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Would More Women in Construction Mean Safer Jobsites?

women accounted for 39.5 percent of occupational injuries in 2008, men accounted for 60.5 percent, for every 1 female who died in the workplace in 2018, almost 11 men died

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

You don't need to do anything other than walk onto a jobsite to realize that construction is disproportionately male compared to other industries.

But, as social expectations evolve, and workplace diversity becomes a primary goal for many, what practical outcomes can be expected from a female-focused hiring push?

Not only is diversifying the workforce the right thing to do, it can also pay back dividends in the form of improved productivity and new ideas. here's an interesting though experiment: Would more women in construction mean fewer accidents? It's possible. Let's see how this could play out.

The practical value of diversity

Significant study has been devoted to the correlation between diversity and business success, and it is now common knowledge that greater diversity in workforce leads to greater diversity in ideas and practices. 

A study from Harvard Business Review found that teams that are more cognitively diverse solve new problems quicker. They define cognitive diversity as the ways in which unique groups of people approach change, and it is a measure of knowledge processing and perspective.

“A high degree of cognitive diversity could generate accelerated learning and performance in the face of new, uncertain, and complex situations…” according to HBR. “Tackling new challenges requires a balance between applying what we know and discovering what we don’t know that might be useful.”

How diversity may reduce accidents onsite 

When applied to the construction industry, this concept could have a significant impact on not only project ingenuity, but also construction safety. The construction industry experiences above average accidents due to the “high hazard” nature of the work, and OSHA points out that most jobsite accidents are preventable

A holistic review of risky behavior found that men are more likely to engage in risky behavior than women.

“Men are more inclined to take risks than women,” according to the study. “This finding has been replicated in a variety of studies over the years with researchers pointing to economic and evolutionary reasons. Male risk-taking tends to increase under stress, while female risk taking tends to decrease under stress.”

So, while women are proportionally less prone to occupational injury and death compared to men, this one data point hardly proves any direct correlation. This disparity can be attributed, in part, to the types of jobs men and women tend to have. 

The National Association of Women in Construction found that women overwhelmingly hold office and managerial jobs rather than field jobs within the construction industry. The following breakdown outlines which types of jobs women in construction currently hold:

  • Sales & Office 28%

  • Professional & Management 44%

  • Natural Resources, Construction & Maintenance 1%

  • Service Occupations 21.1%

  • Production, Transportation & Material Moving 5.9%

Many institutional obstacles prevent a more equitable workplace. Equal wages, opportunities for advancement, and outreach all contribute to fewer women on the jobsite. Decades of social stigma is also a factor, with the assumption we would never see women heavy equipment operators only recently being challenged.

Women offer new perspectives that will be valuable for maintaining a productive, safe jobsite. This goes back to the axiom we investigated above: diversity leads to new ways of thinking and improved problem solving. A diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do, but also sets your project up for future success.

How to promote diversity on your construction site

Promoting diversity starts with culture. Practice what you preach — your company must embody the values it puts into the world. Equitable hiring practices, zero tolerance for discrimination, and, most of all, a workforce that accurately represents the community it serves will all help make diversity a greater priority for your construction company.

“By using inclusive recruiting methods that reach all potential workers, contractors can both expand their applicant pools and diversify their workforces in order to find the most qualified workers,” according to the US Department of Labor. 

“To get the most out of their recruitment, contractors should regularly review their outreach and hiring practices to learn whether certain groups are being excluded, not just from being hired, but from even entering the applicant pool. Contractors should consider whether practices such as word‐of‐mouth recruiting, hiring only previous workers when new positions or opportunities for work arise, or picking up day laborers in particular locations are having an adverse impact on hiring.”

Can we unequivocally say more women in construction would lead to less construction accidents?

No — while there is a correlation between gender and risk aversion, the breadth of variables makes it impossible to track a direct causation. What can be said, without a doubt, is that the industry will benefit from greater workforce diversity by opening up the jobsite to fresh ideas and new perspectives.

There are other ways to improve jobsite safety that don't include hiring: Read 8 Ways Augmented and Mixed Reality Improves Remote Collaboration and Worker Safety.


About the Author

Lisa Chivers is a Product Marketing Specialist for Trimble MEP, managing building services design and certification products in the UK. Based in Stamford, Lincolnshire, she enjoys engaging with customers to represent their needs in product development and driving new features and software to the market.

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