This week is Women in Construction Week, celebrating women’s contributions and achievements in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Women are playing an increasingly significant role in the world of construction. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of women workers in construction is still exceptionally low: in the year of 2015, only 9.3% of total construction employees are women, compared to the overall level of 46.8% across all industries. Construction, by far the most gender-imbalanced field, is also the only industry with a share of women below 10%, according to the 2015 Labor Force Statistics from the current population Survey by BLS.
In fact, women in construction did make some progress during the past two decades, but the gains were largely reversed by the 2008 financial crisis. The number of women employees in the construction industry grew to 1,131,000 in 2006 from 762,000 in 1995, but then dropped to 802,000 in 2012 before bouncing back to 929,000 in 2015. The share of women in construction--once at its peak of 10% in 1996--dropped to 8.9% in 2010 and now stands at 9.3%, not yet fully recovered from the housing disaster.
Women are still underrepresented in every occupation inside the construction industry, according to data compiled by BLS. The share of female construction laborers, once 3.6% as of 2005, slid to 2.9% in 2015. The drain of women workers is also spotted in carpenters and roofers, of which the share of female employees dropped from 1.9% and 2.4% in 2005 to 1.8% and 2.3% in 2015, respectively.
On the other hand, women have shown an increasing interest in occupations that require more management and communication skills. For example, female construction and building inspectors accounted for 9.9% of the total, a 140-basis point increase from 10 years ago. The share of female construction managers jumped to 6.7% in 2015 from 2005’s 6.3%. High-skill occupations like drywall installers, ceiling tile installers, and tapers also saw a notable rise of women workers in the past a few years.
Despite low engagement rates, women in construction fare well in the category of pay: the gender wage gap in many construction occupations is, in fact, smaller than most industries. According to a Census Bureau's report on annual median earnings by sex, a full-time, year-round female worker only made approximately 79.5% of what her male peer did in 2014. Female construction laborers, however, earned 93.3% of their male colleagues’ median annual income in the same year, followed by roofers (91.1%), construction managers (85.9%), construction and building inspectors (80.1%) and carpenters (75.8%).
Another thing that might be alarming to women in construction is that the gender wage gap tends to widen when women move up to a higher-paid position. In the year 2014, women in higher paid occupations—such as construction managers and construction and building inspectors—earned about 80% of what their male colleagues made, while women in lower-paid occupations--like construction laborers and roofers—were paid more than 90% of their male colleagues’ salary.