As the remodeling industry climbs out of the recession, contractors are complaining there aren’t enough decent workers available to hire. But a program in Oregon suggests that’s not true—provided you look at the workforce in a fair, equitable way. Which, sad to say, would be a big change from current practices.
“There’s still a pretty stereotypical image of what a contractor looks like,” explains Mary Ann Naylor, communications manager for Oregon Tradeswomen Inc. (OTI), which trains female contractors and assists them in the job-hunting process. “Even though women have made progress, there are still more women Marines than construction workers.”
In 2014, women made up just 8.9% of the overall construction workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But organizations such as OTI are helping to boost that number. And contractors who hire women say there are times when women workers offer some noteworthy benefits remodelers fail to recognize when they look at the labor pool through an outdated, and biased lens on gender. Some female customers, who tend to drive home-improvement decisions, respond more favorably to a project team that better mirrors our society's diversity. “There’s just a good connection between our clients and [our team],” says Tom Miller, president of Tom Miller Remodeling, Portland, Ore.
Female crew members also add a sense of safety for some clients, says Holly Huntley, owner of Environs, a Portland, Ore., design/ build contracting firm that’s been in business for six years. “It can be a strategic move to hire a woman,” Huntley explains. “From a security standpoint, I have single female clients who do not want anyone but a woman in their home.”
Miller employs two women on his five-person crew, and he couldn’t be happier. “They are just working out great,” he says.
Nationally, a number of larger construction companies are realizing the benefits of adding women to their contracting workforce, says Sandy Field, president of the National Association of Women in Construction.
Field adds that women are increasingly taking positions of leadership and ownership of construction-related firms. Case in point is the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA). This summer, the organization will have its first female president when Lindy Ryan, current senior vice president, takes over. Still, the percentage of women working in roofing remains small, says Bill Good, NRCA executive vice president.
But that’s not for lack of interest on the part of women, says Huntley, who believes that the bigger issue is men giving women a chance to prove themselves. For example, many men still feel that women just aren’t strong enough to work in contracting. But Huntley says that with the proper training, women can handle most jobs. “You work smarter and harder,” she says. “You don’t just bend at the waist and deadlift an 80-pound bag of concrete. You learn proper body mechanics and how to work stronger and longer.”
As the labor shortage continues, however, Huntley and others say that more men are being forced to give women a try—and discovering results that should be self-evident, but seem to need proof. Huntley says that her electrician recently hired a woman, and her drywaller is now inquiring about it. “As we progress, we become more open minded and informed and realize that women can hold these jobs just like men,” she says.
For contractors interested in more equitable work teams, organizations such as OTI are a good place to start. Nationally, more than 20 similar organizations exist that train women contractors and help connect them with employers. But the biggest hurdle to women joining the replacement contracting workforce remains employers themselves, Field says.
“There’s a woman out there who would make a good employee,” she says. “They just need to be given a shot.”