Cristi Sawtell of IBEW Local 125 talks about her job as a journey-level lineman at Bonneville Power Administration at the 22nd annual Women in Trades Fair.
There's no doubt that the construction industry is dominated by men. With only a small percentage of female construction workers, construction fields can be a difficult place for women to grow and succeed. Without appropriate leadership in the workplace, women may avoid accepting positions with construction companies.
Creating a positive environment for women in the construction industry is important. When you develop an inclusive environment, your female employees can come to work each day prepared to focus on completing their tasks and getting their job done. This brings the entire team and company forward.
Here are a few tips for creating a stronger work environment for women.
Develop Inclusion Policies
Many women may stay away from the construction industry strictly because they feel like they're not welcome – even if they're interested and qualified. They may choose to take a job elsewhere because they believe going to work on a construction site may offer more challenges than rewards. For a construction company, this means you could be missing out on a stellar employee.
Inclusion policies can help you create a better environment for women. Because women are more likely to experience discrimination or harassment in an industry dominated by men, you'll want to create policies to protect them from sexism or bullying. You'll also want to lay out company policies for things like maternity leave.
Educate your employees about what constitutes harassment and what is and is not okay. Gestures, jokes, digital communication and more can all become a harassment case. Make sure each employee knows the consequences of harassment and how to identify it.
Provide Proper Trainings
Regardless of the gender of your employees, you want to ensure everyone knows how to use equipment properly. When workers don't know how to use equipment or are using equipment improperly, someone could get seriously injured. In fact, industrial lift truck accidents cause about 107 fatalities and 34,000 serious injuries every year.
Set your female project managers up for success by providing them with stipends to train their workforce. Given women the tools they need to succeed – and help their team succeed – will give them more confidence in their job.
Provide regular trainings throughout the year, especially when taking on new hires. Each new hire should get an in-depth overview of how to work new equipment and what the proper protocol is for working with that equipment. All employees should also receive additional refreshers throughout the year to ensure bad habits aren't picked up.
Encourage Female-Focused Events
One of the biggest struggles with getting women involved in construction is the lack of representation in the industry. If a woman is interested in construction, they may change their mind because they cannot find another woman who has been successful. You can combat this by helping your female employees find organizations and events centered around STEM fields. Some of the more popular organizations include the The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and National Association of Professional Women in Construction. Both organizations give women in construction the opportunity to network with other successful women and share stories of the challenges and success.
There are also many large events focused on this topic, such as the Women in STEM conference. If you're able, send some management-level female employees to conferences like this or other business events such as the
Women Build America Leadership Conferencehosted by the Women Construction Owners & Executives (WCOE). If not, host a local event on your own. Provide women in your area who are in the construction field or interested in the construction field to network, chat and share workplace experiences.
When women can easily find encouragement and support in the industry, they will feel more comfortable in their position. With a network of women with similar interests and goals supporting them, they will be more likely to stick around.
Increasing retention and overall happiness of female employees is only one part of the equation here, though. You should also be thinking forward to how you can encourage the next generation of women in the construction industry. Trade organizations like Oregon Tradeswomen and Washington Women in Trades both run career events that you can participate in so school-age girls can explore careers in the STEM fields. This kind of encouragement is crucial to fostering the initial interest in construction and continuing the growth of women in construction.
Practice Open and Honest Communication
For everyone to be happy, there needs to be open and honest conversation between male and female employees. Both groups should feel like they can speak up, ask questions or address concerns as they arise.
Men may struggle with how they should act around female employees because they are scared of stepping over the line. While they may not mean to be offensive or crude, miscommunications can happen. If they're unable to ask whether something is okay or not okay, they can begin to feel uncomfortable in their workplace as well.
Women also need to have the confidence to stand up and address problems they see day-to-day. If a behavior, joke or comment is inappropriate, women need to feel like they're able to address it without fear of repercussions or additional harassment. Develop a clear system or point of reference for such problems or concerns.
As more women take on jobs traditionally held by men, it means there may be some uncomfortable years as everyone grows used to the changes. But these changes don't need to be negative or debilitating.
If everyone on your team takes a positive approach and works hard to create a better environment for female growth, we can see a more diverse workforce in construction.