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Meeting a Unique Workforce Need

by: Kim Coan
As the demand for construction workers rises and the percentage of women working in our industry grows, companies looking to remain competitive need a solid game plan for hiring, retaining, and promoting their female workers.

Although construction has historically been a male-dominated industry, the perks it offers – like a smaller gender pay gap – are attracting more women to our field than ever before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But recruiting is only half the battle. Companies wanting to maintain a skilled workforce must adopt new ways to keep the women in their ranks engaged and appreciated.

As a member of the civilian team that helped develop training videos and materials for the U.S. Navy’s first anti-sexual harassment program, I can confidently say creating a work environment where women feel safe and valued takes hard work and preparation. You need executive buy-in and a robust structure to ensure equitable opportunities that encourage women to stay with your company for the long haul. Most importantly, contractors can utilize HR software functions to meet the unique needs of a female workforce.

Here are seven ways owners can customize HR software solutions to recruit and retain top female talent:

Develop or Restructure Employee Benefits to Meet the Specific Needs of Women
Work-life balance has emerged as a top priority for many prospective employees, especially younger generations accustomed to having more remote work options and women, who statistically spend more average time on household responsibilities than men. If remote work is not a perk you can offer, try evaluating your benefit structures (medical, dental, 401k) through the lens of prospective female employees.

Your benefits portal should allow you to easily identify areas for improvement. For instance, is your parental leave at or above the industry standard? Does your health plan contribution structure support a female employee covering children? Do you have a policy allowing office-based parents to occasionally bring their child to work if childcare falls through? Do you have facilities for men and women at your jobsites? If not, consider making these adjustments.

Use Advanced Analytics Tools in Applicant Tracking to Identify Areas of Growth
Government contracts require employers to comply with affirmative action. Your HR software’s advanced analytics tools can help you perform a workforce analysis to determine whether you’re hitting those mandated goals. You can take this a step further, however, and tailor your search to include specific roles or units. This enables you to identify areas lacking diversity and recruit women for these targeted roles or teams.
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Furthermore, women entering the field may feel more comfortable on a team that employs at least one other woman. By reviewing the gender balance on specific teams, you can create harmony and an environment that may be more welcoming to new hires.

Address Unconscious Bias in Recruiting and Hiring
The same analytics tools that can identify how many women are on a project team can help you identify how many women or men have applied for any given role. The value in this is determining whether the people who weren’t hired were qualified for the job and why they didn’t obtain it.

In the case of government contractors, the legal and financial repercussions of being found noncompliant with federal contract obligations – whether for discriminating against qualified job applicants based on sex or not offering your female employees the same advancement opportunities as their male counterparts – can be severe. Having digital records within your HR software can help you prove you comply in good faith with equal employment opportunity (EEO) policy and affirmative action obligations while enabling you to address potential concerns proactively.

If you notice a trend in qualified female candidates not receiving an offer of employment, perhaps the hiring manager is experiencing unconscious hiring bias, which you may wish to address. Making these decisions, whether deliberate or not, can result in a workplace lacking diversity and unappealing to female workers.

Track the Demographics of Your Suppliers and Subcontractors
Another great way to attract talented tradeswomen is to collaborate with female business owners. They are more likely to have a diverse workforce and may be able to help you network to improve the diversity at your company. Maintaining records that you are actively circulating solicitations to business associations for minority and female contractors will enhance the variety of your business partners and signal to prospective employees that your company values diverse viewpoints.
Identify and Develop Sexual Harassment and DEI Programs Every Employer Should Include in Their Learning Management System (LMS)
An LMS is typically designed for training and tracking employee certifications. Your HR software should integrate anti-sexual harassment content and diversity, equity, and inclusion training into your LMS to set clear boundaries and keep employees apprised of any policy changes concerning their conduct. By communicating these expectations and regularly retraining your staff on best practices, you can create a safer workplace for men and women alike.
Streamline Harassment and Misconduct Reporting to Hold Offenders Accountable and Ensure Reports Don’t Fall Through the Cracks
Female construction workers face unique health and safety challenges that, if unresolved, can affect their performance. Numerous studies have shown that an overwhelming number of tradeswomen have, at some point in their career, experienced gender harassment, uninvited sexually suggestive looks, comments, jokes, or gestures from their supervisors or colleagues.

Accountability for harassment and misconduct is vital to fostering an environment that supports women. It’s not enough to allow employees to report incidents; contractors must investigate each claim and prove they did. Most HR software enables employees to prepare a detailed report and record disciplinary action, but not all use it. Neglecting these complaints and subsequent investigations can lead to legal repercussions in the event of an audit. They can also create a hostile work environment capable of tanking your company’s recruiting efforts and employee retention.

Tailor Succession Planning to Empower Women in Your Workforce and Prepare Them for Leadership Roles
Identifying and developing diverse internal talent is good for morale and good for business. Research shows a direct link between the diversity of a company’s leadership and its business performance and profitability.

There is a glaring disparity in our industry between men and women who hold middle manager or executive roles. To effectively execute a succession plan that values diversity, your HR software must include training for the next generation of women leaders.

Utilizing your HR portal to identify high-performing female employees and offering them access to essential tools for their professional development – like training and mentorship programs – can help bridge the gender gap.

This deliberate succession planning can have a ripple effect. In her book, "Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead," author Sheryl Sandberg suggests working conditions for all women improve when more women are in leadership roles, giving a powerful voice to their unique needs and concerns.

As our industry evolves, so should our hiring practices. Companies that leverage innovative technology to diversify their workforce and foster an inclusive culture will lead the charge when recruiting and retaining the next generation of women who will advance construction.

Kim Coan is the Manager of Account Management at Arcoro, a provider of HR management solutions for the construction industry. In addition to servicing her own portfolio of accounts, she leads the team that serves all of Arcoro's HR customers. An active NAWIC member, Coan was recently elected secretary of the Greater Des Moines chapter. Contact her at Kim.Coan@arcoro.com.

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