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Less than 5% of skilled trades are women

It's called the last frontier for women in the workforce.

Construction remains the biggest laggard for diversifying its labor pool. Even after forty years of government intervention, the US and Canada still can’t raise the percentage of women working as tradespeople on the jobsite. Less than 5% of skilled trades are women.

This, despite the terrible need for skilled trades in all of construction. The average age of a drywaller is over 50 years-old and each day more and more men are retiring with very few apprentices coming up to take their place. And it’s not like technology could step in to replace the human-power needed to build our buildings. Because construction also holds the record for being the least innovative of industries.

I’ve attended dozens of construction conferences where there’s at least one seminar dedicated to trying to figure out how to attract women to the industry. You’d think it would be easy. Great wages. Fast-track education. Regular hours and huge demand. So, what’s stopping women from picking up the tools?

Likely it starts early. Few parents want any of their children to think of a trade as their first choice of career. The jobsite is more dangerous than nearly any other place. One in five workplace deaths in the US happens in construction. Add to that the uncertainty every day brings. Did the materials arrive? Are they the same price as we bid? What are the other trades doing to make our part of the job harder? Did we bid too low? There are lots of reasons why many construction projects end up with a fight in court.

The physical requirements of conventional construction can be an obstacle too. Raw materials are heavy and difficult to move around if you don’t have a lot of upper body strength. Tools to cut the materials are often cumbersome. And then there’s all the material waste that needs to be thrown into bins.

And finally, because women have not been a part of this industry, it’s had hundreds of years to build an Old Boys Network where women do not feel welcome. Sometimes its overt and aggressive. Sometimes its simply thoughtlessness, but every woman who’s worked on a jobsite has experienced a degree of sexism.

In tandem with International Women’s Day, the National Association for Women in Construction is spending this week raising awareness to remove the obstacles stopping women from getting into construction. Part of their mission involves funding a film called Hard Hatted Woman. The producers look behind the scenes at women who are hanging in to make construction their careers. But as they say, most drop-out because it is just too awful. (You can donate to get the film made on their website.)

Is there any good news? Yes! And you can find some of it here.

Side benefits of DIRTT’s method of construction are conducive to everyone feeling like construction could be a great career path:

  • Safer jobsites
  • Building components arrive finished
  • Modules are designed to be lifted and moved, usually by one person
  • Miniscule amounts of material waste
  • Tools are few and typically lightweight
  • Less stress on the site because so much of it is being assembled off-site at the factory
  • ICE® software provides certainty because the 3D renderings are being made as-is in the factory.

To hear more about how the construction community can and is changing to be more inclusive, listen to our podcast with two women who come from conventional construction and now work at DIRTT. Staci and Shannon are very optimistic!

Listen to the podcast

Julie Pithers

DIRTTbag since (almost) day one, Julie cultivates communities who love DIRTT as much as she does. She cares about environmental sustainability, optimism and finding things funny.


DIRTT Environmental Solutions uses its 3D software to create prefabricated interiors. Each space is tailored to our clients' needs. Manufacturing facilities are located in Phoenix, Savannah and Calgary. DIRTT works with nearly 100 construction partners globally. DIRTT trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol "DRT".