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Small side work in construction led to a full-time job and unanticipated career for Jess.

Over the course of the first 10 months of the pandemic, women lost more jobs than men—a net of 5.4 million jobs during the recession—nearly 1 million more job losses than men [1]. Access to childcare and other barriers left many women struggling to make it work. What’s more, a January report from the Texas Workforce Commission [2] indicates that of the new entrants into Texas’ labor force, women were the predominant group over men in terms of number (23,400 vs. 16,500 in December 2020 alone).

With many sectors in turmoil, and Texas experiencing a building boom, many women have reason to look to a less likely industry: commercial construction. The opportunities are plentiful, growth potential promising and the pay more equitable. And women should not be daunted by the prototypical image of burly construction workers. The reality is women in construction are a growing force in Texas and across the region.

I grew up tagging along with my Grandfather on his contracting jobs. I studied photography in college, but my love of carpentry came calling when I asked my landlord if I could make some repairs to my apartment. That led to a side job making money doing what I loved. My days in the dark photo lab soon became a distant memory, and I got my degree in construction engineering. Soon after, I took a job with JE Dunn.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics [3], 10.9% of construction professionals nationally are women. Naturally, this does not represent the general population and means that the commercial construction industry isn’t yet taking full advantage of the skills, perspectives and experiences the workforce has to offer.

In 2017, women held nearly 136,000 jobs in construction in Texas. Those jobs generate additional business activities that ultimately support about 162,000 jobs in all other industries of the Texas economy. Women account for 19 percent of the state’s 726,000 jobs in this sector.

Of all sectors of the Texas economy, construction has the lowest share of jobs held by women, although their concentration in these jobs is higher in Texas than in the nation—nearly double the national average.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the National Association of Women in Construction over the last several years. I really enjoy not only showing girls what construction is all about, but also helping them do what I do. At a recent summer camp, we constructed planters out of concrete. It seems small, but I believe empowering them to use their hands, problem solve and execute a flawless final project may just lead them to love concrete, too!

While many think of the construction industry as nothing more than that traditional pouring of concrete, it is actually much more. Modern companies have embraced technology, diversity and inclusion initiatives, have flexible employment arrangements and, what’s more, the pay is better and far more equitable than many industries. Whereas women in the U.S. earn on average 81.1 percent of what men make, the gender pay gap is significantly smaller in construction occupations, with women earning on average 99.1 percent of what men make [4].

This week (March 7 – 14), is Women in Construction Week an annual campaign to highlight women as an important and growing component of the construction industry. It is an important time to raise awareness of the opportunities available for women in the construction industry. For women and young girls considering new possibilities whether they are graduating, re-entering the workforce or changing careers, construction can open a whole new world of opportunity while contributing to building the places and spaces that make our economies thrive.

[1] “All of the Jobs Lost in December Were Women’s Jobs”, Washington: National Women’s Law Center, 2021

[2] Texas Workforce Commission’s Texas Labor Market Review, January 2021

[3] U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey