For contractors needing to fill a never-ending labor shortage, the solution may be obvious, though often overlooked: turn to a huge untapped pool of talented women. After all, women make up about 47 precent of the US labor force but only 11 percent of the construction industry, with the number in building trades estimated to be in the low single digits.

While this answer may seem simple, hiring women into construction is anything but. Poor recruitment efforts and unfair stereotypes around what women can—or should—do on a job-site continue to stand in the way of contractors developing capable crews and women finding rewarding work.

These trends are changing, says Brandon Bryant, president and owner of Red Tree Builders in Asheville, NC, and former president of the North Carolina Home Builders Association. In his homebuilding company, more than 40 percent of his employees are women. And that’s because they’ve intentionally sought out female employees and have provided them with an environment where they can succeed.

To help other contractors do the same, Bryant discusses why women make exceptional construction industry employees and how companies can recruit and retain them for the long haul.

Why female workers and productivity go hand in hand

In Bryant’s experience, women as employees often demonstrate qualities that make them effective in the construction industry, such as a keen attention to detail and a commitment to staying organized.

Research has borne out these observations. In a National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) study of women in construction, 69 percent of focus group participants agreed that women tend to be more careful in executing their tasks by following required detailed specifications. In addition, 45 percent mentioned that women excel in maintaining organization in the workspace, ensuring cleanliness at job-sites, and handling tools and equipment responsibly.

Together these qualities help contribute not only to a more efficient job-site, but a safer one, too. According to the focus groups, following safety protocols was a high priority for women, often because women feel they have a duty to protect themselves for the well-being of their families.

Women also help create more cohesive teams. In another study from the Construction Industry Institute, respondents with at least one woman on their work crew reported higher individual performance (including safety, attendance, quality, productivity, and initiative) than those in all-male crews.

Strategies to increase hiring

How can contractors hire more women into roles where they can thrive?

  • It starts with recruitment. Construction company leadership needs to be proactive in recruiting women to fill open positions. For Bryant’s company, that means visiting trade schools that are training women in construction-related jobs. Whereas many contractors demand only employees with years of experience, Bryant and his team place considerable value on training as well. “If someone is willing to go into debt to be trained, that shows a really deep level of commitment,” Bryant said.

Intangibles such as creativity and work ethic can be more important than a track record of construction jobs. “I can teach someone how to build a house,” Bryant said. “I can’t teach someone to be responsible or loyal.” On candidates’ resumes, look for experience that can be transferable to a job-site, even if those experiences aren’t construction-related.

  • Promote the rewards. A selling point is undoubtedly pay. According to the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC), women in construction earn on average 95.5 percent of what men make. While still not equal, it’s a far smaller gap than most industries, since women in the U.S. earn on average 82.9 percent of their male counterparts’ wages.

With that said, the rewards of working in construction extend beyond pay. It’s a chance to be creative, make an impact on a community, and leave a legacy, Bryant says. “There’s not many jobs that allow you to do all that,” he added.

  • Communicate diversity of roles. With the proper training and equipment, women can learn to perform any task on a job-site—from operating forklifts to painting and clean-up. But construction work stretches beyond field work. In Bryant’s company, women fill roles like electrician, but also project manager and director of operations. There’s a wealth of opportunities for women to pursue leadership, management, and ownership roles in today’s construction industry.

Keys to retaining female employees

Once companies have women on staff, contractors need to create a work environment that encourages them to stay and grow. Here’s how:

  • Build a strong, welcoming culture. In Bryant’s experience, women prefer to be treated on equal terms with other employees. Despite this, women continue to face sexist and misogynistic comments and behavior. It is crucial for managers to establish explicit expectations and consequences for harassment, while offering training that fosters a safe and respectful work environment, as emphasized by OSHA.

In this male-dominated industry, women often feel they have to prove themselves by refusing to say “no” to requests for additional work. Taking on added responsibilities can lead to growth, but also to burnout, resulting in some women stepping away from the industry. Helping women set boundaries and find balance in their workloads is key to retention.

  • Consider and provide for unique needs. Everyone deserves to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) that fits properly so they can work as safely as possible. Most standard PPE, though, is designed for men. Even the smallest size in male PPE can be ill-fitting for women. Companies should invest in the right safety equipment for all of their workers. In fact, in July 2023, OSHA proposed a rule that would require that PPE fit each employee properly to protect them from occupational hazards.

Another example: paid maternity leave. This benefit is rarely provided in the construction industry, but it could be a deciding factor for many women. Examine your company handbook to see if your policies (or lack thereof) may be acting as barriers to attracting and retaining more female employees.

Being aware of the issues women face in the workforce can be the first step in supporting their career pursuit. At Builders Mutual, we’ve worked to raise awareness around helping more women join the construction industry. For example, we sponsored the North Carolina HBA’s Women in Construction panel, “Breaking the Concrete Ceiling,” at HBA’s 21st Century Building Expo and Conference last October. And we collaborate with our customers to make sure their policies and processes reflect a commitment to better safety for each one of their workers.

Contact your risk management consultant today to learn how to create a workplace where women can thrive.