Of the nearly 2.8 million construction companies operating in the United States, 12 percent are owned soley by women, while 10 percent are equally co-owned by men and women. The numbers are only expected to grow.
Recent research by the Center for Women’s Business Research found the top reason women start businesses in a non-traditional sector is to generate higher income. They want to have greater financial independence than owners of businesses in more traditional sectors, such as retail and service. The No. 2 reason women start such businesses if for job satisfaction, having passion about the work they do.
Several factors work in favor of women operating businesses in the construction industry. Female-owned companies have an edge in government contracting, which is often tied to goals that a certain percentage of spending occur with businesses owned by women or ethnic minorities. In addition, more corporations in the private sector are seeking to diversity their construction contracting to include more women-owned firms. To ensure that women are indeed the business owners and not simply a “front” for a male-owned company, the companies are certified as “majority women-owned.”
In addition to the preference given to women-owned companies in terms of diversity goals, the reason those companies are so successful in the industry is due in large part, according to the experts, to women’s natural attention to detail and orientation toward processes and relationship building. In the construction industry, probably more than many other sectors, personal relationships are particularly important. And women are better at building and maintaining relationships on a personal level.
The construction industry as a whole is a major employer, with more than 240,000 new construction jobs available each year. By 2012, it is estimated there will be more than 1 million jobs available. These jobs are attractive, particularly to women, because they typically pay better wages ($25 to $30 per hour) and offer opportunities for promotion.
To encourage more women-owned construction companies, leaders in the industry recommend mentoring relationships. Recently, the national Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Women in Construction renewed their formal agreement to create more opportunities for women-owned companies. They pledged to work together to prevent discriminatory practices and encourage mutual training and mentoring relationships.
In addition, the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations Act authorized the U.S. Department of Labor to award grants to community-based organizations that encouraged the recruitment, training, employment and retention of women in non-traditional trade occupations. This program places 100 women per year in registered apprenticeships in the construction industry.
Even with the strides that have been made to diversify the construction sector in terms of business ownership, many believe there is more to be done. Industry leaders feel that women in large measure tend to ignore the construction trade as one that is truly available to them for employment or business ownership. Part of the reason is the age-old stereotypes of women as too delicate for the industry. That, combined with the huge percentage of men in the construction work force, may keep females away from construction as a career.
Those same industry leaders comment that if the industry will not go to the women, the women must go to the industry by attending trade shows, joining women-owned business organizations and job-shadowing female role models in the industry.
An area of slightly more rapid growth is that of the female “do-it-yourselfer.” Women represent more than 45 percent of the nation’s home-improvement product purchasers. And women comprise 51 percent of the consumers who hire home-improvement professionals. In short, women are making more and more decisions regarding their own construction and remodeling projects.
So, although women have historically been more the keepers of their homes, the housing boom, shifts in gender roles and the increasing number of households headed by single females have helped to boost female interest in construction, a trend that has not been lost on home-improvement retailers.