During the past 20 years, the gender wage gap has persisted in the United States.
We have more slogans, more hashtags, and more boards and commissions studying the subject than ever before. We have holidays and rallies, and even meaningful progress in some areas, like the record number of women serving in the U.S. Congress.
And yet, the gap is just as large today as it was when gas was still $1.50 a gallon.
As a human resources professional with nearly 30 years of experience in the field, I understand the magnitude of the problem and see how detrimental it is, not just to the livelihood and happiness of professional women, but to the success and sustainability of organizations overall. Companies that do not work to close their pay gap are chipping away at their bottom line and missing a critical opportunity when they do not effectively recruit, retain, and advance top talent.
Because it just so happens that a lot of top talent identifies as female.
In building, design, and construction, the pay gap problem is further exacerbated by the dearth of women in the sector’s workforce. At every stage of the pipeline, from early career to middle managers to C-suite executives, women are almost always outnumbered and often absent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in fact, women accounted for 14% of the construction industry workforce.
At Gilbane Building Company, where I have worked for more than four years, we see pay equity as a vital part of a comprehensive effort to promote inclusion and diversity.
As part of our social responsibility — which includes meaningful targets around employment access, employee mental health, environmental impact, and inclusive company culture — we set a goal of achieving pay equity with respect to race, ethnicity, and gender. We achieved it in 2022.
However, this is not a goal you meet and put on the shelf. labeled mission accomplished. No, we have not gotten here overnight, and we will not continuously improve in the future by taking a victory lap. Achieving pay equity is our starting point; we must review and maintain on an annual basis to make sure we hold on to and improve upon what we have achieved.
For starters, all organizations — in our industry and beyond — need a strong foundation of equitable and inclusive policies, such as a robust compensation structure that includes job classifications and levels, so we can better understand pay gaps and ensure employees have clarity around job requirements, expectations, and career advancement opportunities. Colorado’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which requires pay transparency, is a helpful tool in holding companies accountable and moving them in the right direction.
To be successful in this work, you also need solid data. Tracking progress, setting concrete goals, and holding ourselves accountable is the only way forward. You must create an aggressive and intentional recruitment strategy that meets talent where they are and considers nontraditional pathways into the profession to widen the aperture on candidates you’re considering.
That is a key thrust of Construction Inclusion Week, October 16-20. Launched in 2021 as an industry-wide initiative, it is an opportunity to increase awareness, provide educational resources and support, and grow our industry’s culture to be truly inclusive.
As a firm helping to coordinate this industry effort, we see this growing event as a tremendous opportunity to amplify best practices, share related curriculum and professional development opportunities with general contractors, specialty contractors, and suppliers across the industry. At Gilbane, we will engage and energize our people across more than 40 global offices to be part of the solution. Construction Inclusion Week is the first concerted effort to harness the collective power of the construction industry, but it cannot be the last if we are to truly move the needle on inclusion.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion must be deeply integrated into onboarding processes so that a company’s values are embodied and championed by their entire team. You must prioritize company culture to retain women and diverse groups, because having a revolving door of talent is going to cost you more in the long run. It’s been said a million times that people are our greatest resource, and this is especially true in a labor-driven business like construction.
Closing the pay gap is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do, and it’s just the beginning of making the construction industry a place where women feel welcome, valued, and empowered to contribute their talent and solutions so that, together, we can build more than buildings.
Katherine Johnson, of Centennial, is the chief people officer for Gilbane Building Co.
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