Closing the Gap

 LISA ANN MARCHESI 01Construction is only “a man’s job” if you only hire men.   

By Lisa-Ann Marchesi

Women make up less than 10 percent of the construction industry, according to the National Association of Women in Construction. While some would say there’s an easy explanation – that construction is “a man’s job” – I reject this thinking. 

As a member of the Board of Directors for the Women’s Builder Council, I see firsthand how women are making an impact on our industry – both running the business and on the job site, doing hands-on work. The gender divide is a complicated issue adversely affected by stigmas and biases.

With record low unemployment and money pouring into infrastructure projects across the nation, construction leaders can’t afford to overlook qualified women. 

With that said, allow me to answer some questions that I often hear about women in the construction industry and clear up a few misconceptions. 

Can Women Really Do The Work?

Without question – yes! A lot of women can, just as a lot of men can. There is a common perception that men are always stronger than women, and that women would not be able to keep up with their male counterparts on the job site. This is a generalization; it actually really depends on the person.

Although there will be women who are not up for the physical nature of the job, gender is not an indication of strength or fitness, and is ultimately a poor excuse for discounting women from physical labor.

In the MeToo Era, Are Women a Liability?

No – women are not a liability. Bad behavior is a liability. Like in any other industry, sexual harassment and gender discrimination must be a risk management concern for business leaders. All employees – women and men – must be protected from predatory behavior in the workplace. As a starting point, construction business owners need to do everything they can to educate their employees about harassment and discrimination policies. This can be achieved through monthly “toolbox talks” that reinforce psychological safety as a priority on the job site and remind employees about respecting boundaries at all times.

Construction leaders should also establish an open-door policy so that both women and men feel comfortable coming forward if they have been subjected to inappropriate behavior by a colleague. It may even help to bring in a female lawyer to talk to female employees, as this person may help the employee feel more comfortable speaking up. 

Should one employee harass another employee despite these measures, there must also be repercussions for the perpetrator. Failure to take-action exacerbates the problem and tells your employees that you aren’t serious about respect on the jobsite. 

Is it possible for a construction business to accommodate a woman’s needs during pregnancy and after childbirth?

If a woman in an office job becomes pregnant, she is likely able to continue performing the same job throughout her pregnancy. There’s no sugar coating that in construction, this typically isn’t the case. Nevertheless, pregnancy is never a legitimate reason to discriminate against female employees. 

Job sites can be very dangerous and the work is strenuous. A pregnant employee should, therefore, be removed from any situation where there is potential harm to her child, but that doesn’t mean she can’t continue working. Leaders should find alternate tasks that pregnant employees can perform safely, just as they would if they had a male employee who threw out his back or was otherwise injured. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s critical to retaining talented, hard-working employees.   

After childbirth, women should be afforded the same rights to spend time with their newborn as in any other profession. In fact, an increasing number of construction businesses already offer men paternal leave when their partners give birth — women should be no different. If construction leaders haven’t already, they should familiarize themselves with the laws regarding paternal leave, and define a plan of action for both new mothers and fathers.   

How Do We Get More Women Involved?

Involving women is going to take time because we must first overcome cultural stigmas. Women have been told for decades that physical labor is a job only for men, and they may be intimidated to even apply to a construction position. 

To overcome these stigmas, construction leaders need to get the message out that construction jobs are available and suitable for all. They should participate in career days at local high schools and technical education programs, taking time to speak with female candidates and to highlight how women are making an impact on their business.

It will take time to close the gender gap, but at the end of the day, construction is a woman’s job as much as it is a man’s. All we have to do is hire more women and treat them as equals.

Lisa-Ann Marchesi brings more than 25 years of insurance experience to the construction and commercial insurance industries. She is a member of the Board of Directors for the Women Builders Council of New York City and a vice president of property and casualty at NFP. 

 

 

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