With unemployment in Colorado now below 3%, employers that only target one-half of the population are making a difficult hiring landscape even harder for themselves. Despite the large number of male-dominated industries struggling to fill the talent gap, many are still only paying lip service to gender diversity initiatives.
“Everybody is suffering from a workforce shortage," says Christy Crook, president of Phoenix Masonry, a commercial subcontractor based in Thornton. “Bringing more women into our industry and showing them there are work options for them would go a long way toward solving that shortage."
Since she began working as a teenager 25 years ago, Crook has seen the construction industry change its thinking when it comes to female inclusion, even though the numbers have barely budged. While gender diversity is discussed more openly and seriously than ever before, only about 9% of the state's construction industry workers are female — and Crook is on a mission to change that.
Exposure is half the battle
Roughly four years ago, Crook met Keller Hayes, a project director at the non-profit HOYA Foundation, which was creating a program designed to expose girls to career opportunities in construction and transportation. Crook knew right away that she wanted to get involved.
“We just hit the ground running," she says. “Talking with general contractors and other companies, we found the interest was really high in trying to help young women see this as a viable career path."
Today their organization, Transportation and Construction Girl, hosts an annual luncheon where girls can meet female employees and executives from those industries and learn about their careers. The organization also distributes scholarships for women who want to attend trade schools and organizes facility and job-site tours to give participants first-hand insights into what a career in transportation or construction might look like.
It's all in an effort to reverse long-standing stereotypes, traditions and biases, says Crook. She explains that women often don't consider careers in construction because it's rarely presented to them as an option.
“With masonry, for instance, it's not unheard of for a 16-year-old son to go out and be a tender for his dad," she says. “It's just something young girls don't necessarily do, but it's not because they can't — they absolutely can."
Demonstrating that ability can be powerful. The number of participants who said they would consider a job in either industry went up 21% after participating in a Transportation and Construction Girl career event. Crook, who is one of only two female business owners in Colorado's certified masonry industry, believes the rising tide will lift all ships.
“More female representation shakes up business practices — we look at things differently — and, working together, we have a more complete picture of what we need to do for our industries to be successful," she says. “When I speak with men in my industry, particularly those with daughters, they get really excited about Transportation and Construction Girl because they want their daughters to have those opportunities."
How gender balance benefits everyone
While many express support for gender diversity in the construction industry, Crook fears some are less serious than others. “There's a difference between action and lip service," she says.
Female employees still have a lot to contend with, especially in male-dominated industries. According to a recent Future of Workers study conducted by Pinnacol Assurance, nearly one-fifth of Colorado workers have experienced gender bias, and only 61% believe their company distributes pay and opportunities to all employees equally. Overall, less than half believe their employer is committed to hiring a diverse workforce.
Despite this, research has found that employers who embrace gender diversity stand to realize a range of business benefits. Studies have found that they're more likely to see above-average profitability, higher market valuations, more employee productivity and greater revenue.
Beyond those tangible results, however, Crook believes there's another important reason everyone should strive for better balance in industries that were traditionally dominated by men.
“Our young women need to see more women in leadership positions because it empowers them, and a world with empowered young women striving to change the way things are done is going to be a better world for all of us," she says.
Learn more about how Colorado employers can develop their workforce of the future.