Few women in construction; recruiting efforts rise

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Allison Dunham

In this Aug. 18, 2014 photo, student Allison Dunham carries a 63-pound bucket down a flight of stairs during a training session conducted by Nontraditional Employment for Women, to train women for employment in the construction trades, in New York. About 7.1 million Americans were employed in construction-related occupations in 2013, and only 2.6 percent were women. In firefighting, women comprise a higher share of the workforce at 3.5 percent. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK (AP) — Janice Moreno graduated from college with a degree in English literature, but never landed a job paying more than $12 an hour. Now, at 36, she’s back in the classroom — in safety glasses and a T-shirt — learning how to be a carpenter.

“I anticipate a lot of hard work,” she said amid instruction in sawing techniques. “I believe it’s going to pay off.”

If Moreno’s six-week training program in New York City leads to a full-time job, she’ll have bucked long odds. On this Labor Day weekend, ponder the latest federal data: About 7.1 million Americans were employed in construction-related occupations last year — and only 2.6 percent were women.

That percentage has scarcely budged since the 1970s, while women have made gains since then in many other fields. Even in firefighting — where they historically were unwelcome — women comprise a greater share of the workforce at 3.5 percent.

Why the low numbers, in an industry abounding with high-paying jobs that don’t require a college degree? Reasons include a dearth of recruitment efforts aimed at women and hard-to-quash stereotypes that construction work doesn’t suit them.

Another factor, according to a recent report by the National Women’s Law Center, is pervasive denigration and sexual harassment of women at work sites.

“It’s not surprising that the construction trades are sometimes called ‘the industry that time forgot,'” said Fatima Goss Graves, the center’s vice president for education and employment. “It’s time for this industry to enter the modern era — to expand apprenticeships and training opportunities for women, hire qualified female workers and enforce a zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment.”

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