WOMEN WHO BUILD
Historically, the numbers of women in architecture and construction careers have been low. Stereotypes, traditional gender roles, educational boundaries, and salary inequities are some of the factors preventing women from pursuing careers that have traditionally been reserved for men. This model appears to be changing, as more women are now working as engineers or architects. In contract management and special trades, a new generation of women is pursuing careers in construction.
Women have always been much less likely than men to pursue a career in building. Historically, there are only a few women who are in the history books for achievements in building design. Some of these pioneers’ projects date back hundreds of years; most made their mark in Europe, as early as the 1500s.
Katherine Briçonnet was left to oversee the construction of the Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley while her husband was fighting the Italian wars in the 1500s. Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham studied Dutch architect Pieter Post and Italian architect Andrea Palladio in the 1600s, before designing dozens of London churches and as many as 400 other well-known structures in Great Britain. In the 1800s, Finland became the first country to permit women to study architecture and earn academic qualifications. In 1980, Italian M. Rosaria Piomelli became the first woman dean of the City College of New York School of Architecture.
Several Ivy League universities have deans and directors that are women. Nationwide, fifty percent of U.S. architecture students are women, yet only one third will become licensed. Salary inequality, gender discrimination and lack of recognition are cited as significant barriers for women pursuing a career in architecture. The numbers for women civil engineers are similar. Forty percent who have degrees never enter the workforce, or quit, listing lack of female mentors, work-life balance issues and unequal pay as factors.
Workers in Demand
The construction industry, plagued with workforce shortages for the past ten years, is currently experiencing an infusion of women workers that are taking on traditional roles, enthusiastic about defining their place in this male-dominated business. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 263,000 construction job openings in June, 2018. The need for qualified workers is projected to grow faster than average through 2026. The specialty trades – electricians, plumbers, roofers, masons, and glaziers, to name a few – also continue to grow, and are on track to keep pace with the growth of the industry in general.
In 2018, the construction industry employed 7.2 million people; women made up approximately 9.9 percent of the workforce, which includes administrative, office and executive positions. In the category of construction managers, the percentage of women workers grew from 5.9% in 2003 to 7.7% in 2018. The National Association of Women in Construction in Washington, D.C. reports there are currently 4,845 members in the U.S., 119 regional chapters and six new locations being developed. The D.C. chapter has grown more than 200% in the past four years.
Difficulty being in the minority has always presented challenges for women in the construction business. Although they are still hugely underrepresented, there is forward progress, and it’s gaining momentum. Together, they are building a future in an industry that has always belonged almost exclusively to men, and they’re finding a kindred community in the process.
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