Maja Rosenquist is senior vice president at Mortenson. She is passionate about workforce development and elevating the role of women in construction.
Labor continues to be the most pressing issue facing our industry—and that’s saying something, given the roller coaster of the last several years. We’re looking at mass retirements and a shortage of hundreds of thousands of workers in the coming years. At the same time, women remain vastly underrepresented in both craft and leadership roles: Just under 11% of the industry workforce and 3.7% of all tradespeople are women.
At this point, companies everywhere are aware of the imperative to expand and diversify our labor pool—but few companies have figured out just how. For years, Mortenson has prioritized expanding awareness of careers in the construction industry and then creating work environments that help attract and keep women and underrepresented audiences in this field for the long haul.
So far, it’s working. Women participate in our total workforce at more than double the national rate (25%) and in our craft workforce at almost triple the national rate (10.7%). But we know this is not good enough. Importantly, women are represented at every level of our organization. Mortenson recently launched a new office in Salt Lake City, a market with historically low female participation in the construction industry, but today nearly half of Mortenson’s SLC leadership team are women and more than 25% of our craft workforce.
There are several key takeaways from our work that we believe are fundamental to consider when expanding a company’s efforts to attract and retain female talent.
Start Early: Youth outreach is essential in widening the labor pool and demonstrating that meaningful careers in construction are available to girls. Partnerships with organizations like Transportation & Construction Girl and STEMblazers can help introduce construction as a career choice to female students.
Look Beyond Numbers: Parity is just as important as numbers—if not more so. Women will only stay in the workforce if there’s a meaningful career path for them that looks similar to that of their male counterparts. This should include equal-pay-for-equal-work policies and a concerted effort to ensure women have access to the same opportunities as men on the job site. At Mortenson, that includes equal access to skills, safety and equipment training as well as opportunities for career path mapping—both for craft and non-craft roles.
Cultivate an Inclusive Culture: From the field to the office, the work environment created for women and underrepresented audiences in the construction industry makes all the difference in whether they stick around long term. Step one here is often the execution of a comprehensive, actionable DEI program and ensuring we have an inclusive jobsite culture. We’ve also seen great success with internal affinity groups and participation in broader industry-wide events such as Construction Inclusion Week.
Implement Mentorship and Apprenticeship Programs: Once aptitude is identified, craft team members can be put into a leadership rotation to learn more about every aspect of the business in their journey toward supervisory roles. Ensuring strong representation of women in both mentor and mentee roles helps create allies within the organization—another key element in a welcoming workplace culture.
By putting greater intention behind these efforts, companies can make significant progress in addressing our labor crisis broadly and building the kind of workforce we all need to thrive. Our future depends on it!