According to a recent NAHB report on the state of women in construction, there is good news. The number of women employed in the construction industry grew substantially last year, rising to around 1.2 million and surpassing the peak of pre-recession employment levels. Training new workers is an important goal of the industry as the skilled labor shortage remains a key challenge in the industry's ability to lead the way out of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. And women can help make up a good portion of those numbers.
Typically, women have shied away from careers in construction, with the overall share of women in the field fairly stable within the 9-10% range since 2002, according to NAHB reports on labor force statistics.
NAHB's Professional Women in Building (PWB) Council is working to help grow the number of women in the industry, and in turn, to address the lagging skilled labor workforce overall. The majority of women in the construction industry workforce — more than 70% — are in sales or office positions, and only about 3% are involved in the skilled trades, where workers are desperately needed.
By amplifying the voice of women already in the building industry and reaching out to help develop the careers of the next generation of women in the field, PWB members across the country are working at the state and local levels to educate young women on the benefits of careers in construction, develop invaluable leadership and business skills, and boost career success. Here are a few of their stories.
Training Women and Helping the Community
Nora Spencer, CEO of Hope Renovations, a nonprofit trades training program in Carrboro, N.C., said she always had an interest in the trades, which grew stronger when she worked in corporate human resources for a large retail home improvement company where she took full advantage of an employee discount. "I started buying power tools and began a side-hustle as a remodeler, but it bothered me that I didn’t see more women working for general contractors," Spencer said.
Spencer, a PWB Council board member at the Home Builders Association of Durham, Orange & Chatham Counties, wanted to give back. After finishing a master's degree in social work, she began Hope Renovations because she saw the current need for jobs in the trades as well as the underrepresentation of women in those trades.
The organization offers a free 10-week pre-apprenticeship training program for underemployed women utilizing the Home Builders Institute’s PACT curriculum and teaching the basics of carpentry, plumbing, electrical, painting, finishing and landscaping. This training helps set the stage for the women to more confidently enter the trades or enroll in apprenticeships and continuing trades education. Its first class graduated in early September.
The students also complete home repairs, modifications and renovations for older adults, allowing them to more easily age in place. The work provides the trainees the opportunity to apply and practice their skills in a real-world setting. Spencer and another Hope Renovations employee are NAHB Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists.
Reaching Out to Younger Women
Rhonda Taylor, a business consultant with TriNet and a member of the PWB Council at the Northeast Florida Builders Association (NEFBA), said that while more needs to be done to encourage women to enter the skilled trades, the industry is making progress.
"There are more businesses owned or run by women. There are more women in supervisory roles, especially in the trades. And there are a lot of groups, like our PWB, working to get the word out about all the different career opportunities available and the excellent pay," Taylor said.
She also said it's important to tout the industry to younger females and to let all young people know a career in the trades is a viable career path for those that may not want to pursue a traditional college degree. "The trades are what this country was built on, but it is a dying workforce. We need to make sure young people know that the trades are a great option for those students that are not on the four-year college path," Taylor said.
The local PWB Council at NEFBA holds regular social events – although some recent events have been sidelined by the pandemic. Taylor said they try to do one event a month with the nonprofit Girls Inc., which, among other things, works to support girls learning and engagement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Forging a Unique Career Path
Darylene Dennon is the immediate past chair of NAHB’s PWB Council, and the first tradeswoman to chair PWB. Dennon is CEO and owner of Solid Energy Inc. in Woodinville, Wash., a company she founded with her late husband. She was also the first woman to chair the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America, and said she came to the industry through her family's roots in the construction industry as builders and carpenters. But her path to a career as a general contractor and painter is unique.
Dennon had plans to become a botanist and open a nursery. She attended community college and worked for a landscaping company. She had also learned how to paint in order to offset the cost of college and had become an expert at detail work and refinishing decks. Stints as a wildfire fighter in Alaska and a police dispatcher followed, and one day her husband, a commercial fisherman, asked if Dennon wanted to start a painting company.
She was one of only a few women in her local trade associations, but Dennon said she never thought of herself as unequal. When she became PWB Council Chair, Dennon was dedicated to education, workforce development, and helping more women to get involved in construction.
Increasing recruitment of women and improving retention by developing training and mentorship programs can help companies remove gender bias from the work culture. Focusing on the positive qualities that the jobs themselves provide, like competitive pay and the number of jobs available due to the workforce shortage, can also help outweigh any male-heavy stereotypes still associated with the industry.
As part of NAHB’s PWB Week 2020, sponsored by Lowe’s For Pros, we are recognizing and celebrating the important contributions of women in residential construction and efforts to diversify the industry. Please follow along with daily blog posts and share our social media posts with the hashtag #PWBWeek2020.