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Diversity in the Skilled Trades: Women Making Inroads into Construction

In the late 1800s, a woman named Emily Roebling’s husband took sick and she stepped in to complete his job. While this sounds rather ordinary to modern ears, the project Mrs. Roebling took over was the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, making her the first documented woman to work in construction. She was also the first person to walk across the bridge when it opened on May 24, 1883. In the 17th century, there are accounts of women carrying water and digging ditches. They were usually paid about half of what the men made.

Growth of Women in Construction

Seeing women work in construction jobs became more common during the Second World War when the need for soldiers caused a shortage of men to work in the factories, shipyards, and offices.

The trades have never been an easy option for anyone seeking work. There are loud noises from tools and machines, heavy lifting, tight schedules to maintain, and a perception that women are too weak for the heavy work and not suited to the technical aspects has always held them back from advancement.

The United States is once again experiencing a labor shortage. This could be a good thing for young women with a desire to enter the trades, as it means more hiring opportunities. But even now it’s not an easy road. 60% of discrimination victims on construction sites are women, and they experience a higher rate of injury and a lower rate of advancement. On a positive note, there has been growth in the number of businesses owned by women and women make up 14% of staff executive positions in construction companies.

female architect

What It’s Like:

Working in the construction field generally means working long hours, commonly with 10 and sometimes 12 hour days. There is no set work site; when one project is completed, another is begun at a fresh site. Mobility of the worker is essential. When it comes to personal relations with their male peers, many women report they are treated differently because of their sex. Some men are acceptable as long as they can get the job done, while others have trouble accepting women in construction.

It’s a New Day in HVAC

One field where women are succeeding is the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning industry. They are entering the field and sticking around long enough to earn the required licensure for better positions with more respect.

They are reversing negative gender, cultural, and religious stereotypes, at least in the U.S. After all, it’s only been 100 years since women gained the right to vote and to work. It was in 1872 that Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting. The 19th Amendment granted women full citizenship rights in 1920. In 2020, there were five women candidates for the presidency.

Success in HVAC

Once they’ve worked long enough to earn their licensing and certifications, women are working as HVAC Technicians, installers, and engineers. Female technicians now make up about 9% of the HVAC industry. The cost of attending trade school to earn these certifications is less than a college education and pays twice what a “traditional women’s job” (such as being a receptionist) might pay.

A young woman wanting to enter the construction industry in 2021 has a lot to consider: the cost of trade school vs. college, which includes the consideration of how much debt she might incur, the continuing battle to be considered an equal on the job site, and the chance that her work may not earn her as many rewards as her male counterparts. Still, the trades can be a fulfilling career for the woman who enters it with the right attitude.




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