Friday, July 1, 2011

Women in Construction

Women in construction
I wrote in an early blog about the trends in the construction industry and that one of the big trends was the injection of women into the construction industry. I’m not just talking about hiring women to answer the phone at your office. I’m talking about the hiring and training of women for all positions in your construction company regardless of the size.
With the ever changing nature of the construction industry employers should be looking for intelligent, hard working, high energy, quick learning, and driven reliable people. When looking at it from that point of view why would anyone immediately dismiss ½ of the population just because they are women? One thing I have learned from strong independent people is that they come in all shapes, sizes and genders. If you’re looking to hire for the long term, you want the person to be able to grow with the company and be able to move up through the company. So you want to hire someone that will have leadership qualities. That means that they are independent, strong willed and willing to take responsibility for their decisions.
In residential construction technology has changed the way houses are built. Gone are the days when you swung a hammer from morning to night, now people are trained on how to use a air driven framing hammer almost before there asked to swing there hammer. Everything is powered and cordless, that means it’s more about the skill you can develop with the tool then the power you put behind it. This is not saying that construction isn’t hard work, its damn hard work, but its more stamina these days than pure power. I have seen muscle bound guys be completely exhausted half way through the day while the skinny guy beside him isn’t even out of breath. Stamina can be gained overtime with repeated work, large muscles on the other hand are a lot harder to grow and maintain. So what does this have to do with women? The average female is lighter than the average male, but when you’re looking at stamina that means nothing, physical fitness for construction is not gender specific. With today’s safety standards workers are not suppose to pick up extremely heavy loads by themselves, so you already need a second set of hands so that you do not injure your back. I have seen many a muscled young man hurt himself because he thought that he was invincible. It’s not a weight lifting contest; you do not have to hire the strongest, biggest person that you can find. I will take brains over bronze any day.
One of the main reasons that there are not more women in construction is because they are discouraged by the older generations from even attempting a career in it. That’s something that my generation is starting to realize. That by eliminating women from your hiring practices sometimes you end up with no one to hire. You can actually go through a hiring for your company, interview 30 man and say to yourself well who’s the best of this bad lot. What people don’t understand is that construction has the tendency to attract people who have nothing else to do, so they have no skills or they have been let go from there desk job and think “well I can always do construction”. Not in my company they wouldn’t. I have had hundreds of older men that have been laid off from their desk job come to me for work; you can tell after you interview them that they are only in it for a pay check. This isn’t the kind of people you want in your company. I have found that when you interview people, just asking them some simple questions like why they want to work in this industry will tell you a lot about the person.
A lot of the women that I have hired for field work come from families that are in the construction industry. They already understand the physical nature of the business and understand how men behave around each other. I raise this point because with older men it’s something that seems to come up a lot. I have had men complain that they don’t want a woman on site because they will have to watch the way they act and what they say. Well this is one of the pluses of hiring women, if you have an all male crew, sometimes they are so type A that they can’t get along. They are constantly complaining to you about each other and the production suffers because of the way they interact with each other. Inject a female into this mix and all of a sudden it’s not a testosterone contest, men start to watch what they say and do to each other. They do this because they are worried that they will look like idiots in front of the female. The production of the crew goes up and the complaints go down. This is the same as when the older men pick on the young, what can happen is if you don’t put a stop to it, you’ll lose the younger worker. I have seen all male crews get into fist fights for no reason. It is never a bad thing to change things up with different personalities and different genders. One thing you will find with a lot of females that want to work in the construction industry is that they already realize the way males act around each other and a lot of the time it doesn’t bother them. Actually a lot of the females that I have hired seem to have the dirtiest jokes!  
Being married to a strong independent woman, being the son of a strong independent woman and being the brother of a strong independent woman, I have become aware of the possibilities of women in all walks of life and all jobs. Change is almost always a good thing for companies and one of the easiest ways to change the culture in your company is to hire women.
With today’s young people being different than even the former generation, you have to sift through people who believe that they are entitled to a pay check, that the pay check should be a large one and that they shouldn’t have to work hard for it. Gone are the days when you are able to hire farm kids looking for a different life, kids that are used to hard work and long days. More and more the young people I talk to think that a job in the trades is something for the poor and that the only way to a better life is through higher education. Now I have nothing against higher education, but not everyone in the country is going to benefit from spending a lot of money on an education that they may never use. With the apprentiship programs for most trade’s standard now days you can get a lifelong career. A career that is almost never affected by the changing economy. Licensed carpenters, electricians, plumbers and mechanical techs are never out of work long.
Just so you understand, I practise what I preach. I have hired many women as labours and apprentices. I have hired women as estimators, designers, accountants, bookkeepers and yes to even answer the phones.
I have found that after hiring women to work with me as estimators and designers, the work day is more enjoyable. Also women tend to look at problems and there solutions differently than I do. It has created a very healthy working environment and one that generates a lot of new ideas that are beneficial to the bottom line of the company.

So in the future when you are hiring do not discount an applicant because they are female, they might be exactly what your company needs.
If you are a women and you are looking for a job, do not be afraid to apply for a construction job, it could be the career that you have been looking for and if you find the right company you will enjoy getting up in the morning and going to work.
If you have any questions or comments you can reach me at
Rob Abbott
Operations Manager
Village Builders Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Rob....Well said! I certainly appreciate your thoughts and perspective as well.

    This would make a great submission to a trade journal and/or newspaper.