Posted by: joshlaw15 | February 8, 2018

Women in Hardhats

Each weekend, after my classes and school work have been completed, I drive up to Richmond to work with my father to do various electrical work. While working I have noticed that in the construction world there are not many female workers, let alone female contractors or overhead managers of any construction project. It seems to be an area that is rarely explored by women. However, there seems to be a plentiful amount of female relators working to sell the houses that are generally built by males. I found it interesting to see such a divide and looked into it a little further.

The field of tradesmen is dominated by men almost entirely because of the schemas we have wrapped around the ideas of plumbers, electricians, framers, painters, and masonry. However, even with these schemas there are indeed females who make their way into these trades. These women are treated differently in this workplace, but most say that they are treated no different than anyone else. Some women even reported that whatever sexism they faced was similar to the sexism they faced as waiters, office workers. However, there are instances where old timers are not generally accepting to the change or they treat them like daughters. The females who were highly content with their working situation said they, ”made an effort not to be treated any differently than any of the men”.

When I think of women in construction, I generally think of shows like Flip or Flop where a man and a women both take part in refurbishing a home. Sometimes the partners share roles in working but most often there is the labor intensive male and the design conscious female. I can see how these shows can depict a world where females can indeed get into the construction business, but not necessarily on their own. There are however some extremely successful women who have gone against the grain such as ​Chrystal Stowe, and Sheryl Palmer, two successful construction leaders and business women.

I believe that the passion for female leaders in this industry is out there, but the schemas that surround the industry may have been too strong and only until recently have been challenged. I think for females to be effective in this field of work, they must be able to be strong leaders and command a workforce of mostly hard headed men. I imagine that the double bind idea may not have as much of an impact as it would in the business world, because of the idea of this work being more “hardcore” pushing the main focus to get the job done.

To end this post, I pose a few questions. What ways would the industry change with the addition and acceptance of an equal ratio of males to females. Do women feel as though this line of work is tougher to get into? Or is it that they have no interest in the physical labor of construction? How should men respond to women in this industry? Should they treat them and uphold them to the same expectations of men? Or is there a middle ground or separate niche where they could meet at?

This article below outlines what women should expect when going into the electrical field.


  1. During World War II, thousands of women entered the industrial workforce filling in the gaps that were vacated by the men who were drafted into the war. Since then, Rosie the Riveter has become a symbol for working women all over in the trade industries. They worked in factories, in shipyards, construction sites, and in medicine. It became evident that women could do the work, and were willing to do it. Once the war ended, however, massive layoffs were issued in order for men to re-enter the work force now that their time of service was complete. If women were not laid off, they were given a pay cut that would almost force them to either stay at home or try to find work in other positions that were not heavily dominated by men. This lead to a revolution in the female workforce. In the 1950s, there became a strong emphasis towards females staying in the domestic sphere, predominantly in white society. When females began to re-enter the workforce, they were directed primarily towards teaching, secretarial, and nursing positions. This created a schema that divided the occupational sectors. This schema has been upheld by gender stereotypes that women are not strong enough to work in trade, especially in areas of construction or electrical.

    It is not that women lack the interest, it is that the opportunity is not always afforded to them. Depending on the sector and the company, women could expect barriers when trying to apply for positions within this field. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are prominent within the trade industry. Some have found themselves pushed out of the field and into the office instead.

    Women have also been redirected into other lines of work that have stereotypically been “suited for women.” Instead of discouraging women from working in trades, we need to support their education, training, and their entry into trades. This would include in treating them as equals and holding them to the same standard. Women can do the work, and previously have done the work, and there are many who are willing to do it if they were given the opportunity to do so. As more women enter trades, the trade industry will begin to diversify promoting new ideas and opinions in construction, design, and within the leadership.

  2. This is a very interesting topic especially since I work part time over the summer doing construction. My shifts during the summer shift around all the time, so I have many chances to get to know a lot of different people in different settings. My thoughts on this topic is that most people pick topics that fit the gendered style of work. Women working construction is not a common sight, although it happens it is very rare occasions. I suppose that women feel that it is not a suitable job, and I am sure they are capable of doing the line of work, it just a less preferable job in their mindset. A way to combat this would be to educate women early on about doing handy work around the house would encourage that there are no gender barriers. It hard to answer if they should be held to the same standard. My natural instincts is to say yes, I believe women and men should be held to same standards, but I weary saying this because maybe women do not want to held to the same standards? I guess this might be a double bind in itself.

