Women in Senior Construction Positions Earning More Than Men

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By Jewel Edwards

Aug. 3 — Women working in certain areas of construction are earning more than their male counterparts on a weekly basis, but these women have also risen to more senior positions within the industry.

One week before Hillary Clinton July 26 made history becoming the first woman to represent a major political party in a presidential election, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released weekly earnings data showing that the wage gap for male and female construction workers seems to be narrowing.

BLS's report on median weekly earnings shows that women working in full-time or salaried installation, maintenance and repair positions earned $848 per week in the second quarter of 2016--that's $30 more per week than men in those occupations.

This group of occupations can include electricians, heating and air conditioning installers and various types of mechanics.

Ariane Hegewisch, director of the employment and earnings program at the Institute for Women's Policy Research, told Bloomberg BNA July 29 that the data is likely showing that more women are working in senior positions, therefore earning more, and more men may be in junior positions.

Outlasting the Recession

The construction industry is considered a nontraditional career for women. BLS data show that the industry includes about 600,000 full-time and salaried workers, but only about 100,000 are women.

A small subset of women have gravitated toward working in the industry for a variety of reasons.

“In the '80s or so there were quite a few women entering construction. Women who entered the industry, they were feminists. They saw this as kind of breaking down the barrier,” Hegewisch said. “The other women who came in were women who worked construction in their family, maybe with their dad.”

Janis Gunel, executive director of West Virginia Women Work, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 1 that some of the young women her organization recruits talk about how they don't want to work in an office. The young women discuss wanting a job where they're doing things with their hands and being active, Gunel said.

“Years ago, you might hear somebody say women don't want to go into those jobs. Most people aren't interested in going into construction, man or woman. We are able to recruit those individuals that want to get into the field. Some of them are very, very successful and they do very well,” Gunel said.

During the recession, the construction industry was one of the sectors hardest hit by the downturn. Millions of workers either retired or found work in other sectors when construction activity started to slow down.

Women ended up losing more jobs than men, Hegewisch said. Yet some women, like some men, remained in construction through the economic downturn. Their loyalty to the industry has translated into more seniority and higher wages.

“A lot of the women in construction now are survivors. They are experienced, they are skilled and they are in slightly higher positions,” Hegewisch said.

The fact that some women are earning more than men shows that women can rise to positions of responsibility in construction and that “they can have as skilled or more skilled jobs than men,” she said.

Bias Remains

Data showing more signs of seniority for women in construction represents progress. However, the data could also indicate that not enough women are being pulled in at the lower levels to be trained.

Second quarter median weekly earnings show that women in other full-time construction and extraction occupations are still lagging behind, earning $685 per week while men earn $786 weekly.

Connie Ashbrook, executive director of Oregon Tradeswomen Inc, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 1 that women in hourly positions working in the field are overall receiving the same hourly pay as men, but they're not being given the same number of hours.

Women in construction, along with people of color, tend to work fewer hours than men and are often not part of a contractor's core work group, Ashbrook said.

Research shows that construction companies tend to overlook hiring women and minorities unless required to do so as part of participation in a government contract or some kind of local hiring agreement.

“There's still too many contractors that will only hire diverse workers when they're required to for aspirational goals,” Ashbrook said. “There are many excellent contractors out there who don't care about the gender or ethnicity of their workers. Kudos to those contractors that have that kind of attitude and are really setting the standard for the industry in a beautiful way.”

Gunel said that West Virginia Women Work tries to be transparent about the challenges that women might face. During interviews, they tell recruits that they will most likely be the only women on a construction site.

In spite of continued bias and the fact that women are still greatly outnumbered in the construction industry, Ashbrook and Gunel maintain that construction work is worth exploring for women.

Gunel said there should be more mentoring for women who join the industry, desire to have a long career and hope to rise to senior-level positions that come with higher pay.

“It’s one thing to get somebody into an entry level job. It’s another thing to help them stay in that field, to help them work their way up. We will try to help them to work their way up the ladder,” Gunel said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jewel Edwards in Washington at jedwards@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the BLS median weekly earnings report for the second quarter is available at http://src.bna.com/hny.

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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