Written by Frank Lopez
As more women continue to build paths in various industries that have typically been male dominated—tech, manufacturing, trucking, construction—they are also building more opportunities as well as buildings.
In March, The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California, a state chapter of ABC, a national construction trade association, celebrated “Women in Construction Week”, highlighting the initiatives and work of women within in the industry.
“Women in Construction Week” was introduced in 1960 by the National Association of Women in Construction, which was founded in 1953.
Though more women have entered the construction industry in recent decades, women still only make up 10.9% of the people working in the construction industry, according to 2021 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The number shrinks for the number of women working on a job site with only 1 of every 100 employees working in the field, according to multinational human resource consulting firm Randstad NV.
Just under 87% of women working in construction hold office positions.
Even with these figures, there are local women in the industry that are building careers and opportunities in the Central Valley.
Paint A Picture
Christina Santana, a Central Valley native, is a painting apprentice at Ro’s Precise Painting in Sanger, which sponsored her through ABC’s NorCal apprenticeship program.
Ro’s Precise Paining offers painting and powder coating and routinely performs work on government buildings, schools and district offices.
In May, Santana will have reached her third year in the apprenticeship program. She spent her first month of the program in the company’s shop, and then went out in the field to learn to become a painter, but she said, every day is different.
Prior to joining the program, Santana was working at Amazon and attending online classes, considering entering the health care industry.
Santana was told about the apprenticeship program through friends, and was apprehensive to join at first. She continued to work at Amazon for another month. After some thought, and exploring what the program had to offer, she joined.
“I took a leap of faith and decided to stick with the program,” Santana said. “After being there for not even a couple of months, I fell in love with the job. I actually love what I do. I was thinking there was a catch and wondered how I could make so much money by painting but there was no catch.”
With no experience in construction at all, Santana said the program really helps anyone learn what they need to know in the field, and without having to pay for any classes, books, and with the company sponsoring her, she trusted the program.
She said she is not even done with her apprenticeship and is already almost at her maximum pay. Santana graduates in May 2023 and will be licensed as a journeyman painter.
Before going out in the field, Santana said she did have some concerns about being the only women on a jobsite. After getting out there though, she was surprised that many men were very supportive — though sometimes overly polite. She asked them to treat her as they would any male apprentice.
“As a woman, growing up, I didn’t think of this as being a woman’s job and never thought I’d like it so much, and thought it was unobtainable,” Santana said. “I didn’t think companies would want to hire women, and I try to encourage women to get into this because many women don’t know they actually can get into the field,”
Wave of women in industry
As more women enter the construction industry to get jobs in the field, more women are also getting into executive positions within companies.
In Fresno, Kate Bremer-Baumann, corporate secretary of Fresno electrical contractor Harris Electric, Inc., has been with the family-owned company for nine years. Her father, Tim Bremer, had been working for the company sine 1974, and bought the business in 1986.
On the day-to-day, Bremer-Baumann handles billing and manages their shorter-term jobs.
She didn’t just start off in the office though — at first, she jumped right into the shop, learning about different materials, to order from supply houses, to deliver to job sites, to drive flatbed trucks and to operate forklifts.
Bremer-Bauman also spent time in the estimating department, learning what goes into bidding jobs and getting projects on the queue. She has also spent time out in the field as well, helping with the construction of apartments.
“I learned a lot out there, but as far as I know, I was the only woman out there,” Bremer-Bauman said. “It was a bit of a novelty seeing someone who wasn’t a guy out on the jobsite. I think it’s hard for women in construction because you don’t see a lot of people that look like you out there, so women don’t necessarily feel it’s a place for them, but I want to break that stigma and see more women in the field.”
In the nine years that she has been working for Harris Electric, she said that she is seeing more women enter the industry, especially in the project management side.
Bremer-Bauman also pointed out that wage-gaps between men and women in the construction industry is one of the smallest when compared to other skilled-trade industries.
When it comes to managing teams, Bremer-Bauman said that women do manage in different ways than most men.
“There are so many different things to keep a hold of, and women tend to be good multi-taskers and detail oriented, so I think women are poised to be really good leaders on that side of it,” she said.
Women are also good listeners, and can help diffuse tense situations, which could tend to happen on a construction site.
Harris Electric is also part of ABC, and sponsors apprentices through the apprenticeship program.
Bremer-Bauman said she wants more women to know about this program, which provides the opportunity to get a high-paying job with benefits as you learn on the job.
President and CEO of ABC NorCal Deborah Maus has a background in association management, and has worked in various industries including agriculture, air quality, transportation, engineering and construction.
Maus said that a major help in the construction industry is coalition building to prop up the future workforce, regardless of their education, experience or socio-economic backgrounds.
Besides team-building skills that women tend to have for managing teams, they also tend to be physically smaller, which makes it easier to get into confined spaces, bringing an advantage on the job site.
Maus said she is seeing more women starting their own construction companies, getting their contractor’s license and inheriting their family’s construction businesses.
“It’s really about breaking down stereotypes and making people aware that women could not only do these jobs, but they could do them very successfully, and even own companies,” Maus said.