By Ashley Williams, Sheina Calderon and Lauren Scott
Women paid a disproportionate price in the pandemic-induced economic downturn, losing 12.1 million jobs at the height of the country’s so-called first “female recession” and seeing a decade worth of hard-fought workplace advancement vanish in a matter of months.
Now, as the tide is starting to turn, with fast-tracked vaccine development and distribution, stabilized infection rates and an uptick in economic activity providing reasons for optimism, women are still being left behind. Of those who lost their jobs, women are finding it especially difficult to make their way back into the workforce.
Even before the pandemic hit one year ago this month, construction lagged behind other industries when it came to hiring women. The field remains largely male dominated, with just over 10 percent of construction jobs held by women, most of which are in offices or support posts, not on jobsites.
The good news is that the construction industry, which was deemed essential and operated throughout lockdowns imposed to prevent COVID’s spread, is hiring, and is poised to drive the post-pandemic economic recovery effort. As such, the industry has a unique opportunity to level the playing field for women and ramp up efforts to boost their numbers within its ranks.
That must start with dispelling the conventional wisdom that women can’t hack it in the more physically demanding construction jobs or will find jobsites where they are outnumbered by men unwelcome or even outright hostile. As three women who have found success in this industry, thanks to the support of Building Skills New York, we feel compelled to speak out to dispel these myths and encourage others to follow in our footsteps.
This is not to say that our individual experiences in breaking into the industry have been easy. We have all overcome obstacles to get here. And to be clear, construction is not for everyone. But figuring out whether that’s the case should be up to potential job seekers – regardless of their race, sex or previous experience – not a pre-determined foregone conclusion.
Not one of us stands taller than five-foot-five or weighs more than 160 pounds. But we all work in positions that require some degree of physical labor. We know our own limitations, but don’t allow stereotypes or false expectations to define what we’re capable of.
We also didn’t take “no” for an answer – even when the first, or second, or even third and fourth interviews did not immediately result in job placements. We kept at it, knowing that construction was an industry in which we could – and would – excel.
We are proud to be among the only women, if not the lone woman, working on our respective jobsites. We hope our stories and experiences encourage other women who might have long dreamed of a construction career, or maybe are just curious about the opportunities the industry presents, follow our lead.
But ambition and determination is just one side of the coin. None of us would have been able to succeed without the support of Building Skills, which provides crucial guidance, information and access to training for workers from underserved communities who are looking to break into the construction industry.
As unemployment remains significantly elevated across the five boroughs and a full economic recovery remains years off, programs like Building Skills are helping rebuild the City – one job at a time.
Ashley Williams, Sheina Calderon and Lauren Scott are residents of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, respectively. They all secured construction jobs in the five boroughs with the assistance of Building Skills New York.