The evolving landscape of women in construction: 5 ways the industry has transformed

Upon hearing the word “construction,” some people craft mental images of jobsites filled with tools, machines, and men in PPE gear.

A 23-year industry veteran, Maria began her career as a journeyman laborer before transitioning to her current role in EHS.
1 / 2 A 23-year industry veteran, Maria began her career as a journeyman laborer before transitioning to her current role in EHS.
A 23-year industry veteran, Maria began her career as a journeyman laborer before transitioning to her current role in EHS.
2 / 2 A 23-year industry veteran, Maria began her career as a journeyman laborer before transitioning to her current role in EHS.

Throughout history, the construction industry has been known as one of the most male-dominated industries in the world.

Yet, in the last decade, we have seen a significant shift within the sector, with the number of women across our workforce rising more than 50 percent, paving the way for new generations entering the profession.

Today, women working in construction are at the highest percentages in decades, leading our teams and projects across the world, and influencing diverse roles on and off jobsites.

Every day, these pioneers represent an impetus for change—working to not only develop new infrastructure across our communities, but to break gender barriers, offer new perspectives, inspire peers and advance the built environment.

One of the women making their mark on the industry is Maria Inlow, director of environmental, health and safety (EHS) at Skanska.

A 23-year industry veteran, she began her career as a journeyman laborer before transitioning to her current role in EHS.

Today, Maria is responsible for overseeing the integration of EHS services into Skanska’s business practices and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements on projects and jobsites in Seattle, Washington.

Through her long-standing career in construction, Maria has seen firsthand how the field has evolved over the years.

Below, Maria shares five takeaways on how the construction industry has changed for women in recent years.

There is more representation across the industry

When I began my career in construction 23 years ago, there were projects involving on average + people, yet of those 200, typically only two were women.  

Today, we see more representation of women on project sites, and more companies now have trainings in place to ensure our teams create supportive, inclusive environments that allow women to progress within the field.

A big driver of this evolution is our allies within the company.

At Skanska, there are many men and women alike who unremittingly advocate for equality and inclusion across the business.

One example of this is Skanska Women’s Network (SWN), an employee resource group that promotes and supports a gender-inclusive culture.

More so, as trailblazing women in the field increase, there are more women who see and believe in the work we do, empowering new generations to break into this industry.

PPE has evolved to better fit women

Given that this industry has been dominated by men for decades, personal protective equipment (PPE) was once originally made specifically for men’s bodies.

Vests were cut for men, resulting in a design that had narrow hips and broad shoulders.

For many women, this style of PPE vest was difficult to buckle, reducing the protection and increasing risk.

Today, companies such as Skanska offer vests and jackets specifically designed for women, featuring a smaller shoulder and wider hip design.

Women’s boots were previously designed very differently than men’s and often came in colors such as bright pink. As a woman, we would really stand out if we wore them.

Today, our boots look just like men’s—same color and all—but are tailored to fit women’s shoe sizes.

This may seem like a minor change, but from a women’s perspective, this can make a huge difference.

Women already stand out on the job. When women receive PPE that no longer draws unwanted attention and fits properly, that’s a win for inclusivity.

Portable bathrooms for women on jobsites are now a standard

For many years, women had to share the same bathroom with men—but that’s since changed.

In the first 10 years of my career, we never once saw a separate bathroom for women on a site.

Today, separate bathrooms are now a standard, even if it’s just one woman on a project site. In fact, it’s now law.

Women in Construction Week shifted the conversation

National Women in Construction Week started in 1998 to celebrate women in the field and encourage them to enter the industry.

Although many men and women feel that this should not be the only time to celebrate women, it’s a wonderful platform to highlight the gender gap in construction and the issues that arise from this.

At Skanska, we make sure to recognize the women on our teams for the incredible contributions they make, while also striving for solutions to address the many issues they may face.

Although we’ve made considerable advancements in recent years, we are still actively seeking to expand women’s presence in the field as they bring invaluable perspective and guidance.

Equal pay has always been available for women in unions

I’m proud to share that woman in unions receive equal pay alongside their male counterparts.

This is crucial. I worked hard because I knew I was getting paid as much as my male colleagues on the sites.

Women who work for unions get paid the same as men, rightfully so as we are doing the same work.

It’s what the union fights for, and it’s a huge win for women in construction.

Much of the success we’ve had in advancing women across the field is the result of trailblazing women and their determination.

Although we’ve made great progress throughout the last decade, there are still many challenges to overcome and great strides to be made.

See how Skanska recently celebrated Women in Construction Week here.