Women in the construction industry

Jenny Rae, Communications Director Chuckanut Builders
Jenny Rae, Communications Director and Partner at Chuckanut Builders

Last weekend KGMI broadcast the first of a series of panel discussions about Women in the Building Industry. Kevin Coleman, from Whatcom Talks, facilitated the conversation, which included Rose Lathrop of Sustainable Connections, Maggie Bates of A1 Builders, and myself. The recorded program is available on KGMI, below are a few of my thoughts on women in the building industry that I used to prep for the radio show.

I was really excited when I first spoke with Kevin Coleman about the Women in Building series. The construction industry is one of the most male-dominated industries in the country, with women accounting for only 9% of the workforce. I, for one, would love to see that change! The women at Chuckanut Builders makeup for more than a third of our staff and work both in the field and in the office, at all levels from crew to leadership. Interestingly enough, that has happened pretty organically for us, which made me take a moment to reflect about how we got to this point.

Company culture

The first thing that came to mind is our company culture. Throughout the hiring process we focus on company culture and stress the importance of strengthening our community with new hires. I think that approach is appealing for a lot of folks, regardless of gender, because it demonstrates our commitment to making work a meaningful and realistic part of our employees’ lives. Our focus on company culture clearly goes beyond the hiring process, but I think starting with an understanding that we value everyone at Chuckanut Builders, that we want folks to enjoy the work they are doing and that we’re doing more than remodeling home-we’re building a supportive, fun and welcoming community. We have family-friendly policies, we invest in our crew from both a benefits and trainings perspective and we make it clear that everyone’s voice matters, that we take care of each other, and that we are always open to feedback about how we can keep improving.

Potential hurdles for women entering the trades

It’s been said that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ This concept has held back many industries from attracting a more diverse workforce – applicants tend not to approach a business if they don’t see people like them on jobsites, in offices or in leadership. Construction-related vocational classes in high schools, community colleges and technical schools have either had their funding cut, as many schools prioritize STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum, and those that remain are overwhelming marketed to men. I’m hopeful that this will change, perhaps in response to the labor shortage but also because it’s (definitely!) time. At Chuckanut Builders we are taking concrete actions, both small and large, to show others that women are a welcome and essential part of the construction industry.

Local, women-owned businesses  

I would also like to give a quick shout out to a few of the woman-owned businesses we work with on a regular basis. These businesses include plumbers, painters, designers and more. We prioritize working with designers and trade contractors whose values align with ours, and the following companies just happen to be owned/co-owned by women. (add links)