U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced the initiative during her keynote remarks at the North American Building Trades Union (NABTU) Tradeswomen Build Nations 2022 Conference.
The thousands of tradeswomen attending the conference listened as Raimondo relayed stories from women across the country that faced challenges while breaking into a male-dominated trade. Some of the challenges included a lack of women’s restrooms at job sites, being provided ill-fitting construction equipment like harnesses and hats that are made for men, being assigned fewer hours than men, and a lack of onsite childcare.
Jobs in the trades are some of the highest-paying jobs available to those without a college degree, but women in the trades often lack the training, equipment, and opportunities they need to prove themselves on the job. Women account for more than half of the U.S. population, but they make up less than 10 percent of jobs in the trades.
“A strong economy and a strong America is one where everybody has a chance,” Raimondo said. “Everybody wants to work hard, get skills, and have a chance to get a decent job and take care of their family. This is an industry in which women haven't really been able to participate in for a whole bunch of reasons. It’s no one’s fault, it just is. So let's fix it and make it better, which will make the country stronger.”
The Million Women in Construction initiative seeks to break down these barriers that have held women back from participating in the construction industry. Raimondo hopes that this initiative will raise awareness to the industry’s gender gap and encourage women to pursue careers in construction.
“We need to do a better job at recruiting women in high schools, in community colleges, in union apprenticeship programs,” Raimondo said. “So many women never think of themselves as going into the trades. So that's why I hope this initiative just puts a spotlight on the inequity, gets people together from the private sector, from unions, from the government, to start brainstorming about new strategies that we can use that will be effective to recruit women, retain women, train women, and make sure they're welcome and successful in construction.”
Additionally, Raimondo would like the initiative to inspire change in the industry such as providing childcare for construction workers, requiring anti-discrimination and sexual harassment training, offering construction equipment in every size, and providing men’s and women’s restrooms on every job site.
As part of the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Department of Commerce has plans to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing through the CHIPS and Science Act and bring high-speed internet to every American through the Internet for All initiative. These plans will create up to 200,000 construction jobs, however there are currently not enough trained tradespeople to meet the demand. Raimondo hopes that women can help fill those roles.
“Unless we recruit more women into construction work, we aren't going to have enough people to do all of the work that needs to get done. … Right now, we have a worker shortage in the construction industry, and it's only going to get worse as we start to spend the $1.5 trillion of federal money for infrastructure [from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law],” Raimondo said. “So if we're going to build all the roads and bridges and offshore wind farms and electric vehicle charging stations and semiconductor factories that need to be built, we must have more workers and that means we need more women.”
Moving forward, Raimondo said the Million Women in Construction initiative will be a top priority for the Department of Commerce.