

So what will it take to increase the number of women in construction? A nice reminder of our Rosie the Riveter Days to start. Remind our youth that they have the skills to excel, expose them to more role models to show them it’s possible, and simple conversation at the high school level during career days so they know it’s an option. Coupled with top ranking schools like Columbia putting emphasis on construction related classes and degrees, a more diverse workforce, including women will surely follow. Also, creating more interest is the projected need for project management positions that offer job stability and the excitement of an industry that is growing. “Income may not be as high in comparison to other tech career paths, but it’s not too far behind. It has given me financial freedom to support myself when I needed to.”-Ginny Schaefer.

At Timeline Design+Build, women are an invaluable part of the work staff, making up almost 50% of the employees. Whether we are taking on labor intensive tasks, or coordination project schedules, we help the company grow and offer a feminine perspective and are always looking for more females to join our growing team.

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