In 1978, President Jimmy Carter set a goal for women to hold 6.9% of work hours in the construction industry by 1982. Fast forward nearly 40 years and we aren’t even close. The national average sits somewhere between two and three percent.
But there is cause for optimism, and one bright spot is Boston’s Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues (PGTI) which has made very meaningful gains:
The Policy Group on Tradeswomen’s Issues, comprised of union leaders, government representatives, community organizers, tradespeople, and researchers, is a driving force behind the increase. Its goal is 20 percent for women by 2020. Susan Moir, director of research for the Labor Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston and co-convener of PGTI, has her sights set higher. “Women should make up 50 percent by 2050; there’s no reason why not,” Moir said.
50% by 2050 is ambitious, but PGTI’s progress has been so significant that it’s easy to understand their enthusiasm:
In 2015, tradeswomen filled nearly 6.3 percent of apprentice positions in Massachusetts — up from 4.2 percent in 2012. Women also accounted for 5 percent of construction work hours in Boston in 2015, and they saw a tenfold increase in work hours from 2010 to 2015 for projects covered by the Boston Residents Job Policy. Moir says the rising number of female electricians, plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, insulators, and sheet-metal workers on jobs here — many of them women of color — shows “there’s something special about what’s going on in Boston and Massachusetts.”
PGTI has been expanding rapidly and they place a heavy emphasis on employment for low-income minority women:
PGTI has grown to include more than 75 women (and a few men) who represent local construction companies, trade unions, community-based organizations, educational institutions, building-project owners, and government agencies.
The group’s leaders are particularly determined to increase the representation of low-income women of color because a career in the trades for them can be life-changing. For women without college degrees, few careers offer better wages and benefits. Construction workers in Boston earn, on average, $63,000 per year, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Last year, Ms. Moir received a Fulbright grant to study women in the construction industry in India:
“I always say if you get 50 women in Dudley square, 50 women in Grove Hall, and 50 women in Mattapan who have these good-paying jobs, you not only change them and their families, the street, you change the whole community.” Moir shares her theory on how bringing women and women of color into this industry has a greater effect on the economy: “The Construction itself as a part of the economy has what you call a multiplier effect.”
Today, Moir aims to accomplish what President Carter set out to do four decades ago. He would surely be pleased to know that, to this point, she has far outdone him.
Visit the PGTI website for more info, and read more about Boston mothers entering the construction industry thanks to apprenticeship programs.