As the replacement contracting industry climbs out of the lingering recession, contractors are discovering that when it comes to meeting the growing demand, a good man is hard to find. So why not hire a good woman?
“There’s still a pretty stereotypical image of what a contractor looks like,” said Mary Ann Naylor, communications manager for Oregon Tradeswomen Inc., which trains female contractors and helps them find jobs. “Even though women have made progress, there are still more women marines than construction workers.”
In 2014, women made up just 8.9 percent of the overall construction workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But organizations such as OTI are helping to grow that number. And contractors who hire women are discovering women workers may actually offer some benefits over their male counterparts.
Tom Miller now employs two women on his five-person crew, and he couldn’t be happier. “They are just working out great,” said Miller, president of Tom Miller Remodeling. “I’ve been a contractor for 31 years and have no complaints about the women who have worked for me. If you’re not hiring women for labor, you’re missing an excellent opportunity.”
Miller says the women he recently hired not only are holding their own against the men, but they also offer some other benefits. He finds the women to be more detail oriented and thoughtful on the job site. Another bonus: Women customers, who tend to drive home improvement decisions, are more comfortable knowing another woman is involved in the project. “There’s just a good connection between our clients and these gals,” he says.
Female workers can also add a sense of safety for some clients, said Holly Huntley, owner of environs who’s been in business for six years. “It can be a strategic move to hire a woman,” Huntley says. “From a security standpoint, I have single female clients who do not want anyone but a woman in their home.”
Nationally, a number of larger construction companies are realizing the benefits of adding women to their contracting workforce, said Sandy Field, National Association of Women In Construction president.
She adds that women are increasingly taking positions of leadership and ownership of construction-related firms. Case in point is the National Roofing Contractors Association. 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, said Huntley. She said the bigger issue is men giving women a chance to prove themselves. For example, she said many men still think women just aren’t strong enough to work in contracting. But she said with the proper training, women can handle most jobs. “You work smarter and harder,” she said. “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 more men are being forced to give women a try — and liking the results. Huntley said 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 said.
For contractors interested in hiring women, 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 said.
“There’s a women out there who would make a good employee,” she said. “They just need to be given a shot.”