Women in Construction, a new trade group launching in the Buffalo, New York, area, hopes to build a sense of camaraderie for women in an industry that’s known for its significant gender gap.
A new regional trade group in the construction sector could do some heavy lifting on one of the industry’s biggest problems.
On Thursday, Women in Construction, a new offshoot of the Construction Exchange of Western New York and the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA), will hold its first meeting in Buffalo. The meeting is meant to help shape the group’s early goals, relying on feedback from attendees. Women in Construction has a dozen members so far, but more than 100 people have already signed up for Thursday’s event.
“We’re trying to provide a resource of like-minded people and identify what they’d like to see offered,” CFMA board member Karen Antonelli told Buffalo Business First.
A Wide Gender Gap
The creation of a new group for women in the construction field might help improve the gender balance of a fairly lopsided industry. While a similar national group, the National Association of Women in Construction, already exists, the new regional group could help bring additional attention to a significant issue in the sector.
Last year, a study from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) found that more than 97 percent of construction workers on the average crew were male—roughly the same as 30 years ago. The study, which called the numbers “shockingly low” in light of the fact that women make up 47.2 percent of the workforce, blamed gender discrimination and the lack of a supportive infrastructure for the persistent under-representation of women in the field.
“Sexual harassment and hostility, lack of mentors, and stereotyped assumptions about women’s capabilities all contribute to the problem,” the report stated [PDF]. “Unequal access to construction jobs in turn negatively affects women’s income, as traditionally male fields pay higher wages and have a lower wage gap than those dominated by women.”
NWLC has long focused on the issue, at one point suing the U.S. Department of Labor for failing to ensure government contractors were taking complaints of racial and gender discrimination seriously. The group notes that women have succeeded in increasing their presence in other professions where a gender gap was traditionally high, such as in law enforcement, medicine, dentistry, and legal fields. But not construction.
A representative of the Associated General Contractors of America criticized the NWLC study, arguing to The Washington Post that the research focused exclusively on hard-hat jobs and did not include women who worked in administrative or office settings in the construction industry.