This Is What It’s Like for Women with Construction Careers

Carla Gallardo never thought she’d love a job in construction. She wanted to be an architect until her engineer father swayed her to civil engineering. Besides, no one in her family ever worked in construction, so Carla was coming into the industry blind.

Sort of. In 2008, a construction internship caught her eye while still in school at the University of Texas at El Paso. The internship, working with project engineers for over a thousand military housing units at Fort Bliss, began her career with Balfour Beatty Construction and later McCarthy Building Companies, where she works now.

Carla is one of many young female professionals entering the heavily male-dominated construction industry, which is one of the least gender-diverse industries. Women comprise 47 percent of the country’s workforce, but only nine percent of the construction industry.

Only three percent of women are employed in hands-on production roles, as opposed to administration, human resources, and marketing that make up the bulk of jobs in construction.

Gallardo went on to graduate with her civil engineering degree, and continued her education at UTEP, earning an MBA while working full-time. Soon, Carla was working as a project engineer, helping coordinate elaborate multi-family projects with hundreds of units and LEED-certified community centers. Lots of moving parts and interdependent wheels turning to stay on time and on budget, she says.

The first thing she loved about her chosen career in construction? “I love that every day is different,” she says. “There’s a lot of adrenaline happening when there’s a problem to solve, and initially you have no idea how to tackle it.”

Promotion to senior project engineer sent her to Clovis, New Mexico for two years, and then Houston, where she joined McCarthy Building Companies and she discovered her edge in the industry.

“I was an assistant superintendent for a couple of years, so I was out there on the job site leading work on a daily basis,” Gallardo says with a slight accent. “The ability to speak the same language as workers on the site helped me immensely.”

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 27 percent of all men and women employed in the construction industry are Hispanic or of Latino ethnicity. But there’s a different BLS stat that’s “Wow”-inducing when you read it.

In 2016, a total of 10.3 million people worked in the construction field. Approximately 9,389,000 men are employed in construction, according to the latest available report. Women in construction comprise only 939,000. That’s less than 10 percent of the entire U.S. workforce employed in construction.

Total Workers in Construction ……………………………… 10,328,000
Men in Construction ……………………………………………..9,389,000
Women in Construction ……………………………………….. 939,000

Why are so few women employed in the construction industry? Yes, there are some stereotypical reasons why.

Fewer girls in academic STEM studies mean there are fewer women in science, technology, and engineering careers.

Women (well, the most successful ones) often mentor both women and men into higher professional roles, who in turn encourage and mentor others after them, but younger women are less likely to ask for mentorship than men.

But simple math will tell you 10 percent of 100 means there’s not that many clear mentorship opportunities and subsequent advancement paths for women. Plus, fewer men and women are entering the field of construction, as statistics show a steady year-over-year decline in the workforce.

For Gallardo, the lack of women in mentorship roles meant she had to seek out men as mentors.

“I have about four mentors that are people whom I trust and ask for advice,” Gallardo says. “From the vice president level, to project engineer, to people younger than me, they are mentors and advocates as well. They’re people who are 100 percent advocates of my career and talent. So, whenever I feel like I need help, I know there are people who I can call.”

But yes, she’s run into challenges as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Gallardo had to call on her male boss to help get her voice heard.

“I had a subcontractor who refused to answer my calls. When I told my manager I was having difficulty establishing communication with him, he called the subcontractor on speakerphone, who immediately picked up the call,” Gallardo says. “After some back and forth, I finally asked him, ‘Is it because I’m a woman?’ The subcontractor got embarrassed and it never happened again.”

Every industry has challenges for women, minorities, and underrepresented groups of people, but construction has one very distinct advantage over other industries that simply can’t be overstated.

“The gender pay gap is small or nonexistent,” Gallardo says. “That’s a big deal and a major recruiting point.”

Women in construction earn about 96 cents for every $1 men earn. That’s the single industry closest to rate parity, according to a July 2018 women’s earning report by Catalyst, a New York-based non-profit that works to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion.

Throughout the workforce, women earned 81.8 percent of what men earned in 2017, based on the median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers. This is compared to a whopping 62.3 percent in 1979.

“Putting emphasis on women is an opportunity we can’t afford to ignore,” Gallardo says.