Women saved the trades, now we need them back

The trade workforce is, as we all know, an extremely male-dominated industry. Job sites tend to be “made for men”, with bathrooms for men only and signs posted like “men at work.” Off the sites, women also struggle to find proper fitting personal protective equipment (PPE) and in a much bigger sense, the structure of jobs can be difficult for women, seeing as there’s often no maternity leave or flexible hours. It also can be an extremely intimidating task to step into an entirely male work space, and once in, can feel extremely unwelcoming.

The trades being dominated by men is not new or recent, and has been this way for many generations. Ready for a history lesson? Starting during World War I, women began working in trade positions due to workforce labor shortages. These positions had typically been held by men. Again during World War II, women were called on to take over these welding, mechanic, and electrical positions, but this time, in much greater numbers. 37% of the workforce was made of women throughout WWII.

In modern times, women have consistently made up 9-10% of trade positions since 1996. The percentage of women shrinks to 3.4% of the workforce when discussing construction, and floats between 1.9%-3.7% when looking at electricians and drywall hangers. Women and girls are often set up for failure as well, with studies showing that 62% of teachers are willing to state that less than one in ten of the girls in their class would be suited to a career in construction, often adding that such work is “not for girls.”

Sources show that 81% of construction firms in the US could not find enough skilled workers to fill the void in 2021. With the current labor force shortages, now is the time to begin drawing from this unused talent pool: women. High starting wages, a path to owning a business, hands-on learning, and a steady career can all be seen as benefits for women interested in beginning a career in trades. Not only that, but businesses themselves could benefit from employing women as well. Diverse viewpoints drive success, and women can bring a new look inside a company, and to the entirety of the trade community, while also filling positions and helping to complete jobs.

It’s important to note that the goal is not to have a workforce that is a full 50/50 split of men and women, but that women are included in the conversation. Women should be encouraged to join the tradeforce, and shown the opportunities that are available, because women have just as much right to be on a jobsite as a man.

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