Women in construction are carving their place in history. But, it’s been a slow process, one chink of stone at a time. Take, for example, the famous black-and-white photograph of eleven men lunching on a crossbeam girder, 840 feet above the New York City streets. “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper,” captured on September 20, 1932, has become an iconic image, reflecting the legacy of hardworking, life-risking construction workers. But, clearly absent in the photo — are women.

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Search for women in construction in 1932 and you will find little to no information. In fact, most references to women in construction don’t surface until around the mid-1940s, when women filled the shoes of active servicemen during World War II. Jobs historically reserved for men — shipyard, factory, assembly, riveting and welding — transferred to women. Even before that time, and ever since, women in construction have largely faced a longer and rougher road in earning their legacy. Emerging data demonstrates, however, that women are making strides in this once male-dominated field.

Education and mentorship for women in construction

A recent report released by Construction Coverage reveals that “women in the construction industry … command higher wages than female workers in other fields.” Additionally, the current median full-time earnings for women in construction is $46,808 annually, compared to $43,394 for female workers in all other industries.

“I believe many females in construction are standing their ground and going above and beyond to prove how valuable they are,” says Cassie Van Ess, Business Development, Wespac Construction Inc. “In my CRE travels, I come across so many successful women and it’s women uplifting other women that have made this an appealing career with so many paths in this industry.”

Unlike mentoring programs of the past, which heavily comprised men, organizations such as The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) are helping to tailor and encourage female-focused mentorship programs. These platforms are specifically designed to further women’s career development, provide connections to female industry leaders and ultimately help a new generation of women achieve their construction-work goals.

“We need to continue to educate women and minorities about the various career paths within CRE,” says Molly Carson, senior vice president, market leader Southwest Region for Ryan Companies. “I grew up in the industry and still had very little idea of the career opportunities in commercial real estate, it was — and still is — a career largely passed down from fathers, uncles and brothers being in the industry.”

Family ties

Both Van Ess and Ryan were indoctrinated (quite willingly) into the construction field via family relationships.

“My great grandfather started the business with my grandfather and my great uncle, then my dad was CEO until he passed away in 2009. I grew up in the business,” Carson says. “While it surrounded me, a career in construction/real estate was never discussed or pushed on me or my siblings. In hindsight, I would have loved learning more about the business at an earlier age.”

Adds Van Ess, “I grew up with my dad owning a mid-sized general contracting firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I watched him be a successful business owner and create relationships with everyone from clients to subs to architects and brokers; the relationship aspect and structures he built always fascinated me.”

Now, in addition to familial exposure to construction as a career, young women will have the benefit of turning to successful women in the field like Carson and Van Ess.

CTE, STEM and other construction-related programs

Many young girls and women also have the advantage of early introduction to career and technical education (CTE) pathways. For example, the Valley’s own West-MEC offers an architecture & construction CTE program for qualifying high school students, as does the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) with its Construction & Technology High School program.

The emergence and rise of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs has also helped deliver construction-related opportunities to even younger students — as early as elementary and middle school. On the East Coast, Rosie’s Girls (sponsored by Vermont Works for Women) provides young girls with skilled trade and STEM programming, including a “Build & Weld” three-week summer camp.

“I try my best as a mentor to encourage the women around me to cultivate their confidence in this still male-dominated environment,” Carson says. “As we work to expand awareness of CRE as a career that is rapidly changing, seeing opportunities for a much wider pool of talent is really exciting!”

Currently, according to Construction Coverage, a mere 10.3% of workers in the construction industry are women. But, in what has become an extended national drought of skilled construction laborers, it’s inarguably an opportune time for women to cut their teeth into construction if they so choose. According to Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA), 80% of construction firms in the U.S. report difficulty in filling hourly-craft positions that represent the most-necessitated construction workforce bracket.

“I recruit for Wespac in the fall and spring semesters and genuinely enjoy meeting young females studying Construction Management or Construction Engineering,” Van Ess says. “ I hope to continue to see more females in the future applying and succeeding in all positions in construction.”