Despite everything we know about the business value of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), women today still struggle for equality in the workplace. While many industries are progressing in areas from corporate management to employment regulation, some still fall far behind in bridging the gender divide. Construction is one of those lagging industries, but Procore—the largest construction management platform in the world—is helping to address that problem with its Women in Construction (WIC) program.
Procore highlighted the WIC program in a webinar for International Women's Day to celebrate the strides the company has made in making construction an inclusive industry for all. The webinar came across more as PR fluff than programmatic progress, but the overarching message nonetheless highlighted the importance of gender diversity in the construction sector.
Deconstructing the problem
Construction is a massive industry that employs 7% of the world's and 2.9% of the United States’ population. Yet according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 62% of U.S. contractors report moderate to high difficulty in finding skilled workers, and 45% of contractors say they have turned down projects due to skilled labor shortages. The talent pool, which further dried up during the Great Recession, has also been aging, with one in five workers currently 55 or older.
Female representation in construction is lagging. In the U.S. alone, women account for only 10.9% of all construction workers, in contrast to 57.4% of the overall workforce. This certainly isn’t because of any lack of strength, operational expertise or building skills. Spend an hour on YouTube or Instagram, and you'll find many women who can lay concrete, erect a barn ahead of a snowstorm, demolish and remodel a bathroom and more. So why aren't more women donning hard hats professionally?
Why aren't women drawn to construction?
The simple answer is that women are drawn to construction. For one, it's a lucrative space for women compared to other industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn 99% of what men make in the field, compared to 81% on average in other sectors of the U.S. workforce. Furthermore, construction wages are currently on an upswing due to labor shortages, making it even more remunerative.
While the industry has a general recruitment issue when it comes to women, the retention problem is more significant. However, some of our understanding of these trends is anecdotal, and the data on why women leave construction still needs improvement. That said, the 2022 Construction Talent Retention Survey suggests that the main successful retention driver for women in construction is career development, followed by work-life balance and a sense of belonging.
When addressing the current state of recruitment and retention in the industry, Nathan C. Wood, executive director of the Construction Progress Coalition, admitted that the industry is plagued with an unconscious affinity bias. “If they don't look like us, act like us and think like us, we tend to set them aside,” he said. Knowing this is a problem, the industry must set a business strategy for a culture that supports identifying, obtaining and empowering a gender-diverse workforce.
While decisions that hamper women’s career advancement, compensation and work-life balance all lead to attrition in the industry, conflicts with managers and peers also contribute to leaving the sector among women with one to four years of experience. Procore’s WIC program aims to address all of these factors. The program leverages the Procore network to provide advocates and other resources for women. These resources include an online community group and a structured mentorship program with Lean Inand the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC).
Redefining the construction labor force's job description
Procore operates in 125 countries and has more than two million users for industrial, commercial and residential construction projects on its platform. While it is taking measures to address specific issues that affect construction jobs for women, it also has a broader view of the sector as a whole. The digitization of the construction industry—which I often refer to as one of the last “clipboard industries”—has also led to creating industry jobs beyond the traditional hands-on, nuts-and-bolts roles. As the construction industry continues to build sophisticated technology, this will present more opportunities for women in software development, project management, business development, financing and payment tools specific to the industry, marketing and more.
As Procore is a software company first, the company slightly misses the mark by focusing primarily on drawing in and supporting women currently in the field and less on the overall industry talent pipeline of women for the future. Because of the expansion of jobs that digitization of the industry is creating, the company would be wise to start at the early education level, similar to how other organizations are approaching STEM education. Educating young women and girls to see the opportunities in the construction sector available to them early on would help plant the seeds for a future in construction.
On the other hand, Procore definitely models a culture that values and prioritizes female representation and leadership. As cited in Procore's 2022 ESG report, among the company's roughly 2,900 employees globally, 38% are women. Leadership positions at the level of vice president and above include the same percentage of women (38%), while four out of nine members of the company's board of directors identify as women.
Breaking new ground
Construction-related spending accounts for 13% of the world's GDP. That spending will increase as the industry continues along its digital transformation journey—one for which Procore has paved the way. The road has not been easy, given that it took more than a decade to truly leverage the cloud and for devices like smartphones, tablets and Wi-Fi to become ubiquitous on job sites. In the next decade, I expect that the people inside the industry will change it as much as new technologies did in the previous decade.
The construction talent retention survey data which Procore uses to influence the WIC is minimal, with fewer than 300 participants. However, the data does point to somewhat intuitive trends for today's workforce: In general, people want a diverse workforce where everyone is treated equally and feels a sense of belonging.
When I asked about the limited data, a Procore spokesperson told me by email that, “The goal was to collect the data quickly and see if there were any patterns, to start then to socialize and bring awareness around the research to reopen the survey and get a broader scan of individuals. Which is what the webinar served to do today.” To me, that rationale seems sensible, but it could also skew the viewpoints of future participants with partial information.
Where Procore could go from here
Procore’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, including WIC, run through the company’s social impact arm, Procore.org. The program appears to be in its beginning stages—yet at the same time it also seems dated. Many of the studies and statistics the company uses to communicate its social responsibility guideposts are from the years before Covid-19. Undoubtedly, much has changed since the pandemic that led to industry-wide shifts, and those shifts need to be considered when affecting change.
Procore was founded in 2002 but released its inaugural ESG report (which includes impressive CSR reporting) in 2022—20 years later. That is a huge miss for a company that has come so far in digitizing a very paper-based industry, and that has eliminated massive amounts of waste by streamlining processes and reducing rework. I hope that as a newly publicly traded company with board-level oversight of ESG, the company will hit the nail on the head with its purpose-based initiatives.
Regardless, paving the way for more women in the construction industry brings a multitude of benefits (beyond International Women’s Day marketing) and I’m glad to see a leader in the space making a serious effort to create change.