Women in Masonry: Workforce Development

Words: Tiffany Tillema

Words: Tiffany Tillema, Tillema & Sons Masonry LLC
Photos: FG Trade, sturti

In 2008 there was a recession that hit the construction industry pretty hard. Many companies did not recover, and thousands lost their jobs. In 2019 The COVID-19 Pandemic hit many companies, and again, there were more layoffs. Recovery from such blows for companies in these situations is slow at best. Those that lost employees are having difficulty finding and keeping suitable replacements. Another industry concern is that the average age of a skilled mason today, which is around 50 years of age. What happens when they retire? Who is going to replace them? Schools and institutions in the last few decades have been emphasizing IT jobs and more technical work instead of encouraging trade school. We need to attract new blood, but where can we find willing workers? What kind of Workforce solutions are there that will help construction and masonry, in particular, move forward? 

There is an underused and underutilized group of people that should be addressed in the search for and retention of employees: Women in the workforce. According to demographics, around 95% of the masonry workforce is men leaving only 5% of the industry covered by women. This is where companies often go wrong in workforce development. They are leaving out potential employees by not pursuing women in their Workforce Development programs. When we overlook a certain group in our development strategies, we miss out on potential talent that can help grow our company. It is not just finding women to work in masonry but keeping them once they are there, and the only way to do this is through good strategies and training programs. 

Attracting Women into Masonry 

First, we must be able to attract women into the trade. As mentioned, we miss out on much talent when we neglect over half of the available employee pool. We can do this in much the same way as we attract young men to the masonry business by recruiting them early. 

Have you ever gone to speak at a High School Career day to promote the trades? If so, you will notice that the posters, brochures, and training materials will all feature photos of young men happily working in their new careers. You almost never see a picture of a woman in a hard hat. This means we need to do better.

Women being such a small part of the industry makes it hard for young girls even to imagine being a mason, much less striving to reach such a goal. If they don't see it, they won't be it. Let's start using women as role models in masonry. Put them on the posters on career day. Bring them with us when we discuss the trades at high schools and colleges. Actively recruit them. It can start even before High school. Boys have Bob the Builder to excite them about careers in construction; who do the girls have? Getting young women to understand the Masonry business is within their reach, and a lucrative career is a big step in the right direction. It's good to remind them that learning a trade is less expensive than going to college and pays well. On average, a Mason makes between $40,000 and $50,000 yearly, depending on location. A construction manager or project coordinator can average $94,000 per year. Numbers like that can attract more workers, including women. Construction is also a career where the wage gap between men and women is more equal. Women average a salary of almost 99% of their male co-workers. This is a good incentive for women considering a career. 

Another way to attract more women is to reach out to them when we are offering job opportunities. We can do this when we create our job listings. Use inclusive language and make sure they know you have the commitment to be inclusive. If you have incentives such as sick leave and maternity leave, it may also help attract more women. We need to be proactive when trying to attract women to the industry. Women tend to feel like they need to qualify themselves for the job at a higher rate than men, so when creating a job listing, our ability and willingness to train should be emphasized so that women feel less intimidated to apply for a position in our company. 

Retaining Women in Masonry 

Retaining employees has become even more difficult in our new post-COVID world, and retaining female employees is even more difficult. They often feel like they are not welcome, and male co-workers often enhance that feeling by making them feel like they are not suited for the type of hard work that masonry requires of them. We know that this is not true, so how do we prove to them that they are not only wanted on the job but also needed? This is where we need to be creative. 

Our main goal is to disassemble the stereotype that masonry is only for men. As a woman who owns a masonry company, I strive to make sure the women in my company feel safe and comfortable. One of the ways I do this is to have inclusion training where we have an open discussion about women on the job site and what is and is not deemed inappropriate. At first, there was resistance from a couple of employees. But now they are happy to work alongside female colleagues, and I've also seen them defend their co-workers from inappropriate behaviors from other trades. When women feel comfortable and validated in their workplace, they are much less likely to want to leave.

We also need to ensure women are privy to the same opportunities in our programs as men and invite them to apply and participate in such programs. Training programs, apprenticeships, and other educational opportunities will help women see that not only can they accomplish the goal of being a woman in the trades, but they can also excel and even work their way up the ladder. It gives them goals to reach for and a sense of accomplishment.  

Mentorship is another solution for recruiting and retaining women in masonry. If you have women on your team, encourage them to mentor others as they join your company. Many women feel awkward or uncomfortable in a male-dominated trade at first. Mentorship encourages new employees and gives them a sense of accomplishment. A mentor can differentiate between keeping a good employee and losing one. Mentor training programs can help you to implement a mentorship program in your company. Often, women who start mentoring in the company love it so much that they end up mentoring those outside the company or the trade. 

Training women in the Masonry trade is an essential step in the right direction, but let us remember that to attract more female workers and retain them in the trade, we must put effort into them. 

  • Make recruitment a priority. 
  • Train employees in diversity and inclusion, making it part of the company culture. 
  • Training for conflict resolution. 
  • Use team-building to bring all employees into a better relationship with each other. 
  • Use mentorships in your company. 

Hiring women can give your company a significant advantage when we face major employment shortages. By using workforce development targeting women, we can build a happier staff pool, a prosperous business, lower turnovers, and support our own industry and the economy as a whole.

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