Construction workers on a job site. Photo via Pixabay

In March we celebrated women’s accomplishments from business, politics, and sports. Women across the globe are already breaking the glass ceiling hundreds of times over. There is much to be learned from these inspiring accomplishments as we move forward in our personal lives and careers.

While we’ve made serious strides, the COVID-19 pandemic set women in the workforce back as we saw when more than 5 million women lost or left their jobs in the past year.

In December 2020 alone, the U.S. economy lost 156,000 jobs that were previously held by women. A recent study shows working women are experiencing the worst effects of the recession because, one, the industries they tend to work in are harder hit by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and two, the shutdown of schools and day care have made it harder for parents, women especially, to keep working.

At the Associated Builders and Contractors of Southern California, this mass exodus in the workforce is the guiding reason for the focus, now more than ever, on recruiting, training and encouraging women to enter the construction industry. It’s up to us to push through the hardship to support and uplift the women in our industry.

This widely male-dominated field has a myriad of opportunities to offer women — career advancement, training, job placement, and perhaps most importantly, wage parity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women working in construction numbered 1.5% of the entire U.S. workforce in 2018, but earn 91.1% of what men do, compared to 81.1% for women overall.

As of 2018, women make up just 9.9% of the construction industry in the United States which gives tremendous room for improvement when thinking about the unlimited potential women could have working in the industry.

When we think about a path to economic recovery for our state, knowing that women have likely been the hardest hit financially and professionally by the devastating effects of the pandemic, it makes perfect sense to encourage women to enter this growing field.

I became involved in construction because my family had a construction company. I went to college and got my degree in civil engineering and started I.E.-Pacific. in 1993. Since then, the company has grown into one of the most successful construction firms in the San Diego area, topping $30 million in revenue and making it the third largest-women owned business in the county in 2019.

For me, construction was a natural path to choose. but for many women it is not. I’ve found many young women who have not been exposed to construction and believe it is something they would not be good at or interested in. But in fact, women tend to excel in the construction industry because we naturally tend to be detail-oriented and able to multi-task very well.

It is crucial to give young women the opportunity to work in an industry that not only benefits from what they have to offer, but also provides a fresh perspective on one of the most basic pillars of workforce. Working with the Associated Builders and Contractors, women have the best chance of success in the industry.

The industry will always require qualified talent to keep construction moving in California and there is no better time for women to consider construction as a career choice. There are so many diverse opportunities for women in construction that I encourage everyone to keep a job in construction top-of-mind for a sustainable, long-term career.

Diane Koester-Byron is founder and owner of I.E.–Pacific in Escondido. She has been involved with Associated Builders and Contractors for over 25 years and served on the executive committee. The national construction industry trade association has 69 local chapters and represents more than 21,000 members.

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