  3. This is such an interesting topic! As a young woman, I’ve never felt the need to work in construction, but I’m always inspired by those who do. When I studied in Costa Rica, a majority of the construction workers there were male, but I would occasionally see a few women working in the orange vests as well.
    I grew up with my grandfather being a fantastic woodworker, and I’ve always coveted his skills. My mom learned under him here and there and she’s quite handy around the house. She always says something on the lines of “if there’s a need, go ahead and fix it right away,” and she will fix things while my dad is at work.

  4. Your post made me think of a class I took in high school. There was a time when I wanted to be an interior designer. As a female, that aligns with what you mentioned about women being design conscious. I took an introductory class to interior design in high school, and it was predominately comprised of women. There was only one male in the entire class. I was consciously aware of the fact that the class was mostly all female too, and so was the teacher. She was female as well, and she told us that the class was always almost all female every year. My personal experiences prove your statements about women being drawn to the design side, while men tend to go towards the construction and building side. I agree that this is probably due to gender norms and schemas that society has built in their minds. Whenever I am driving in a construction zone on the highway, all of the construction workers are always male. I think young boys and girls grow up seeing this every day and begin to subconsciously think that construction work is a man’s job. The same applies for jobs like plumbing and carpeting. Advertisements shown on TV for such jobs always have men in the ads. Empire Today is a great example of this. Even their cartoon portion of the ad only has men in it.

    I am glad you pointed out that there are some women challenging these gender norms. I hope that there are some men out there as well that are taking jobs as realtors and interior designers because occupations should not be gender specific. If men and women feel that they are personally well suited for the job, then they should be able to work towards getting it. Occupational stereotypes are not doing society any good. They are only preventing citizens from working in a field that they enjoy.

  5. For various different reasons, there is definitely way less women in the construction field. Women are seen as weaker than their male counterparts. As a result, they are believed to not have the potential to do what the men can do.
    A big part of this divide comes from women not given the opportunities. They may be able to learn the trade, but at a work site, a boss would choose a male team over a women team. As a result, women do not have much experience to back them up. Furthermore, women are not seen as individuals who can be loud, direct, and persuasive: skills needed to command a site. There are definitely biological conditions that allow men more ease for hard labor, but there are exceptions, and women should not be discounted just to allow for best productivity.
    I find it interesting that in every situation that a women is in a male dominated field, they deny sexism occurs. We know that they had to go through more obstacles and prejudices to get to where they are, but they still always deny it. Is this their attempt to not be treated any different? Is it because drawing on the sexism highlights the gender divide? Why is it that they try so hard to not be treated differently when all evidence shows that most people do things different? More so than gender, every identity does things differently, and none of these are incorrect. They are just different. So, if it just as effective, why must women try to be just like men?
    I think more women in the industry would allow more techniques for construction. There would be less of a focus on hard labor, and there would be a greater focus on tools and people.

  6. This is a very interesting idea that you’ve posed in your blog post. A few years ago I had a boyfriend who worked in construction over the summer while I worked at the Country Club. It was always interesting because we would talk about our days and his would always beat mine because he had a harder job. But the most interesting part was that in his mind I was incapable of doing construction. It was like a female would not have the same capabilities as a man and since I wasn’t as strong as him, I wouldn’t have been able to do the job. While I do recognize the physiological difference in men and women, and traditionally men are stronger than women, I do think it was interesting that a woman is not strong enough to do the same job. However, if this is the case, then why not have a female head of the project?

  7. I highly appreciate that you described the men in this field as labor intensive and the women as design conscious. It shows that you are truly trying to avoid bias. It is interesting that you mention that women are treated pretty much the same because the entire goal of the business is to get the job done efficiently and effectively, regardless of who is doing it. I believe that females in this area of work would need to act with a more masculine leadership style. Do you know what type of leadership style Chrystal Stowe and Sheryl Palmer have used? Did they need to do a trial and error process to find out the most beneficial way to lead?

    To your question about women feeling that this line of work is tougher to enter or that it is lack of interest in physical labor: This reminds me about teaching. Women tend to dominate in education. Is that because women prefer working with children or because they are interested in it? Is it that historically, men have worked in construction and women have worked in education? It’s difficult to answer these questions without further research.

    To your question about how to treat them: This makes me put myself into this situation. If I were in the construction business, I would not want to be expected to do the same things as everybody else, due to my size and strength being less than the men. For women with equal size and strength as the men, they could be expected to do all the same tasks. I would want to be treated as an equal, but would men be able to if I’m about a foot shorter than them and 50 to 100 pounds lighter than them?

    This makes me wonder if the construction business has any rules for who can apply?

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