A Female Friendly Industry Starts with You

The construction industry, in general, is suffering from a worker shortage — both in the office and in the field. Seventy-four percent of construction firms say they are having trouble finding workers at all levels. While females perform equally well on math and science standardized tests, and are flocking to college engineering programs, women are seriously under-represented in the construction field. Only 14% of the construction sector is made up of women, and only 2% of on-site workers are women.

Yet, a Harvard Business Review Study found that the overall intelligence of construction teams was greater when women were team members. Procore points out that women in construction leadership roles improve decision-making. Helbling Executive Search says that women have a deeper ability to think creatively. They analyze things more thoroughly and are more organized and intuitive than male employees. So why are so few being hired in the sheet metal industry?

Women have long avoided construction careers for many reasons: they feel intimidated by the stereotype that men are better at the science and math courses required; they don’t see other women working in the field; and/ or they fear the sexism that exists on the job. They are not wrong. Women in positions of project management, and even engineering, report overwhelming resistance and routine sexist behaviors from their male counterparts.

Despite the drawbacks for women joining the construction field, some of SMACNA Greater Chicago’s most successful contractors are women. Kathy McCauley, Cathy Tojaga, Regena Leu, Elaina Towns and Natalie DeMeo are just a few of the women critical to the sheet metal industry in the Chicago market. Angie Simon is the first woman to be named President of SMACNA National. These women have demonstrated how important it is to recruit women into the ranks of SMACNA Greater Chicago and the industry in general.

Because the industry has been so completely dominated by men since its inception, very few HR directors, owners or managers know how to attract this valuable group of workers. Some companies are not prepared to hire women because of a lack of policies that address women’s needs, like pregnancy leave, family leave, sexual harassment and equal pay. The first step in recruiting from this almost untapped pool of talented workers is to take stock of those HR policies. Make sure that you can advertise female-friendly policies and train your HR department to accept and promote greater diversity in the workplace.

Once you have made any necessary policy changes, let women know that you are a company that is ready and anxious to hire female employees. You must let them know that you value what they have to offer. First, take stock of the image you current portray to possible recruits. Do all of your marketing materials — website, brochures, jobs pages — have women represented in photographs? If every marketing vehicle you use presents an image of a male-dominant environment, women will not feel comfortable applying. Women want to see other women looking as if they are enjoying their jobs. As in all marketing, the audience you want to attract must be able to see themselves in the situation you are portraying. Your marketing materials should show the diverse range of responsibilities within your organization to avoid the stereotypical image of men in hard hats.

The language you use in your marketing materials says as much about your attitude toward a diverse workforce as the images you choose. Your website, Facebook page and printed materials should not only sell your product, they should focus attention on employee attitudes about the company and the company philosophy. One large general contractor stresses a workplace that demonstrates how “tolerance, care and respect for others and their opinions makes us stronger.” That is a powerful message of inclusiveness that has a great impact on anyone who sees themselves as outside the norm for a position in the construction industry. If you welcome diversity, say so. If you have policies that were written to include women, let them know through your overall company brand and copy points.

Speak their language. Women value safety in the workplace, equal pay, flexible hours, variety in their work and family-friendly policies. They respond well to job postings when requirements include communication skills, ability to multi-task and desire to assume more responsibility. Remove any gender-biased words in job descriptions and replace them with descriptions that represent a culture of acceptance.

The pool of female talent is limited compared to male talent available in the construction industry. But study after study shows that having more females in mid- to high-level corporate roles in construction increases profitability. Strengthen your team and brand your company as diverse and forward-thinking by simply making a little more effort to hire from this under-utilized and valuable resource.