Construction's Female Workforce - Obstacles & Inroads
In last month's column, we quoted this statement from the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
I'm not sure what Mrs. Thomas Jefferson had to say about her husband's declaration, or if she even had a say. We do know it was quite a few years before women were even permitted to vote. We've come a long way toward accepting that women deserve equal rights and opportunities during the last two-and-a-quarter centuries, but we've still got a long way to go.
In addition to objecting to Jefferson's omission of women's rights, I'm sure you will disagree that "all men are created equal." You have known and worked with men who were more intelligent than you - also those who weren't too smart. You have also witnessed others who give every inch every day, as well as the goof-offs. Some are stronger, some are weaker. One thing is very certain: We are definitely not created equal - men or women.
The front cover of the October 2000 PM displays a photo of a pretty young woman wearing a hard hat and holding a pipe wrench. You've all heard the chauvinistic remarks about this being "man's work" and this is "no place for a woman." Our jobsites are dangerous, dirty, exposed to harsh weather conditions and demand hard physical labor. I will admit there are a lot of women who do not fit or even want that role, but I also admit there are tons of men who can't cut it either.
We now have women serving in all of our military fighting forces, in dangerous positions on our police forces, climbing ladders and fighting fires and participating in professional sports, from wrestling to soccer and golf, which at one time were all considered to be men's fields. Here again, these roles are not suited for every female, just as they certainly do not fit every male.
Katie Rotella's cover story states that women make up only 2.3 percent of our construction trades workforce, while they make up more than half of our nation's population. U.S. law requires a minimum of 6.9 percent. You have all heard the war stories, rumors and wives' tales about intimidation, sexual innuendoes and harassment problems. How many have heard the success stories or have taken the time and interest to uncover what actually causes negative situations and failures? I always have and still do. My sincere interest lies in maintaining a proud, professional and profitable industry is what attracted me to Katie's article and my reason for this follow-up.
The Real LosersFortunately, my background and working experiences give me a first-hand, in-depth exposure to hundreds of women who attempt to make construction their career - in management positions and also working with tools. Much like Niki Rinaldi's quote, "I had to quit because no one has to put up with that sort of stuff on the job," most of these proud and capable women end up pursuing other vocations. Remember that "pursuit of happiness."
But they are not the real losers. We are. Bringing women into our traditionally chauvinistic building trades is definitely not the top priority for most contractors. Their struggle to survive in today's booming construction market dictates pursuing and satisfying these ever-present urgent demands:
- 1. Ample manpower to beat critical path schedules.
2. Productive employees who justify raising wages.
3. Quality workmanship that eliminates punch lists and releases final draws and retention.
4. Fair and firm enforcement of company rules and policies.
5. Clean and safe jobsites.
6. Maintenance, care and efficient use of company-owned power tools, trucks and equipment.
7. Minimized waste of costly materials.
8. Complete and timely jobsite-to-office paperwork.
9. Thorough documentation to eliminate delays and claims.
10. Maintain a proud and professional image that will provide profitable negotiating power and attract the best employees.
You who are already profiting from successfully using women in your workforce will agree those 10 urgent demands are typically performed much better by women. Naturally, some women do not perform as well, but the odds are definitely in their favor.
Bad AttitudeI'm sure many of you with doubts are wondering, "If they are so good, why aren't we using them?" If you pick up your October issues of PM magazine and read Katie's story, you will find some of the answers to that question. My answer is much more extensive and will continue through the next three issues.
As we examine each of these reasons why contractors are not currently reaping the benefits of using capable women, we need to consider feasible do's and don'ts that will pave the inroads and overcome all of the negative attitudes.
Attitude 1: Why should we change everything that we've been doing so successfully all of these years just to accommodate women? I thought they only wanted equal rights - not special privileges.
Answer: Our current critical craft shortage proves we are not doing everything successfully. When we change enough to attract the Born to Build male workforce, your jobsites will also be quite attractive to women, too.
Attitude 2: This is definitely "man's work." Women are not tough enough to handle our work.
Answer: Admittedly, some women are not tough enough or willing to do construction work. Likewise, for most of our male population.
Attitude 3: We've had some of those sexy women on our jobsites, and our horny men spend too much time trying to sneak a peek. We're afraid of harassment charges.
Answer: What becomes of all your horny men at the end of each work day when they must go out into our American society? More than half of our population is females, and they are not dressed in drab work clothes where one must sneak a peek. I hope all of your employees have received ample training, with do's and don'ts to prevent any possibility of sexual harassment charges.
Attitude 4: Our men will waste too much of their work day helping a female do a job that she should be capable of doing herself.
Answer: This is a definite possibility that should be explained to all your workmen and disciplined by your foremen.
Attitude 5: We would have to provide special bathroom facilities on each jobsite. Women object to those filthy johns that are men use daily.
Answer: Your men may be using those filthy johns, but that doesn't mean they don't object. OSHA requires you to furnish decent facilities and so does good common sense.
Attitude 6: We cannot depend on a woman being there every day when we really need them.
Answer: You need to check your absentee and sick leave records for your male employees, then compare their "excuses," and you will realize that women really are more dependable than men.
Attitude 7: We've had several good female employees who became pregnant and were somewhat restricted in the work they could perform. They also lost between two and three months work when their babies were born.
Answer: That is definitely one problem you don't have with men, but it certainly doesn't happen too often with each woman employee. There's not much we can do about women having the babies. Do you realize that's where men come from?
Attitude 8: Our men are accustomed to cussing and many women object to this jobsite lingo.
Answer: I doubt if anyone ever cussed more than I did, but it was neither good nor necessary. However, I did not use that language at home or in front of women or children.
Attitude 9: We agree with your philosophy of having fun on our jobsites but our female employees often mistake the men telling dirty jokes and teasing as harassment.
Answer: There is a big difference between having fun and teasing about sensitive situations. We also know that you need some discretion about what kind of jokes are acceptable to tell in mixed company.
Attitude 10: Most of the really good women we've trained and put through our apprenticeship program end up quitting over some petty misunderstandings.
Answer: Have you ever been somewhere where you were not welcome? Did you know you were not welcome? Did you stay? Review those other nine negative attitudes and decide whether you would want to work in that atmosphere. Remember that "pursuit of happiness" is in our Declaration of Independence.
In the next three issues we will look at proven techniques for recruiting, hiring, training, mentoring, motivating, and maintaining a proud, productive and very profitable workforce.