The Washington Post estimates that only three percent of field workers in the construction industry are female. That number has not changed since the 1980s, despite the many female construction workers who are trying to change the landscape of the male-dominated industry. When you count office workers and field assistants, the number of women in construction goes up to 12 percent. But with the massive shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry, it is puzzling why more construction jobs do not go to the women who want to fill them.
The fact is that the construction industry is a dangerous place for women and men alike to work, but the dangers are more pronounced for women. While many women have a positive attitude about construction jobs, the real physical differences between men and women create situations that can be deadly to female construction workers. When you add in the rise in the number of job site harassment cases, the dangers of a woman being in the construction industry become apparent.
Construction Equipment Geared More Towards Males
When the discussion about women in the construction industry comes up, many people insist that females can do the same jobs males can do. But the fact is that there are physical differences between men and women that make some tasks more perilous for women. For example, the act of bending repeatedly to pick up hand tools puts more strain on a woman’s back than on a man’s. However, in some cases, the physical issues females face on a construction job site are not necessarily their fault.
Construction safety equipment is purchased by construction companies to fit men, primarily. This means that harnesses and gas masks are too large to safely fit the smaller frame of a woman. Not only does this create a problem by making it difficult for a woman to work in this ill-fitting equipment, but it also means that the equipment will not work properly when it is called upon to save a worker’s life.
One of the ways construction companies try to compensate for the issue with the equipment is to make women flag workers that direct traffic during a job. The problem is that motor vehicles and violence in the work place are the two most common ways a woman gets killed on a construction job site, and 33 percent of all female construction deaths come when the woman is a flag worker.
Another biological fact is that most women need to exert themselves more to do tasks that are generally simpler for men. Overexertion leads to stress injuries that can put a woman out of work for a very long time. For example, it was discovered that female carpenters tend to have more wrist issues than men due to the overexertion of the arms during carpentry activities.
Construction tools generally come in one size, and that size is more fitting to a man’s hand than a woman’s. When a woman tries to use a tool that does not fit properly in her hand, she could injure herself and other workers by dropping the tool or injuring her hand by not using the tool properly. When it comes to dangers for female construction workers, poorly planned safety equipment and tools are just two of the reasons women have a harder time on the job site.
Emotional Distress Faced By Women
Male and female construction workers have emotional issues, but the emotional issues women experience can often be enhanced by the activity of men. For example, women tend to drop out of more apprentice programs because male mentors feel they have to break their female apprentices to make them tough, rather than simply teaching their female students how to do their jobs. Women tend to work alone more than men in construction and that isolation can be a source of emotional distress.
Women experience significantly more physical, emotional, and sexual abuse on a job site than men. Female construction workers report being touched and groped repeatedly, verbally abused more often than men, and consistently intimidated by their male counterparts. Many males in construction see it as their job to force women to quit because the image of a strong woman intimidates these men. The emotional and verbal abuse is hard to prove, and much of the sexual and physical abuse is ignored by male supervisors.
Dealing With Unsanitary Work Site Conditions
Men seem to be able to adapt to the conditions created by a construction job site more easily than women. For example, most worker restrooms on a construction job site tend to be filthy and unsanitary. Women who refuse to use bathroom facilities on job sites can develop bladder problems and other issues that could create long-term health challenges.
During the hotter months of the year, water is incredibly important to maintaining worker health. On many construction sites, water dispensing equipment is unsanitary and women often avoid using it. The result is that more women are affected by heat conditions on construction job sites than men. Women who do drink the water to avoid heat problems sometimes find themselves with bacterial infections and other issues that make work almost impossible.
Steps Being Taken To Make Construction More Female-Friendly
In 2005, the construction industry in the United States employed over 11 million people, with many of those hired being skilled workers such as carpenters and plumbers. After the Great Recession of 2008, that number dropped to just over nine million workers. As the need for construction workers in the United States escalates, the number of workers in the industry remains at around 9.5 million. In other words, there is a serious labor problem in the construction industry.
Instead of perpetuating the unwritten practices that keep women out of the construction industry, construction companies are starting to realize that they need to make the industry more female-friendly. Many construction companies are investing in safety equipment and work site tools that are sized to fit the way a woman works, and these same companies are hiring female worker ambassadors to try and convince women to get into the construction industry.
The average female-dominated industry such as hospitality or home health care pays approximately $10 per hour. Skilled workers in the construction industry start their careers at around $20 per hour, and the industry is desperately short of skilled workers. Women can fill the jobs that the construction industry has open, but women first have to be convinced they are wanted in an industry that has been male-dominated since it started.
Filling The Labor Gap With More Female Workers
Female construction workers face greater dangers than their male counterparts, but actions can be taken to reduce and even eliminate those dangers. The construction industry needs a complete change in its attitude and culture if it is going to survive this most recent labor crisis.
The female worker market is a largely untapped pool of resources for a construction industry begging for more workers. By changing to a culture of acceptance and understanding how important women can be to its long-term success, the construction industry could start a new boom time that would see prosperity at a high level. But until the dangers women face in the construction workplace are eliminated, the construction industry will continue to suffer from a lack of manpower that women could provide.