Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, so we can expect an onslaught of content about the importance of women’s equality—and it is important to talk about how we move toward a gender equal world, particularly in industries like construction that have historically been male-dominated. But I think right now the most important thing we can do is be honest.
There are real hurdles that still stand in our way to #EmbraceEquity, as this year’s campaign suggests we should do. Let’s name three of these barriers right now.
For one, women still carry the bulk of the workload at home. Research shows more than a quarter of women spend more than 10 hours a week doing unpaid indoor housework compared to just 8% of men. This makes leaning into work more challenging.
Building on that, women often make less than men, making those families with two income earners more likely to choose the husband to work, because, well, he often makes more than her. Let’s take a closer look at those numbers. In 2021: Women made up an estimated 44% of the overall workforce, but an estimated 41% of managers. Women earned an estimated 82 cents for every dollar that men earned (an overall pay gap of 18 cents on the dollar).
Another is many work environments and cultures aren’t inviting to women. There is still far too much sexual harassment and racism that exists in many workplaces. These statistics are rather startling too. Roughly 38% of women experience sexual harassment at the workplace. In general, 77% of women are verbally harassed, while 51% are touched without permission.
So, then the solutions are obvious, right? To address many of these challenges, we need more supports for affordable childcare, fair and equal pay, and we need to create a company culture that is welcoming to women. Easy, right?
But as these things go it is often more nuanced than it seems. For one, changing a company’s culture starts at the top—and all too often the ones at the top are men. Some of those men are great leaders, don’t get me wrong. But it is still hard to change a culture that has been the way it has always been. Just ask anyone in the construction industry trying to implement new technology.
Of course, the men aren’t all to blame. Women have taken a real step back during the pandemic—for good reasons—but it is contributing to the conundrum.
Here’s where I get honest for a minute. My almost 7-year-old daughter has expressed interest in a builder camp this summer. Of course, I am going to sign her up. But I have also been given the opportunity to volunteer at said camp. This would require three hours of my time four Wednesdays in June to show the children in this area that women can help lead a camp about building. I’ll be honest I didn’t jump at this opportunity for mentorship. In fact, I am still debating it even right now.
The reason is primarily because in June my kids are still in summer school and camp part time, and I often lean heavily into work during this time. In July, there aren’t quite as many summer school and camp offerings, so I need to lean more heavily into housework and childcare in July. (Remember that first barrier women face?) 12 hours is a lot of time. I could spend it writing, editing, researching—or I could spend it mentoring grade schoolers at a camp.
It is easy to say let’s mentor young ones about the importance of having women in construction. It is so easy to say it. I have written it more times than I can count honestly. But it is another thing to actually do it.
It requires time and effort—something many women don’t have in abundance. It requires a tradeoff of some sort. Let’s not pretend this is going to be easy. They are barriers for a reason. Perhaps we need to start having more of these hard conversations if we want any real progress to happen.
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