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Diversifying the Trades: The Rise of Women in Skilled Work

Although women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, only 11% of all U.S. workers in the construction industry were women as of 2023. But there are signs that this is starting to change.

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ServiceChannel
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March 25, 2024

Despite historic gender disparity in skilled trades jobs — as well as a legacy of bias that has discouraged women from entering fields such as construction, plumbing, and carpentry — the employment gap is starting to narrow. Between February 2020 and March 2022, the number of construction jobs held by women increased by 7%. In the past five years, the number of women working in skilled trades has increased by almost one-third. In 2021, there were more than 314,000 tradeswomen in the U.S. — the highest level ever recorded, according to the U.S. Dept of Labor.

What’s driving more women to pursue careers in the trades? Several compelling advantages could be fueling the trend. “Skilled trades are in dire need of workers right now. These are steady, well-paying jobs that hold a bright future, even in an unpredictable economic climate,” says Tony Johnson, lead HVAC trade manager at ServiceChannel. Trades offer women the chance to earn wages on par with college-educated roles, offer job stability, and provide entrepreneurial opportunities.

Company-sponsored training programs and other support systems are also empowering women to consider vocational careers. For example, Carhartt’s “For the Love of Labor” grant program supports community-based nonprofits such as Women Who Weld to help place workers into skilled trades positions. This year, the premium workwear brand donated proceeds from its women’s apparel sales on International Women’s Day to the charity of heavy metal legends Metallica, All Within My Hands, which funds scholarships for women in the trades. The Metallica Scholars Initiative, backed by Carhartt’s “For the Love of Labor” grant, aims to break down barriers for women in male-dominated industries by enhancing technical education and fostering skill development through community colleges. It’s part of a broader effort to fill the gap left by retiring workers and to increase female representation in the skilled workforce. Todd Corley, Senior Vice President of Inclusion, Sustainability and Community at Carhartt, told Contractor magazine in March, “By combining efforts with All Within My Hands, we aim to help break down barriers for women in the trades, which include fewer job education programs tailored for women, limited childcare options and a general lack of resources that exacerbate the gender inequity within many industries, to cultivate the next generation of workers making their own history.”


The Vital Role of Women in Sustainable Facilities Management

More and more, customers, investors, and job seekers are looking for companies that walk the walk and talk the talk on gender diversity and inclusion. And it’s not just about equity: Having a diverse trades workforce is crucial for businesses focused on hitting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals.

With the skills trade shortage challenging sustainability projects, recruiting women expands the talent pool to meet rising demand. Tradeswomen also serve as inspirational role models, attracting more women to follow in their footsteps.

As the facilities management industry strives to reach ambitious ESG goals and regulations in the years ahead — such as Senate Bill 253 — expanding recruitment of tradeswomen and fostering an inclusive work environment will be key competitive differentiators. Companies that empower women in trades today will have the talent pipeline needed to install, maintain, and optimize efficient buildings for tomorrow.


Empowering the Workforce of Tomorrow

Skilled trades jobs are the lifeblood of major industries and the key to upgrading aging infrastructure and facilities. Recruiting more women and other underrepresented groups into trades is a huge opportunity to address these needs, while strengthening company culture and sustainability.

Here’s how leaders are attracting a more diverse workforce that empowers the tradespeople of the future:

  • Raise awareness: Highlight why trades careers are so compelling for women in 2023. Promote the earning potential that rivals many four-year degrees, the entrepreneurship opportunities, and the chance to work with cutting-edge technologies. Debunk stereotypes by showing real tradeswomen who are thriving doing hands-on, high-paid work.

  • Maintain a safe workplace: When it comes to harassment at job sites, the status quo for women is unacceptable. Nearly 1 in 4 tradeswomen report experiencing frequent or constant sexual harassment while on the job. While cultural shifts can’t happen overnight, it’s important to establish clear and enforceable harassment policies that promote safety for all employees.

  • Focus on retention: For recruits who may be new to the trades, a little extra support goes a long way. Create flexibility around hours and assignments, especially for working parents. Consider adding mentorship programs that connect women with the support resources they need to thrive in their career.

  • Partner up: Establish relationships and create programs in partnership with technical schools and community groups focused on empowering women to pursue careers in the trades. Join associations like Women in Trades (see local state chapters like Washington’s) that provide networking and programs, or sign pledges like CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion.

Building a Competitive Advantage

The benefits of cultivating a diverse, equitable workforce are immense — and companies embracing this future will lead their industries. Trades jobs that are critical to the economy should reflect all top talent across the country, and that includes women. ServiceChannel Director of Solution Consulting, Deb Millette has more than 25 years of experience working in facilities management and recognizes how this shift can help the industry overcome the skilled trade shortage and meet the imperative for more diversity. “The growing presence of women brings new perspectives, skills, and solutions to challenges we face.” Millette adds, “It’s a positive shift that promises innovation and a more inclusive work environment, ensuring the future of our field is vibrant and robust.”

Though the trades have traditionally been male-centric, actively recruiting women and championing inclusion to build and retain a diverse workforce isn’t just the right move — it’s a strategic one. Forward-thinking companies know that embracing diversity fuels innovation and propels financial success. As we gear up to match the soaring demand for skilled trades in the sustainability sector, a steadfast commitment to equity and inclusion will be the ace up the sleeve for businesses looking to lead the charge.

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