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Point of View: Building cities, rebuilding careers: In construction, women see opportunity

Despite many sectors being in turmoil, Oklahoma is still growing. This is causing many women to look to a less likely industry: commercial construction. The opportunities are plentiful, growth potential promising and the gender pay gap is practically nonexistent. And women should not be daunted by the prototypical image of burly construction workers. The reality is women in construction are a growing force across the region.

My grandfather owned a construction company, so I was introduced to building at a very young age. After my first few years in the workforce my project manager helped get my resume into the right hands.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10.9% of construction professionals nationally are women. Naturally, this does not represent the general population and means that the commercial construction industry isn’t yet taking full advantage of the skills, perspectives and experiences the workforce has to offer.

In 2019, men held 21,924 of Oklahoma City’s construction jobs. In the same year, women held 1,661 construction jobs.

I’m proud to be one of them. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten involved with a great organization called The National Association of Women in Construction. It’s allowed me to not only speak to kids about following their passions into construction, but also to speak to my peers. I remind them to encourage those girls (and boys) to go into building. Whether my three-year-old son follows in my footsteps or not, he thinks my job is pretty exciting. I hope some of his friends will, too.

While you may think of construction as a traditional industry, it is anything but. Modern companies have embraced technology, diversity and inclusion initiatives, have flexible employment arrangements and, what’s more, the pay is better and far more equitable than many industries. Whereas women in the U.S. earn on average 81.1% of what men make, the gender pay gap is significantly smaller in construction occupations, with women earning on average 99.% of what men make.

This week is Women in Construction Week, an annual campaign to highlight women as an important and growing component of the construction industry. It is an important time to raise awareness of the opportunities available for women in the construction industry.

For women and young girls considering new possibilities whether they are graduating, re-entering the workforce or changing careers, construction can open a whole new world of opportunity while contributing to building the places and spaces that make our economies thrive.

Ali Sanderson is project manager at JE Dunn Construction in Oklahoma City.

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