How diverse is your job-site? It’s true that job-sites are often racially diverse workspaces. Most sites are bilingual, with Spanish being the first language for many workers. However, when it comes to gender, most job-sites aren’t diverse at all.

The construction trade has long been among the industries with the lowest percentage of gender diversity in the workforce. According to Construction Dive, women represent only 9% of the overall construction workforce and 3% of the workforce in building trades. As of December 2016, there were 939,000 women reported to be working in the construction industry. While the number of women is still a fraction of the number of men working in construction, that number is on the rise. And it couldn’t be growing at a better time. Hiring female workers could help lessen the increasing labor shortage.

“The construction industry is experiencing a dire skilled labor shortage, and women make up half of the population and workforce,” Construction Dive points out. “It’s intuitive to conclude that a large part of the solution to the skilled labor shortage is in the hands of the untapped talent — we need more tradeswomen! It’s that simple.”

Jobs in the construction industry also present women with a large opportunity for career and personal growth. In construction, women tend to earn 95.7 cents for each $1 a man makes; this is in contrast to the 81 cents on the dollar that women make when compared to men overall, according to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC). The small earnings gap makes the industry a desirable prospective industry for women.

Patricia Urtecho and Tara LeDuc, Senior Risk Management Consultants at Builders Mutual, join us to answer your questions about encouraging this growing demographic.

Q: I don’t have any women on my team, but I’m interested in making an effort to hire women. What roles do women typically seek?

A: With safety and skills training given to everyone on a job-site, women can learn to do any role. It is important to point out that physical strength is not a deal-breaking limitation when it comes to employment opportunities in the industry. Male or female, workers should be using appropriate lifting equipment to prevent injury and ease loads.

By nature, women are innovative and detail-oriented. We most often see women filling roles in painting and finishing work, as well as on the final cleanup crew. More recently, we’ve begun to notice women on job-sites as equipment operators driving and controlling construction equipment like bulldozers, forklifts, backhoes, and dump trucks. These are higher-paying roles, and it is great to see this becoming more common.

Q: Before hiring a woman, do I need to make any changes to my job-site? What does OSHA say about women in construction?

A: All workers have a right to a safe workplace, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides information, training, and assistance for workers and employers. While general contractors should be responsible for enforcing all mandates, we also encourage tradeswomen to familiarize themselves with the OSHA standards that impact their well-being to ensure the standards are being correctly followed on their job-sites.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is one of the main ways all workers stay safe on the job-site. However, often women aren’t provided with the correct PPE for their bodies. OSHA says PPE sizing should be based on female body measurement data and that it should fit properly so that it can adequately protect women from hazards. The smallest size in male PPE is not adequate, especially since manufacturers are beginning to provide PPE specifically made for women. To learn more about updates on PPE designed for women in construction, review this blog post from the industry experts at Builders Mutual.

OSHA also addresses sanitation on the job-site. One toilet (not including urinals) is required for every 20 workers. We always appreciate when we visit a job-site and the portable toilets are designated for men and for women to ensure each gender has clean and available facilities. We’ve seen some job-sites that lock the women’s portable toilet and provide keys. Additionally, portable handwashing stations should be present.

Q: My job-site is all male, and I have concerns about bringing a woman onto my team. What can I do to shape my company’s culture so that everyone feels comfortable at work?

A: Men are responsible for their own behavior on the job-site. Women should not be penalized or kept from a career in construction because of men behaving badly. As a GC, it is your job to set clear expectations and consequences for harassment.

Behavior training can set the tone for job-site culture and show that you are serious about the issue. Both men and women play a role in creating a safe work environment, so invite everyone on your team to these trainings.

Bystander training explains what other team members can do if they witness harassment occurring on the job-site. Encourage everyone to be your eyes and ears when you aren’t around.

OSHA provides some training options online.

Q: What resources do you recommend for women in the construction industry?

A: The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) is a good resource to offer women on your team. NAWIC provides support and education for women in the industry. NAWIC also has a career center and hosts annual events and conferences to promote networking among women.

News and resources available on the NAWIC site may answer more detailed questions you have regarding women in construction. You can also check out this list of additional resources.

Q: What else can I do to open my job-site to potential female employees?

Your opportunity to open your job-site to female employees begins during the hiring process. It is important to remember that in a male-dominated industry, just getting hired can be difficult for a woman. Be cognizant that men are more likely to hire fellow men, and ensure that you are giving equal opportunity to female candidates. Your company will benefit from employing a more diverse workforce.